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Will Steven Stamkos play in Sochi Olympics, despite surgery?

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TORONTO – First, the good news. Steven Stamkos is going to be OK. Surgery went well Tuesday, and the doctors are “confident he will make a 100-percent recovery,” Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said.

Yzerman spoke to Stamkos briefly Monday night after he suffered a gruesome injury – crashing into a goal post while back-checking against the Boston Bruins and suffering a broken right tibia.

“He said, ‘You know I’ll come back stronger than ever,’ ” Yzerman said.

Now, the bad news. No one knows when that will be. Yzerman said he had no timeframe Tuesday afternoon. He expected to have a better idea Tuesday night after gathering more information, but he expected whatever range he was given to be broad. TSN’s Bob McKenzie said the “unofficial prognosis” for Stamkos was three months.

“Knowing him and being young, he’ll be on the shorter end of the rehab process,” Yzerman said. “But …”

That’s a big “but.” And that’s obviously a big blow to the Lightning, Team Canada and Stamkos himself. Stamkos, 23, is tied for the NHL lead in goals (14) and points (23). He has scored more goals (222) than anyone else since he entered the league in 2008-09.

The Bolts cannot replace him. “Realistically, there’s nobody in our organization – there’s nobody apart from a handful of players in the league who we’re not going to be able to get, anyway – that would fill the role that Steven’s playing for us,” Yzerman said.

Team Canada might be able to wait for Stamkos until the night before its first game of the Sochi Olympics, when it must submit its final roster. Yzerman, Team Canada’s executive director, is of the understanding that he can put Stamkos on the initial roster and replace him because of injury at the last minute if need be.

But will Stamkos be ready to play at the highest level in February?

“Right now, obviously we’d hope that he would be healthy for the Olympics,” Yzerman said. “But I have no idea at this stage.”

Stamkos did not make Team Canada in 2010, when the Canadians won gold on home ice in Vancouver. This could be his last shot to play in the Olympics, because the NHL might pull out in favor of staging its own World Cup tournaments in the future.

Yzerman already was scheduled to meet with his Team Canada lieutenants Wednesday morning to go over candidates for Sochi. The Canadians are incredibly deep up front, and some players – like the Colorado Avalanche’s Matt Duchene – are off to great starts.

“They’ve always been on the radar,” Yzerman said. “We’ve always been watching them. Well, they’re starting to be, like … A couple of them probably we can’t leave off the team.”

But Steven Stamkos is Steven Stamkos, the best scorer in hockey – and maybe more.

“He’s elevated his game at this early stage of the season to a level beyond last year, in all aspects of his game,” Yzerman said.

“He’s been tremendous. I think even beyond the Olympics, he’s motivated to be the best player – not just the best scorer, the best player – in the world. This injury isn’t going to discourage that if you know him. But in regards to the Olympics, we’ll wait and see.”

 

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