There has been no set date for when Steven Stamkos will participate in full-contact drills. But with the Olympics to begin Feb. 12 in Sochi, Russia — and with Team Canada needing to determine if the Lightning center can participate — that day is fast approaching.
It might even be today.
"Might be," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said, "might be."
That could be a smoke screen, of course.
Cooper has said what will be an important moment in Stamkos' rehab of a broken right tibia would best be done without reporters watching. So who is to say Stamkos didn't find some ice Sunday, a day without a scheduled practice, and do some puck battles with a few teammates just to see how it felt.
Whatever the timing, the issue is the same.
"Questions are going to have to be answered," Stamkos, out since Nov. 11, said Friday in Montreal. "Basically, I'm going to make a decision. Am I ready to play at that level?"
Stamkos will have an X-ray when the team returns to Tampa after Tuesday's game at Minnesota. There will be discussions with Lightning doctors, Tampa Bay and Team Canada general manager Steve Yzerman and executives from Hockey Canada.
Stamkos has said he wants to play in one or both of the Lightning's home games leading up to the Olympics. But he also said not playing Thursday against the Maple Leafs or Saturday against the Red Wings would not preclude him from going to Sochi.
Here is what could:
"I don't feel I'm where I need to be in order to play in a game yet," Stamkos said Friday, his last meeting with reporters. "You have to listen to your body. It has gotten better, and there's less and less pain every time I get on the ice. But there's still discomfort."
Stamkos, who had a titanium rod inserted in the tibia, said he hopes the pain will at least become "manageable."
"But right now, it's still a little sharp in certain areas," he said. "The bone itself, the way it's healed, if everything else was good, I could be playing. It's just there's a lot of soft tissue stuff, ligaments, tendons, muscles that haven't moved in an explosive manner in the last 11 weeks. So that's really where the bulk of my discomfort is. If I have to stop and do explosive crossovers and acceleration, I'm not quite comfortable with that yet."
Perhaps the only way to get comfortable is to do it, which is why his participation in full contact is so important.
"It is tough mentally going in there and getting bumped around knowing you're a little hesitant in certain areas," Stamkos said. "That's what you don't want, and I'm trying to overcome that. As you progress and take more contact in practice, hopefully that goes away."
It should be noted today marks 12 weeks since Stamkos was hurt. At the time, the prognosis was three to six months. In other words, he is crossing into the minimum time for healing.
"He's getting closer," Cooper said. "I think in all of our minds, we're trying to push him farther ahead than he really is. … He already has been superhuman to get to the point he is right now. I don't know if he's going to be ready for the Olympics. We all hope he is.
"That we're even having a conversation talking about it is pretty remarkable."