Steven Stamkos fractured his right tibia on November 11 2013, and looked to be out for the season. But he never quit. The Lightning winger was determined to get back and help his team, and not just the one in Tampa Bay, but the one in Sochi as well.
A month and three days later, the superstar scorer was miraculously skating again (leaving us wondering if his regenerative qualities were enough for him to survive an experimental procedure that would replace his bone skeleton with an adamantium one).
Stamkos has been rehabbing hard, and was targeting a Saturday return to action for the Tampa Bay Lightning, which would have allowed him to get in at least one tune-up game before jetting off to Sochi to join Team Canada. It was tight, but it was doable.
And then, on Wednesday, the Lightning's medical staff decided it wasn't. Stamkos won't be cleared to play in time. From the Lightning:
Tampa Bay Lightning Center Steven Stamkos will not be able to participate in the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, Lightning Vice President and General Manager Steve Yzerman announced today. Stamkos underwent a CT Scan (which offers a three-dimensional view of the bone) this afternoon and then met with Lightning Medical Director Ira Gutentag, who was unable to clear Stamkos for game participation at this time. Rehabilitation with the Lightning training staff will continue and he will be reevaluated in 2-3 weeks.
“After reviewing the CT scan this afternoon, Dr. Gutentag made it clear to me and to Steven that the tibia is not completely healed and therefore he should not be participating in game action at any time in the near future,” Yzerman said in making the announcement. “Although the doctor was very pleased to this point with the healing process, he explained that the callus surrounding the fracture site is not 100 percent consolidated, and Steven will not be cleared to play in a game until that happens. It was a pretty clear cut decision, no gray areas at all.”
That last sentence is an illuminating one. One has to imagine this situation has been very hard on Steve Yzerman, the GM for Team Canada and the Lightning, who had to be of two minds about his best player.
On the one hand, there's no doubt Stamkos, even at 80%, could help Team Canada. He's that good; he's that automatic. Team Canada's Yzerman had to be cheering for Stamkos to push it, to hurry up and get better.
But Tampa Bay's Yzerman must have been thinking the opposite. If Stamkos rushes back and plays through discomfort in Russia, what will he have left for the postseason, which the Lightning, arguably this season's biggest surprise, expect to be in? Or what if he reaggravates the injury?
Lucky for Yzerman, as he said, "it was a pretty clear-cut decision". Moreover, he didn't have to make it, or grit his teeth as Stamkos did. And now he doesn't have to worry about it. It's over. In a way, that's got to be some relief.
As for Stamkos, however, it must be a true disappointment. He worked so hard to get here, only to come up just short. He probably should have been there in 2010. There was no question he deserved to be there now. Now he'll have to wait until 2018 for another chance.
So who does Yzerman turn to now in filling Stamkos's spot? Does Sidney Crosby have any other line mates? (Hello, Tanner Glass!) How about one of his enemies? (Hello, Claude Giroux!)
Or will Marty St. Louis be willing to forgive?