Wednesday, November 27, 2013

What Will Steven Stamkos Do Now?

By Mike Chen

Just a few days ago, the hockey world raised a collective eyebrow when word came down that Steven Stamkos — Tampa Bay Lightning star and owner of a broken tibia — was already walking on his own, no crutches or cast necessary. In general, an injury of this kind requires no weight bearing for about two months, then another two months of partial weight bearing, then another one-to-two months of strengthening and flexibility exercises to get the muscle back to normal walking.

In the case of Stamkos? Try two weeks. The bone was broken clean, and the resulting surgery put a rod in his leg for stability. No word if the rod was made out of adamantium, but this sure seems to accelerate the initial prognosis of three to six months.

With the injury occurring in November, hockey pundits immediately began circling the start of the Sochi Olympics (February 12 for the men's tournament). What once seemed impossible now has become deliciously probable for both fans of Hockey Canada and the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The timing of the Olympics offers a unique dilemma. Had it been one month earlier, Stamkos' participation would have seemed unlikely, and one month later, quite possible. The actual February date puts it in that gray area. There are pros and cons

If he plays...

Pros: For the Lightning, it's a chance for Stamkos to get his conditioning and timing back without sacrificing precious regular season points. And if Martin St. Louis is on the team, they'll undoubtedly by tied together, so timing and chemistry can be fine-tuned as needed for the stretch drive. Bigger international ice usually means there's less hitting, particularly along the boards, and the extra skating would probably be good for his conditioning.

Cons: While doctors wouldn't let Stamkos play when the original injury is still vulnerable, there's the question of related leg and core muscles being put at risk. The size of Olympic ice is a blessing and a curse given that situation, and if he go hurt again, that impacts both Team Canada and the Lightning.

If he doesn't play...

Pros: More rehab time never hurts a catastrophic injury, and the extended Olympic break would allow Stamkos to potentially use that time as a mini-training camp.

Cons: Nothing compares to the pace of a game, and even preseason games are better for timing than just training camp and practice. For the Lightning, that means regular season games will have to be spent trying to recover conditioning and timing, and for Hockey Canada, that means that they'll lose Stamkos' innate goal-scoring ability.

There's no real right decision here given the various parties with a stake in the situation. Stamkos' miracle recovery (so far) presents both a blessing and a curse: it opens up the door to a realistic return this season, but the external pressure of the Sochi Olympics creates a variable to his recovery from a very serious injury.

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