After months of “will he or won’t he,” the Tampa Bay Lightning announced today that star forward, Steven Stamkos, will not play for the Canadian Olympic Ice Hockey team due to injury. The 23-year-old broke his leg in early November in a game against the Boston Bruins, and there was hope that he would recover in time to play for his home country for the Olympic games. With the announcement today, it appears that the recovery wasn’t quick enough.
In joint statements today, both Steven Stamkos and general manager, Steve Yzerman, announced that the team doctor declared it too risky for the forward to play on the injured leg. Yzerman called the decision “clear-cut” with no grey areas, and Stamkos said that he was “obviously very disappointed,” but in the best interest of his long-term health, he couldn’t represent Canada in Sochi Olympics.
Steven Stamkos suffered the injury in a game against the Boston Bruins on November 11, 2013. While fighting for position in front of the Lightning net, Stamkos became entangled with Bruins defenseman, Dougie Hamilton. He fell to the ice and collided hard with the goalpost. His leg trapped between the post and his body, he fractured the tibia in his right leg on the play, collapsing immediately as he attempted to put weight on it. He was taken off the ice on a stretcher and has been in recovery ever since.
It was a recovery that had been going well for Stamkos. He had a rod surgically inserted into his leg shortly after the Bruins game and was seen walking without the use of crutches or a boot just two weeks after sustaining the injury. In early January, it was reported that he was skating with the team during practices in a non-contact jersey. Today, Yzerman said the doctors were pleased with the recovery process for the forward, but advised against playing on the leg, as it wasn’t “100 percent.”
Despite the injury, Canada announced Stamkos as part of their Olympic roster in early January, knowing that the former 60-goal scorer was too valuable of a player to leave off. But with the announcement today, the Canadians will have to look elsewhere. To fill the center’s absence, Canada will have to call on one of the players snubbed by the initial roster announcement. Carolina Hurricane center, Eric Staal, Philadelphia Flyer center, Claude Giroux, and Stamkos’ linemate, winger Martin St. Louis are all names that have been thrown out as possible replacements for Stamkos.
For the Tampa Bay Lightning, replacing their first line center wasn’t as easy. Tyler Johnson and Valtteri Filppula have done an admirable job as stand-ins for the star forward, but neither appear to have the same chemistry Stamkos had with the Lightning captain, Martin St. Louis. Despite the loss of their star center for most of the season, the Lightning are third in their conference, due in large part to surprising play from other Olympic snubs. Both Swedish defenseman, Victor Hedman and American goaltender, Ben Bishop, were among many players considered for the Olympic roster for their respective countries, but ultimately were passed over. Instead, they, like Steven Stamkos, will join the rest of Olympic hopefuls that won’t be making the flight to Sochi.
By Jonathan Gardner