As you probably know by now, Steven Stamkos will not play at the 2014 Olympics. For any Canadian hockey fan, it’s hard to spin today positively. It’s a different story for Tampa Bay Lightning supporters, however.
On one hand, Stamkos’ absence doesn’t significantly decrease Canada’s medal chances. This is a roster so stacked that Stamkos and John Tavares, two of the game’s elite centers, were likely to play the wing. With or without Stamkos – heck, even if Canada lost Sidney Crosby – this team would be among the favorites to win gold. That said, Stamkos is one of the best two pure goal scorers on Planet Earth. No Stamkos will never be better than Stamkos. There is no way to view Canada’s glass as half full.
But what about Tampa Bay’s glass? Stamkos’ tibia hasn’t fully healed as of Feb. 5, but the Stanley Cup playoffs are more than two months away. It’s perfectly reasonable to expect him back by then, even he’s recovering slower than expected. Instead of biting their nails at the notion of Stamkos returning too early and skating on a shaky leg in Sochi, the Lightning can breathe easy knowing he’ll rest up for two full weeks before anyone, let alone Stamkos, plays NHL games again.
Could the Olympics have helped Stamkos get his rhythm back quicker and made him more effective upon his return to Tampa? Sure, but the intensity of competition also could’ve made a fiery player like him push it too hard too soon and reinjure himself.
The Lightning are already emerging as a darkhorse Stanley Cup contender. Ben Bishop is the Vezina Trophy frontrunner, Valtteri Filppula has been money well spent, Martin St-Louis continues to be Martin St-Louis and Tampa’s rookie invasion, including Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Radko Gudas, has been remarkable. Add a truly healthy Stamkos to the mix down the stretch and the Lightning bolster their roster like no other team could dream of doing at the trade deadline.
There’s no guarantee Stamkos returns for the playoffs and the Olympics could have gotten him into NHL game shape sooner, but on a day of bad news, a nibble of optimism can’t hurt.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin