Don’t call it a comeback. Just a couple months after severely breaking his leg in a game against the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steven Stamkos is back on the rink. He’s practiced, albeit with limited contact, a few times in the past week, and he’s got his eyes on Russia.
Stamkos made the cut for the Canadian men’s team that will be heading overseas for the 2014 Sochi Olympics in a couple weeks. It’s astounding, really, since the offensive powerhouse just had his leg surgically repaired in November. At first, the talk was whether or not he would return at all this season. Now, he’s being labeled as “questionable” for the Olympics.
Stamkos’ freakish recovery is due in part to the intense rehabilitation he’s undergone since the injury. Within weeks of going under the knife, he was walking without the use of crutches or even a walking boot. It’s fair to say that, if it weren’t for the Olympics, he may not have been going 100 mph in rehab. Be that as it may, not only is the likelihood of Stamkos making the trip to Sochi increasing daily, he also wants to try and get an NHL game in beforehand just to make sure he’s ready. He’s also claimed it’s possible he would consider heading to the Olympics even if he can’t suit up for the Lightning beforehand.
However, Stamkos is also aware this isn’t a decision to make lightly. He plans on having a serious talk with Steve Yzerman, who serves as both Lightning GM and Team Canada executive director. Yes, it would be exciting and remarkable for the young forward to return this quickly from such a nasty injury. At the same time, being ready to take the ice again and being an effective player are two very different things.
At the top of his game, Stamkos is one of the best in the entire league. But he’s not exactly coming back from a pulled muscle. Due to the fact that he’s dealing with a surgically repaired leg, there are strong odds he’ll need a couple games to get back up to speed.
That said, is the Canadian team willing to bring him along if he hasn’t participated in any games yet? It’s a huge risk for a team that’s aiming for another gold medal. Granted, they’re stocked with talent, but using a roster spot on Stamkos despite him being less than 100% is still a questionable move. The roster cuts left a lot of talent aside, and the safe route may be to recall someone like Claude Giroux or James Neal instead.
If we’ve learned anything in all of this, though, it’s that the last thing you can do is doubt Stamkos. By surging through rehab, he’s shown just how dedicated he is to play for his country. At this point, Stamkos getting in a couple games with the Lightning before heading to Sochi shouldn’t surprise anybody.