You can call them freak injuries. You can call them isolated incidents. Give the recent injury history of Steven Stamkos any label, spin, whatever have you. But at what point does it become a concern?
Stamkos, according to Bob McKenzie, is headed to Colorado to get arthroscopic surgery to repair the lateral meniscus tear he suffered in Tampa Bay’s 4-3 win over Detroit on Tuesday night. The expect timetable for recovery is four to six months.
The news is a blow to the Tampa Bay Lightning, as it would be any team given Stamkos is world-class talent. The Bolts are in the first season of the eight-year, $68 million pact the franchise signed with the 26-year-old sniper this past summer. Stamkos had nine goals and 20 points in 17 games this season for Tampa, who drafted him first overall in the 2008 draft.
The minimum four-month timetable suggests a best-case scenario return of mid-March for Stamkos.
The lengthy absence makes this season the third of four seasons Stamkos has been either wiped out – or at the very least interrupted – by an injury.
Now granted, the blood clots that hindered Stamkos last season cost him just the final five games of the regular season, but it also caused him to miss 16 of the 17 postseason games Tampa Bay played, his only action coming in the seventh game of the Eastern Conference finals, in which the Lightning fell, 2-1, to eventual Stanley Cup winner Pittsburgh. Stamkos played 11:55 over 20 shifts in the loss, finishing as a minus-one and winning just three of the eight faceoffs he took.
The leg injury he suffered in 2013-14 limited him to 37 games. Again, on the play, which happened in a November 2013 matinee game in Boston, he gets tangled up with then-Bruins defenseman Dougie Hamilton and loses an edge, his leg turning just the right that resulted in his tibia snapping in half. Freak play? For sure. And let the record show he’d played in 362 consecutive games (playoffs included) prior to that, having not missed a game since January 2009. The injury cost him 45 games that year, as well as a chance to win a gold medal for Canada in Sochi.
It should also be pointed out that in his one healthy year in this four-year stretch, he played all 82 for the Bolts, scoring 43 goals in the regular season before playing all 26 postseason games en route to Tampa Bay’s second Stanley Cup final appearance.
What’s in Stamkos’ favor is he’ll be just 27 years old when he returns (his birthday falls in February, about a month before the four-month timetable closes). Nobody doubts how good he is when healthy. The Lightning, barring further injuries (Jonathan Drouin is currently out with a concussion, Anton Stralman is day-to-day with an upper-body injury), will be in contention when Stamkos returns. Teams as good as Tampa Bay don’t fold with one injury.
But looking long-term, the recent injury history of Stamkos suggests a negative trend, one that isn’t unreasonable to have concern over.