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What Does Stamkos’ Injury Mean for Tampa Bay’s Season?

 

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It happened so suddenly, stemming from a play that happens numerous times in every game. Dougie Hamilton and Steven Stamkos jostling for position, the former joining the rush to provide a net presence and the latter backchecking hard, trying to maintain the 0-0 deadlock. 

The situation mere seconds later was surreal. Chilling.

Stamkos’ right leg buckling as soon as he puts weight on it in an effort get up.

Stamkos rolling onto his stomach, pounding his right hand into the ice in frustration.

Stamkos clearly saying “it’s broken” to a Lightning teammate before a team trainer had even made it onto the ice.

Tampa Bay’s color commentator summing up the situation with a quiet, laconic “Oh no.”

Jack Edwards – normally regarded as perhaps the NHL’s single most obnoxious “homer” broadcaster – heaping praise and positive sentiment upon Stamkos as a player… and as a person.

The TD Garden, so recently boisterous and rowdy, is now dead silent.

 

Five minutes later, Stamkos was on a stretcher off for an x-ray that would reveal a broken right tibia. The absolute worst-case scenario was avoided, but it is nevertheless difficult to understate the severity of the injury. The minimum timetable for a return is likely around three months, and that is fairly optimistic.

 

Optimism, however, is in the air. Nick Kypreos tweeted that the break is not a particularly complicated one, and thus – after surgery, which Stamkos will undergo on Tuesday – could possibly heal in time for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

 

There is no question that Stamkos will do everything he can to be back in time for Sochi. He has never played for a Canadian Olympic team, having been passed over for the 2010 Games in Vancouver despite tying for the NHL lead in goals at the end of that season with 51.

But the rehab will be unquestionably brutal, and every human body responds to injury differently. Regrettably, sports fans have developed tunnel vision in this respect, refusing to believe that not every professional athlete is Adrian Peterson. So let me make this clear: I don’t care whether your interest lies with Team Canada, Tampa Bay, or just being someone who appreciates the game’s great players. Fans, do not fall victim to hope and misplaced expectations.

Trust me. I’m a Chicago Bulls fan.

 

Anyway, let’s move on to the Lightning’s season outlook.

 

 

 

Can Tampa Bay Still Make the Playoffs?

Short answer? Yes. But it will be much, much more difficult than it would have been with a healthy #91. Obvious, I know. Leave me alone. It’s a short answer for a reason.

 

Long answer: Needless to say, Tampa is going to need to replace a lot of offensive production.

Let’s put some numbers to that: With 14 goals and 9 assists through 17 games, Stamkos has had a direct hand in a whopping 43% of his team’s total offense. That’s more than any player in the NHL not named Crosby or Zetterberg.

Per 60 minutes of Stamkos’ icetime this season, Tampa Bay has scored 2.64 more goals than its opponents.

Want me to restate that?

In a bizarro world where Stamkos plays 60 minutes each night, the Lightning – on average – outscore their opponents by 2.64 goals.

That’s a lot of hypothetical wins.

 

Of course, the 2.64 number isn’t atypical for a player of Stamkos’ ilk. And the stat isn’t perfect. Crosby’s differential is only 0.93 per 60 while his teammate Chris Kunitz has an absurd 2.57.

 

Small sample sizes will do that. And fluky things can be maintained even over an entire season. To think that people got upset at me when I told them Jordan Eberle would definitely not repeat his ridiculous 19% shot percentage from 2011-12 in 2012-13.

“But he did it over an entire season!”

“Lol omg you’re such an Oilers hater.”

“Troll.”

I really like Edmonton, actually. I want that team to succeed. Their fans have been miserable for far too long… but I digress.

Stamkos has been putting up elite numbers for so long now that I think it’s pretty fair to assume his numbers are so good because, um, well, he’s Steven Stamkos. Nothing fluky about a guy whose average shooting percentage over the past three seasons is 20.53 (!!!!). That is legitimately nuts.

Can Tampa stay competitive without him despite all my impressive fancy stats and percentages and random digressions? Sure they can.

Let’s take a look at how.

 

Why the Lightning Can Win Without Stamkos

There are a few reasons. 

 

1. This is the pair of legs that belongs to one of those reasons.

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You are looking at the preposterously outrageous (or outrageously preposterous) lower body of Martin St. Louis. You don’t have to say anything. I know.

We’ll call him “Quads.” Raw, unadulterated creativity.

Quads is, to put it simply, a monster. And I’m not talking about his legs anymore. He’s timeless. The man is 38, an age where most offensive players are already in their fourth or fifth year of statistical decline… but Quads doesn’t care about your analytics. After winning the Art Ross Trophy last season (given to the player with the most points in the regular season), he has maintained a point-per-game (PPG) pace this year and remains a top-five right wing in today’s NHL. The Lightning will need Quads to be closer to his 1.25 PPG from last season now that they can’t rely on Stamkos.  Tampa Bay isn’t completely devoid of offensive talent outside of Quads and Stamkos, but it’s nevertheless difficult not to notice the precipitous drop-off from those two guys to the roster’s next best offensive forwards (Teddy Purcell and Valtteri Filppula). Quads is going to need to carry the offense on his le- err, back.

 

2. Tampa Bay looks set in net (first time we’ve been able to say that in years) with Ben Bishop. A good goaltender (and defense, which I’ll get to) can get a below-average forward core to the playoffs. Take a look at the Senators from last season, a team that lost its #1 center and Norris-winning #1 defenseman for most of the year. Ottawa managed to make the playoffs anyway as a seventh seed with a combination of lockdown defense and fantastic goaltending from the trio of Craig Anderson, Robin Lehner, and – hey, look at that – Ben Bishop.

Bishop’s stopped 92.7 percent of the shots thrown his way so far this season, and boasts an extremely solid 2.12 goals against average. Lightning head coach Jon Cooper will likely want to make his team’s forecheck as passive as possible – perhaps a permanent 1-2-2 aside from situations where Tampa has to score. Just an idea.

 

3. Often related to a good goalie is a good defense, which the Lightning have. On paper, it seems like it’d be a stretch to even call the unit “average,” but that’s why the game’s played on the ice. Victor Hedman has been very effective this season. Sami Salo will remain consistently good as long as he stays healthy. Matt Carle is a nice piece and has some offensive punch that will help out the Stamkos-less forward group. Radko Gudas is leading the team in hits and has almost twice as many as the player in second (Stamkos, incidentally). Eric Brewer has slowed down noticeably from his heyday but is still a capable third-pairing defenseman, penalty killer, and source of leadership. The group meshes well together. They have to continue playing well for Tampa Bay to hold the fort while Stamkos recovers.

 

I want to emphasize the fourth and final reason why Tampa Bay can tread water and stay in the playoff hunt.

4. THEY PLAY IN THE EASTERN CONFERENCE.

 

That is all.

 

By Sean Sarcu
ProHockey-fans.com Staff Writer

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