Steven Stamkos Injury Adds to Troubling Trend for the Forward

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.

NHL Power Rankings: Lightning Still the Class of the NHL

It was a classic Steven Stamkos goal.

In the waning seconds of regulation on Tuesday night, with the Panthers holding onto a one-goal lead against the Lighting, the 26-year-old superstar forward cycled down to the goal line on the left side, camping out before one-timing a pass from Victor Hedman that beat James Reimer with five seconds remaining in regulation. It was an off-angle shot put in just the right spot, with too much snap for Reimer to glove. It was an only-Stamkos-can-do-that type of score.

The Lightning went on to win the game, 4-3, in a shootout against its cross-state rivals. It was huge two points Tampa nearly got none of. With the two teams battling each other in the Atlantic Division race (two Florida teams duking it out for supremacy in the East, who’da thunk it?), points are at a premium.

Games like Tuesday are the ones Stanley Cup champions are made of. Getting breaks when they can in the game, having big players come up huge at key times, and most of all – getting the result.

The Lightning got all of that on Tuesday night, as they improved to 3-0 on the young season. Tampa Bay will put its unblemished record to the test on Thursday when the Colorado Avalanche comes to town. After its attempt to accrue eight points through its first four games (the other was in the Stanley Cup season of 2003-04), the Bolts will embark on a six-game road trip.

2- Washington: Braden Holtby and Philipp Grabauer have combined for a .957 save percentage and 0.98 GAA through three games.

3- Pittsburgh: Marc-Andre Fleury (.914 save percentage/2.94 GAA) has to be better if he expects to keep the crease when Matt Murray returns.

4- Chicago: Want a red flag? The Blackhawks are 30th in shots per game, a 24.5.

5- Montreal: Jeff Petry leads the team with four points in two games.

6- San Jose: The Sharks are the best forechecking team in the league.

7- St. Louis: The Blues lost Kyle Brodziak, Carl Gunnarsson, and Jori Lehtera in one night. Ouch.

8- Florida: The Panthers are five seconds out of first place in the Atlantic.

9- Dallas: Kari Lehtonen 39-of-41 on shots faced since taking over for Antti Niemi on Saturday night. Who said goaltending was a problem for the Stars?

10- Nashville: Five of the Predators’ seven goals have come on the powerplay.

11- Minnesota: The Wild have scored 10 goals and have put 57 shots on goal in the last two games, both wins.

12- N.Y. Rangers: Chris Kreider is playing like a man possessed, with six points in three games.

13- Edmonton: Don’t look now but Connor McDavid is pointless in his last two games. His full-season pace has taken a nosedive, from 246 points to 123.

14- Boston: David Backes has injected energy back into the Boston lineup.

15- Philadelphia: Travis Konency tied with Claude Giroux for the team lead in points, with four. Ivan Provorov – who had rough go of it on Tuesday in Chicago – leads all rookies with 28.3 shifts per game. Not bad for a couple freshmen.

16- N.Y. Islanders: The Islanders 2.25 goals per game 26th in the league. They’ve lost three games by a combined four goals.

17- Detroit: Eight of the Red Wings’ 10 goals have come from three players; Mike Green (3), Darren Helm (3), and Thomas Vanek (2).

18- Anaheim: This is the second straight year the Ducks are winless through four games.

19- Colorado: The Avs are amidst a meat-grinder of a start to the season; facing Dallas, Pittsburgh, Washington, Tampa Bay, and Florida, in their first five games. The worst Colorado can finish is 2-3. Anybody would take that.

20- Calgary: The Flames have allowed a league-high 17 goals.

21- Winnipeg: Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler account for five of the Jets nine goals.

22- Ottawa: The Senators are 3-1 despite an .869 save percentage from its goaltenders Craig Anderson and Andrew Hammond.

23- Toronto: Auston Matthews is pretty good.

24- Buffalo: The Sabres are one of just three teams yet to yield a powerplay goal.

25- New Jersey: Two of the bold consensus predictions entering the season – the Flames wouldn’t be last in defense, the Devils wouldn’t last in offense. Yes, there’s still plenty of hockey to play, but neither respective unit looks very promising through a week of action.

26- Vancouver: Are the Canucks for real? Well, they beat a pretty good St. Louis team on Tuesday night.

