In an era of increased knowledge of head injuries - or at least climbing awareness of what we don’t know about concussions, beyond no longer passing off a serious issue as “getting your bell rung” - we’re becoming almost comfortably numb about those types of checks. It’s hard not to get a little jaded.
Maybe the unusual nature of Steve Stamkos’ horrific injury - a broken right tibia that will require surgery - is what makes it so unsettling to watch. Or maybe it’s because I got the same gut reaction horror of possibly witnessing the moment when an all-time great career could very well have been downgraded to a very good one.
(On the bright side, I had the same worried mom feeling about Erik Karlsson, and he seems fine. Even if I have that same fearful feeling about his speedy comeback about Karlsson that I did with Washington Redskins megastar RGIII.)
What I do know is that I’ve only been able to watch video of Stamkos’ slide to possible season-ending surgery two times. Even so, a few moments keep playing back in my memory like a hokey motion picture flashback sequence.
-- That moment when his right leg hits his own team’s net.
-- Stamkos realizing that something was really wrong with his leg. There’s a moment when it almost seems like he got his leg caught in a bear trap.*
-- The Tampa Bay Lightning star pounded the ice in agony in a way that reminded me of the old days of UFC when wrestlers awkwardly punched opponents with the bottom of their fists rather than knuckles.
-- The pure anguish on his face after that hindsight-fueled “No, no don’t get up!” scene.
It’s a rough watch, as much because of the blanks many of us fill in to the already-troubling scene as it is about the clip itself.
At this point, it’s unclear how long the issue will keep him out. As PHT pointed out, it could be the kind of thing that sidelines him for 3-6 months like Markus Naslund or something a little more manageable, like a somewhat similar issue that sidelined Andrew Ference for “just” two and a half months.
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MORE UNSOLICITED ADVICE
Whether we see Stamkos again sometime this season or in 2014-15, hopefully we’ll see the same Stamkos who inspired the “Seen Stamkos?” campaign.**
Either way, he’ll be out some time. In my opinion, that brings up a name I’ve trumpeted quite a few times before … but this time it makes as much sense as ever: Vinny Prospal.
Again, it defies me that the 28-year-old Czech is unemployed to begin with. We're talking about a guy who has 765 points in 1,108 games, and it's not like he's fallen apart lately. He had a nice 30-point season in 2013 (over 82 games, a solid 51-52) and nearly outpaced Rick Nash in 2011-12 with 55 points. He's a proven producer, even if he's obviously not the kind of sexy choice who ... even gets an NHL gig.
Prospal is already well acquainted with Tampa Bay, which is "the better than ever" part. Prospal spent chunks of time with the Lightning from 2001-02 through 2007-08, to the point that my shaky memory (hey, it was college) placed him on the Stanley Cup-winning squad.
Maybe Prospal had a falling out as he left the Bolts, but we've seen stranger situations where an unlikely return happened. Besides, a lot has changed in Tampa Bay, like the attention-grabbing center being Stamkos instead of Vincent Lecavalier.
Sure. he’s a left winger, but I think he can play a little center if necessary … or at least help fill some of the scoring void, even if he stays at wing.
THE FANTASY IMPACT
There is one constant that should be familiar to Prospal: Martin St. Louis is a star. Even as people questioned his size - he’s far from a lock for Team Canada after all he’s done - and focused on hyped stars, St. Louis has filled up the box scores. He’s put up great offense as the Koules came and went, through gravy days and thin years.
Sure, Stamkos factors heavily into St. Louis’ production and the spritely scorer might have developed a bit of a dependence on sending perfect passes to the sniper’s “office” in the slot. While a drop-off wouldn’t be shocking, he’s scored with and without Stamkos. He might even find the need to take more shots and compensate for the loss on a team that’s quietly enjoyed a great start to 2013-14.
“You don’t replace Stammer, but the guys are going to have to step up,” St. Louis told the Tampa Tribune.
SPEAKING OF REPLACEMENTS
So, who takes Stamkos’ place (and steps up) alongside St. Louis? It’s hard to say, especially since the dynamic duo have been basically attached at the hip (and Ryan Malone’s been too injured to regularly play alongside them as it seems the Bolts want).
Over time, guys like Alex Killorn and Nate Thompson have spent time with Stamkos and St. Louis, but would they get that kind of treatment as more than just “lunchpail guys”?
One guy who hasn’t seen much/any time with them is second-line center Valtteri Filppula. He’s an intriguing choice to get a boost as his solid 12 points leave him tied for third in team scoring with Killorn. He may be in line for a nice bump … unless Bolts coach John Cooper decides that he doesn’t want to possibly overextend the former Red Wings pivot.
Let me bring up one darkhorse candidate: Brett Connolly. The sixth pick of the 2010 NHL Draft hasn't exactly been a smash success in his NHL career (just one goal and six SOG in six games this season, 17 points in 79 games), but this could be just the opportunity to really kickstart his career.
Stamkos’ loss is bad news for St. Louis and Malone, while it’s possible that someone will actually benefit (one man’s loss is another person’s benefit).
I hate to say it, but I might have put the whammy on Stamkos just a couple Doses ago. Here’s what I regrettably wrote about the sniper while trumpeting his remarkable bill of health (oops) while discussing the Maurice Richard Trophy race:
I fear that I might be jinxing Stamkos merely by mentioning this, but he's been a regular ever since he got out of Barry Melrose's doghouse (yes, you weren't hallucinating, he did get a cup of coffee as a head coach again in 2008-09). He played all 82 games from 2009-10 through 2011-12 and all 48 last season. Also, he's been in all 15 games in 2013-14.
INJURIES (full list) AND QUICK HITS
Stamkos isn't the only Lightning player who was banged up yesterday. Sami Salo continues his perpetual injury issues (lower-body injury as usual) and Keith Aulie suffered an upper-body injury ... Patrice Bergeron has three goals in his last two games, representing half of his goal-scoring production this season ... Jarome Iginla hasn't been spectacular, but his production is solid and the peripherals (+11, 23 PIM and 50 SOG) ... Paul MacLean insists Craig Anderson is Ottawa's No. 1 goalie, despite Robin Lehner's strong work. May Lehner get some more reps, though? ... Daniel Briere might be back from his concussion issues Tuesday night ... Mike Weber (broken thumb) is nearing a return, but not tonight. Christian Ehrhoff is expected to, though ... It sounds like Johan Franzen's another player likely to return … Devils - Rangers could be intriguing, as the local rivals are showing signs of improvement lately ... We'll already get a taste of what the Bolts might be doing without Stamkos, as the Lightning face the Habs in Montreal tonight.
* - OK, at least how I imagine someone would react to an accidental snare in a bear trap. I’ve only seen such a thing pretend-happen in a video game.
** - Sorry, I was required to make that joke by cheesy humor bylaws.