One of the National Hockey League’s most dominant offensive players will miss at least three months after undergoing surgery to repair a broken tibia last week.
Steven Stamkos, who was tied for the league lead in goals (14) and points (23) before the injury, slid into his own team’s goal post and had to be carried off on a stretcher during the second period of a 3-0 loss to the Boston Bruins last Monday.
Stamkos‘ play is undoubtedly one of the reasons that the Tampa Bay Lightning climbed to first place in the new Atlantic Division after finishing 14th in the Eastern Conference last season.
But in the new, more competitive Atlantic Division, will the Lightning be able to keep pace without Stamkos?
“It’s going to take a lot. He’s a big scoring threat on the ice, but with the leadership of Martin St. Louis and solid goaltending from Ben Bishop, it’s definitely plausible,” said Ramapo senior Pat Masur.
The team parted ways with longtime center Vincent Lecavalier through a buy out this summer, largely because Stamkos is the team’s number one center of the present and future. However, Lecavalier’s production may be missed without a healthy Stamkos.
Stamkos has only missed three games since entering the NHL in the 2008-2009 season. In last season’s shortened 48 game schedule, he scored 29 goals and had 28 assists.
In 390 career NHL games, Stamkos has scored 222 goals and totaled 409 points. Losing a player who averages more than a point a game is a huge loss for any NHL team.
Much of the pressure will fall on first-year captain Martin St. Louis, who has played on Stamkos‘ wing for the past several years. The combination of Stamkos‘ goal scoring ability and St. Louis’ playmaking skill has created one of the most dominant duos in the NHL for the past few seasons.
St. Louis won the Art Ross trophy last season as the player who finished the regular season with the most points, as he scored 17 goals and tallied 43 assists for 60 points in just 48 games playing on Stamkos‘ wing.
For the Lightning to stay atop the Atlantic, St. Louis will have to continue at a similar pace while putting more pucks in the net. He has eight goals and 12 assists in 20 games this season.
“There’s definitely going to be a good amount of pressure,” Masur said. “The Lightning should also look at Valtteri Filppula to step up to the plate offensively as well.”
The Lightning will continue to ride goaltender Ben Bishop, who was acquired over the summer and has provided a solution to Tampa’s goaltending woes. Bishop has won 13 of his 16 games this season, posting a goals against average of 2.11 and save percentage of .927. Bishop will have to continue his strong play to keep his team in games if the Lightning cannot replace Stamkos‘ offensive production.
While the Lightning will surely miss their most dynamic offensive player and face of the franchise, the Canadian Olympic team wants Stamkos on the roster for the Sochi Olympics beginning Feb. 22 as well.
Stamkos is part of a talented young center group for Canada, which includes Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks and John Tavares of the New York Islanders.
The fact that Canada has such strong centers but is still worried about the absence of Stamkos speaks volumes about his status as an elite player in the NHL and the world.
“It means a lot I think,” Masur said. “If Stamkos doesn’t return, it could cost Canada placing for a medal. I don’t think it matters how deep team Canada is, it’s going to be hard to replace him.”