Since being drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2008, Steven Stamkos has been consistently been one of the Bolts’ best forwards. Now the team is facing a long campaign without him after he fell on November 15th playing against the Detroit Red Wings. With a torn lateral meniscus (the piece of cartilage that separates the thigh and shin), Stamkos will likely miss about four months while recovering.
A four month recovery period means the Lightning won’t see Stamkos on the roster until March 2017, and while losing a superstar center might cripple some teams, the Lightning aren’t writing off the season just yet. On a recent podcast, we discussed the spate of injuries currently afflicting the NHL, and it’s safe to say we agreed that Stamkos is the most high profile. But for Tampa Bay, Stamkos’ injury is just a slight bump in the road.
The Montreal Canadiens may be dominating the Atlantic Division, but the Tampa Bay Lightning aren’t far behind. Currently at 13-7-1 and four points clear of the Ottawa Senators. If you’re having flashbacks to last season, when the Habs lost Carey Price to injury and tumbled down the standings, then you’re not alone. But fear not brave Lightning faithful. Your team will be fine.
The Lightning are 3-1-0 since losing Stamkos, and while there’s no argument that he’s a different level of player, Tampa Bay have a level of depth and reliability that other teams can only dream of. Montreal sank last season because nobody could step up to fill Price’s shoes. Tampa Bay doesn’t have that problem. Nikita Nesterov, Alex Killorn, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Jonathan Drouin, Victor Hedman and Ryan Callahan have each scored in the four games since losing Stamkos. Killorn, Kucherov and Johnson have each scored twice.
That’s nine different goalscorers in four games. The Tampa Bay Lightning know how to score. By comparison, the Ottawa Senators, third in the Atlantic, had six different goal scorers in their last four games. It shouldn’t take anyone by surprise that the Bolts have got this covered. Stamkos has played his whole NHL career with the team, and that career has been dominated by long term injuries. Last season he missed the majority of the playoffs due to blood clots. In 2013/14 a broken leg held Stamkos to just 41 games. These injuries aren’t linked, but they do keep happening.
None of this takes away from the phenomenal talent that Stamkos has, it just highlights that he’s a luxury in Tampa Bay and not a necessity. I’m not saying the Bolts should trade him (except to my Red Wings. Hint hint), just that they knew what they were getting when they agreed his eight year contract extension, and they probably aren’t getting an 82 game player. But that’s cool, because with that expectation GM Steve Yzerman built a team around Stamkos that can step up when he can’t. That level of depth is the safety net that the team needs. There’s no panic when Stamkos is out, just a quick reshuffle and the team is ready to go.
Very few other teams in the NHL can make that same claim. What are you thoughts on Stamkos? Let me know on twitter or join in the conversation below.