27- Los Angeles: Only 27th because they have some good players and a pedigree of success in recent seasons. But man, do they look awful.

28- Carolina: Leading scorer for the Hurricanes? Who else but Lee Stempniak, with five points in three games.

29- Arizona: Mike Smith has a lower-body injury. It looked worse than that.

30- Columbus: 2017 Calder Trophy winner Zach Werenski has two points in two games while leading all rookies with an average time on ice of 21:55.

 

Facts, Figures, Predictions on the Atlantic

*If the Boston Bruins miss the postseason, it will be the first time the B’s have missed the postseason since missing it eight straight years from 1960-67.

*Erik Karlsson’s 82 points was the most for a defenseman since Brian Leetch (85) and Ray Bourque (82) hit that total in 1995-96.

*Jaromir Jagr needs 19 points to tie Mark Messier for second place on the all-time points list, with 1,887. Currently sitting in third at 1,868, he needs 132 to become the second player ever to notch 2,000 NHL points. Last season he closed within 1,000 of Wayne Gretzky, who stands atop the leaderboard at 2,857.

*Max Pacioretty is one of just four players to record 30 goals and 60 points in each of the last four 82-game NHL seasons. The other three are Jamie Benn, Alex Ovechkin, and Joe Pavelski.

*Steven Stamkos is one of four players with three such seasons; joining Corey Perry, John Tavares, and Tyler Seguin. The one season in which Seguin failed to hit 30-60 was 2011-12, when he managed the 60 (67, to be exact) but scored just 29 goals for Boston.

*Morgan Reilly, who averaged 23:14 of ice time last season at the age of 21, is the youngest Toronto defenseman to log 23 minutes per game since the stat began being recorded in 1998.

*Average production by Henrik Zetterberg the last two seasons – 15.5 and 59.8 goals and points per 82 games. Nine seasons prior – 32 and 83.9.

*Brad Marchand has scored 0.35 goals per game going back to 2010-11, his first full NHL season, which equates to about 29 goals per season. That ranks fifth among left wingers, trailing only Ovechkin, Benn, Rick Nash, and Patrick Sharp.

*Ryan O’Reilly led all forwards last season with an average ice-time of 21:44. Evander Kane was second with 21:02. *Buffalo hasn’t had a 30-goal, 60-point season since Jason Pominville put up 30 goals and 73 points in 2011-12.

*Patrice Bergeron and Marchand were on the ice for 192 of the 493 shorthanded faceoffs the Bruins took last season, according to puckbase.com. One-hundred one of those draws were won by the Bruins.

*No Eastern Conference player has averaged 29 minutes of ice-time since Adrian Aucoin averaged 29-flat for the Islanders in 2002-03. Karlsson averaged 28:58 last season.

*Of the top 12 goaltenders in terms of save percentage over the last three seasons (min. 125 games played), five are expected to be starters for Atlantic Division teams this season; Carey Price (1st, .931), Ben Bishop (t-3rd, .922), Tuukka Rask (t-3rd, .922), Roberto Luongo (t-6th, .921), and Frederik Andersen (12th, .918).

*Price’s 17 shutouts over that span, which ranks second to Marc-Andre Fleury (20), came in just 137 games. Four other netminders posted 15 shutouts over that span (Fleury, Jonathan Quick, Braden Holtby, Bishop), all needing at least 186 games.

*Buffalo allowed just 30.6 shots per game last season, the first time it had allowed less than 31 shots per game since 2010-11 (30.7), the last time the Sabres qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Predictions

1- Tampa Bay: The most complete team from top to bottom. Expect a breakout season for Tyler Johnson.

2- Montreal: The Canadiens go as far as Price takes them.

3- Detroit: The Red Wings acquisition of Frans Nielsen the best offseason signing nobody talked about.

4- Florida: The Panthers have made the postseason in back-to-back years just one time; 1995-96 and 1996-97.

5- Buffalo: If they don’t make the playoffs this year, you can pencil them in for next season.

6- Boston: Three straight playoff DNQs could be too much for Claude Julien to overcome.

7- Ottawa: Guy Boucher came within a win of the Prince of Wales Trophy in Tampa Bay. He won’t be pushover in Ottawa.

8- Toronto: The pieces are moving into place, but more holes must be filled.

