With the Tampa Bay Lightning searching for the equalizer during the final minute of Game 1, captain Steven Stamkos was on the bench watching as the Chicago Blackhawks skated away with a 2-1 win.
It’s a move Toronto Sun columnist Steve Simmons called odd in his piece on Friday.
Simmons goes on to suggest that the reduced ice time coupled with the demotion to the Bolts’ second line could add up to Stamkos finding a new home after next season when he is set to become an unrestricted free agent.
Once upon a time, it seemed far fetched that he would ever leave Tampa Bay. But he’s now playing the wing instead of centre, getting second line minutes for a coach who doesn’t favour him. The narrative has changed.
Stamkos, who has averaged 18:01 in ice time per game in these playoffs, finished the Game 1 loss with 17:17 in time on ice. He played 5:29 of the third period down from the 7:02 he played in the second.
“I go out and do whatever I can every shift,” said Stamkos. “That’s all I can control.” When asked about the final minute of play, he said: “I want to be out there. If you ask every player they want to be out there … You have to believe in yourself that you’re a difference maker.”
When asked about it following Saturday’s morning skate, Jon Cooper got defensive.
“I don’t know what that means,” said Cooper when asked if Stamkos would see more ice time in Game 2. “Should I just play him the whole game, like all 60?”
When reminded of Stamkos’ Game 1 ice time, Cooper replied, “Okay. So if he plays 20 minutes, I should give him two more shifts. I’ll think about that tonight.”
Stamkos scored 43 goals and 72 points in 82 games while averaging 19:22 of ice time during the regular season.
He went eight games without scoring to begin the playoffs and he’s now failed to score in three straight games – two of them losses.
Stamkos needs to start scoring, yes. But to suggest he may be looking for a new home after next season is probably still far fetched.