The Tampa Bay Lightning have been without their most prolific goal scorer since the middle of November.
Steven Stamkos was originally expected to miss at least four months after knee surgery, but with the calendar flipping to February and Tampa Bay facing an increasingly tall order of getting back into a playoff position, Bolts general manager Steve Yzerman isn’t yet committing to a specific return date for his captain.
“It’s still, for Stammer, relatively early,” Yzerman said on the show. “Again, the procedure that he had — in the big picture — is very positive. They were able to repair the cartilage, and so far, every indication is that healing is right on course and it’s going to heal and he’s going to be fine. And that’s the best-case scenario is to repair the cartilage and you go on and you resume your career. So, that’s good. It’s still relatively early to have a date and say he’s going to be back — March 15, April 1 or whatnot. So, he’s progressing well.”
Stamkos had nine goals and 20 points in 17 games when the Bolts lost him to this latest injury. From there, the bad news for this team has continued.
Tampa Bay is in danger of missing the playoffs after making it to the Eastern Conference Final last year and the Stanley Cup Final two years ago. From injuries to difficulties on offense and defense this season, the Lightning now sit with a record of 22-23-6.
Sports Club Stats is giving the Bolts only a 6.1 per cent chance of making the post-season. Only four teams — New Jersey, Detroit, Arizona and Colorado — have less of a chance of qualifying for the playoffs, according to that site.
The Lightning host the Ottawa Senators tonight.
With time ticking in the regular season, the Bolts need to make a move up the standings, and they need to do it soon. Very soon.
“We’re really in playoff mode every night,” Yzerman said, per NHL.com. “You know how it is in the playoffs: You win a game, you’re sky-high. You lose a game, it’s the end of the world but you get ready for the next one. That’s the mode we’re in right now.”
Tampa Bay faces a very busy summer. But if they keep dropping down the standings, Yzerman and the Lightning may have to confront those difficult decisions a lot sooner than they intended.