 

 

2020 Vision: Why the Atlantic Division Will Be the NHL’s Best in Four Years

It’s 2020.

The Montreal Canadiens have never looked more poised to win Stanley Cup No. 25 since winning Stanley Cup No. 24 back in 1993. The Toronto Maple Leafs are knocking on the door of its first title of the NHL’s Expansion Era while the Buffalo Sabres are in pursuit of its first title in, well, ever. On the verge of he 10th anniversary of its only Cup in the last half-century, the Boston Bruins aren’t to be counted out. Nor are the Ottawa Senators. Meanwhile, the Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Detroit Red Wings are still there, like they’ve been for quite some time.

The Atlantic Division has no let up. The best division in the NHL. It’s not even up for debate.

It’s amazing to think the Montreal Canadiens have gone nearly three decades without a Stanley Cup. Prior to this latest drought, the longest the Habs had gone without winning a title was eight between 1916-24, when the bleu, blanc et rouge took a backseat to the original rendition of the Ottawa Senators – who won three Cups in that span – while having the 1919 final wiped out due the great flu pandemic ripping through the world at the time.

But that was 100 years ago, and the Canadiens are looking to erase a drought nearly four times longer. A 2021 Stanley Cup will be its first in 28 years. They’ve been close the last two years. In 2019, they fell to Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference finals before getting to the Cup final in 2020, losing to Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers.

Max Pacioretty hoisting the revered 35-pound trophy isn’t hoped for — it’s expected.

Montreal hasn’t had a goaltender like Carey Price since Patrick Roy, who appropriately enough manned the crease of the most recent championship. At 33, Price is on the back end of his prime. He’s going for his fifth straight Vezina Trophy, looking to become just the fourth player to win six Vezinas, joining Montreal legends Jacques Plante and Bill Durnan, along with Dominik Hasek.

Nobody in the Montreal lineup makes anyone forget about Jean Beliveau, Guy Lafleur, Maurice Richard, or Larry Robinson, but there’s plenty to be desired. Shea Weber might not be the player he was when general manager Marc Bergevin famously swapped P.K. Subban for in 2016, but he doesn’t have to be. Mikhail Sergechev is quickly blossoming as one of the world’s best blueliners. Up front, mainstays Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk lead the Habs charge.

The Canadien faithful has its swagger back, and the time to win is now.

But it won’t be that easy.

For one, there’s a border battle brewing between Western New York and Southern Ontario.

Jack Eichel and Auston Matthews, currently pegged to bring Team USA back from the shadows of its 2016 embarrassment at the upcoming World Cup of Hockey, lead the way for two of the most rabid yet tortured fan bases; the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Buffalo Sabres. The Leafs haven’t won a title since 1967. The Sabres have never won one ever.

Eichel and Matthews were second and third in last season’s Art Ross Trophy race behind McDavid, whose 131 points were the most since 1995-96, when Mario Lemieux and current Florida Panthers player-coach Jaromir Jagr eclipsed that mark.

Defending Norris Trophy winner Morgan Reilly anchors the Toronto blue line, which is backed up by Frederik Andersen. Buffalo counters with Norris favorite Rasmus Ristolainen and ace netminder Cal Petersen. Buffalo’s one-two center combination of Eichel and Ryan O’Reilly is the envy of the division.

Meanwhile, for Boston Bruins fans, it’s been years that end in ‘1’ that have been kind to the B’s; at least of late (we can forget about Ken Dryden in 1971, or Ulf Samuelsson’s cheap shot on Cam Neely in 1991). In 2001, Bruins fans watched black-and-gold icon Ray Bourque retire with his first Stanley Cup (albeit with Colorado). In 2011, it was the B’s capturing a Stanley Cup of their own, the first since 1972.

It’s been a rough past few years for Bruins fans. Amidst a rebuild, the B’s have missed the playoffs four of the last six seasons. Goaltender Tuukka Rask, who turns 34 in March, is playing for what would be the last big contract of his career. With dynamic duo Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand well into their 30s, the top line of Jake DeBrusk, Ryan Spooner, and Zach Senyshyn have picked up the load offensively for the B’s. The backline continues to come of age, with many expecting 23-year-old Jeremy Lauzon to hop into the Norris discussion as seamless as the way he can jump into the rush. The pairing of Lauzon and Brandon Carlo are among the top young defensive pairings in the game.

