Steven Stamkos back on ice in red sweater
Steven Stamkos is back.
The Lightning captain returned to the ice Tuesday - albeit in a red non-contact sweater - for practice, his first with the team since undergoing vascular surgery to repair a blood clot in his collarbone April 4.
"It was fantastic," he said.
Stamkos was expected to miss 1-3 months, and he said that timeline hasn't changed, with the "million dollar question" on when he can get off blood thinners. Coach Jon Cooper said he fully expects to go another entire series without his leading scorer.
The good news for Stamkos is he feels great, hish rehab and recovery going well. But it's also the frustrating part of not being able to play. He was a limited participant in practice, taking a few line rushes and one-timers at half speed.
"It's really just a waiting game now," Stamkos said. "Obviously you can't rush back to things of this magnitude. I'd say nothing has changed in that regard. I feel great, that's the tough part is feeling physically ready to play almost. But obviously with this type of injury and the blood thinners and stuff like that, you have to take your time."
Stamkos said there's no big doctor appointment or checkups planned in the next couple weeks, the key in how he's feeling and responding. He admits it was weird how it all came about, him starting to feel symptoms after a loss Mar. 31 to the Canadiens.
"It was out of the blue," Stamkos said. "Coming down the stretch I felt like I was playing my best hockey. And then this pops up."
Stamkos said he felt fine during the Canadiens game, did a post-game workout, and then started to notice his arm feeling heavy, some swelling. Stamkos points out having remembered goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy going through the same thing in September, it "set the alarm off." He remembered those were Vasilevskiy's same symptoms, a condition called Thoracic Outlet Syndrome which is rare among hockey players.
"Pretty crazy to have two of those on the same team in one year," he said.
Stamkos didn't get into whether he had one surgery or two, or whether he had any complications, considering he was in the hospital for more than a week. "The goal is to fix it and we've done that," Stamkos said. "It just took a little longer than maybe we first expected, but we're on track now."
Teammates like Victor Hedman said Stamkos' appearance at practice was "uplifting" and could give them a "confidence boost." Stamkos has been a presence with the team in the playoffs, from attending the team meal before the first round, to watching home games from the lockeroom. Brian Boyle said Stamkos still gives them tips and suggestions as they go from game to game. The captain said he doesn't want to be a distraction, so hopes to toe that line.
Stamkos, who can be an unrestricted free agent July 1, indicated contract talks have been put off until after the Lightning playoff run, the sole focus on recovery and coming back. But will he?
"I'm gearing up like I'm going to be able to come back and play," Stamkos said. "You just have to give yourself a chance."