Stamkos still sidelined

The Tampa Bay Lightning captain hasn’t played since February 25th, and still remains out.

Stamkos+celebrates+a+goal+against+the+Flyers.

Stamkos celebrates a goal against the Flyers.

Alex Kajda, Staff Writer

In the midst of a solid playoff run so far, the Tampa Bay Lightning have played great, but far from perfect. For example, the 2nd Line of Tyler Johnson, Anthony Cirelli, and Alex Killorn has been shockingly quiet in the team’s first two playoff series, but the main issue is the powerplay, which, prior to a 3 for 6 outing in a 8-2 win in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final, was 4 for 30 in these playoffs so far, and is an area where Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos has exceled in, scoring 155 goals in his career with a man advantage. And for the deeper part of these playoffs where the Lightning are facing the toughest teams in the whole league, they will need to be solid all around with no gaps or issues in their system if they want to win hockey’s biggest prize.

Stamkos’s injury has been frustrating for Bolts fans throughout the duration of the playoffs, as it’s been a mystery as to what he injured, whether Stamkos was with the team in the Toronto bubble or not, and coach Jon Cooper’s silence and cryptic nature towards injuries (an attitude he’s become infamous for throughout his tenure with the Lightning) doesn’t help either. This is best exemplified with Cooper telling reporters “I’ll address it when he becomes available but it’s pointless to keep asking about it” prior to Game 1 against the Boston Bruins (The Athletic). What we do know is that Stamkos underwent core muscle surgery in early March and was slated for a return around mid-April. This would have been around the time that the Stanley Cup Playoffs usually begin, however, due to COVID-19, the season was postponed shortly after Stamkos underwent surgery. However, in July, when the NHL let teams begin training camps in anticipation for the resumption of the 2019-20 season, Stamkos suffered yet another injury in training camp. Whispers and rumors have led some to believe that the injury is related to the core muscle surgery Stamkos had in March, but in the report, all that’s listed is “lower-body injury.” Despite the injury, Stamkos still practiced with the team and was expected to return for the resumption of the season, as Cooper expected Stamkos to play in at least one of the team’s round robin seeding games. However, when the final game against the Philadelphia Flyers came around, Stamkos was still out. No worries though, as many assumed the team was just resting him so he could be ready for the first round. But he wasn’t there in Game 1 against Columbus, and still wasn’t in Game 2, then Game 3, then 4, then 5, and so on to the point where Stamkos has been ruled out of the Eastern Conference Finals series against the New York Islanders. The only news Bolts fans had prior to this announcement (which came Sunday, September 6th) was a swirl of rumors pertaining to the captain’s status, including some saying that he’ll be ready for the Finals, or some saying he’s out for the postseason. The only real news the Bolts had gotten from an official source was GM Julien BriseBois stating that Stamkos “hasn’t been ruled out of a playoff return” (NHL.com), which is pretty much the same as saying nothing. The rest included Jon Cooper stating that the captain is rehabbing and working very hard to return and wants to be out there playing more than anyone else.

This comes as frustrating for Lightning fans, who have seen their captain out for prolonged periods multiple times from freak injuries. The first came in 2013, in the midst of Stamkos’ prime, in which he broke his leg in a game against the Boston Bruins after slamming it into a goal post. He returned a few months later, leading the team to a playoff spot. In 2016, a few games before the end of the regular season, it was discovered that Stamkos had blood clots in his arm, which caused him to miss almost the entire 2016 playoffs until he returned for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Pittsburgh Penguins, in which the Lightning lost 2-1 and ended their season. The next season, Stamkos only managed 17 games before tearing his meniscus in a game against the Detroit Red Wings, he would miss the rest of the season as the Lightning barely missed the playoffs. Now, with this new fiasco, Bolts fans have grown accustomed to not seeing their captain out on the ice for prolonged periods, something they’d much rather not have to deal with.

Some positive takeaways arise from this, however. One, it’s good that Stamkos is having injuries at different parts of his body rather than one body part constantly being injured, which is more jeopardizing to one’s career. Another positive angle is that the Lightning have performed very well despite missing their captain. The addition of Stamkos to the lineup will help out a lot, and Cooper’s secrecy around Stamkos’s injury actually helps the Bolts, as opposing teams don’t know whether to game plan for or without Stamkos. Also, Cooper finally giving an update on Stamkos’ status after weeks of silence might be taken as a sign in the right direction, and that Stamkos is nearing a possible return come time for the next series. Despite this, many hope for the captain to be back during the Stanley Cup Finals if the Lightning end up winning their series against the Islanders, and many hope for him and the rest of the team’s stars such as Brayden Point, Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov, and goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy to lead the Tampa Bay Lightning to a Stanley Cup Championship.