The Ottawa Senators continue to pride themselves on being the Minnesota Twins of the NHL, finding ways to sneak into the playoffs despite being glossed over year after year in the preseason talk. The player who is no longer being glossed over? That would be Erik Karlsson, who last season became just the third defenseman ever to record multiple 100-point seasons, joining Bobby Orr and Paul Coffey. Yeah, can’t say it’s bad company.

Let’s not forget about the three teams that represent the old guard of the division, the veteran teams giving chase to the young blood atop the division.

Captain Dylan Larkin leads the charge for the Detroit Red Wings, which has rebuilt itself on the fly once again while continuing the make the playoffs. The Wings finally won a playoff round after losing in the first round six years in a row. It’s been 30 years since Detroit last missed the playoffs. The Panthers are led by player-coach Jaromir Jagr, who last season became the second player to record 2,000 points in the NHL. Approaching his 49th birthday, Jagr is giving no indications he’ll step away anytime soon. He even says he plans on catching Wayne Gretzky’s record of 2,857 points. Based off his average of 35 points over the last four years, it will only take about 25 seasons for him to reach that mark. The Lightning continue to dazzle offensively, with Tyler Johnson coming off his first 40-goal season. And we all know about that Stamkos guy.

None of the eight teams in this division have won a Stanley Cup since the Bruins most recent banner, in 2011. If it doesn’t change in 2021, the wait won’t last much longer.

How much longer? Who knows.

But what we do know? No division stacks up with this one.

World Cup of Hockey Post-Mortem: Some Facts and Figures

Some facts and figures in the wake of the Boston Bruins winning the World Cup of Hockey..

*But seriously, though. Only two players had more than three goals in this tournament: Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron with five and four, respectively. Six of the the nine goals came in the semifinals and final.

*All three goals in Canada’s 2-1 clincher against Europe were scored by Bruins. Zdeno Chara gave Europe the 1-0 lead in the first period before his NHL teammates delivered the late-game heroics; first Bergeron’s redirection to tie the score, then Marchand’s shorthanded goal to go ahead with 44 seconds to play.

*Steven Stamkos was the lone Canadian not named Bergeron or Marchand to score in the final. Stamkos joins John Tavares and Corey Perry – both of whom scored in the 5-3 semifinal triumph over Russia – as the lone Canadians outside the superstar top line of Bergeron, Marchand, and Sidney Crosby to tally a goal in the semifinal or final.

*It seemed like the story of the World Cup were the two squads that were multiple countries co-opped together in Team Europe and Team North America. Team North America, of course, was comprised of the best under-23 players from Canada and the U.S., an exciting, fast, skilled team considered the represent the future of the game. Europe was an old, gritty group that had a little bit of everything but didn’t look like the full package that managed to make an unexpected run to the final.

Interestingly enough, it looks like it might be the last you see of such teams. You can definitely mark that down as a guarantee with North America, the team being put together much at the detriment to the American squad; there were quite a few players on that roster that would’ve made a difference playing on John Tortorella’s team. So we’ll see what that means for Europe.

*As for filling out those seventh and eighth teams, here’s an idea for at least one of the two spots that need to be filled: a Canadian ‘B’ team. A team that features the best of those left off the Canadian roster. The talk is that Canada could put together a second team and beat most, if not all, other countries. Well, let’s see it.

*Seventy-nine goals were scored in the tournament. Twenty of those were scored by players who played for either the Boston Bruins or the Tampa Bay Lightning. That’s more than a quarter. Of course, it’s important to point out that give-or-take a quarter of the players in this tournament play for the Lightning. Or at least it seemed that way.

*Here’s the breakdown of scoring by NHL club:

Boston- 11; Tampa Bay- 9; Washington-6; Chicago, Colorado, Toronto- 5; Detroit, Pittsburgh, St. Louis- 4; Edmonton, San Jose, N.Y. Rangers- 3; Calgary, Anaheim, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Arizona- 2; N.Y. Islanders, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Nashville, Buffalo, Vancouver, Florida- 1.

*Canada’s title makes it six of eight for the Red Leafs between the three installments of the World Cup of Hockey going back to 1996 and the Canada Cup, of which there were five of between 1976 and 1991. Something about that country when it comes to hockey.