TAMPA — Lightning captain and leading scorer Steven Stamkos will miss one to three months with a blood clot near his right collarbone, potentially ending his season — and maybe his tenure — in Tampa Bay.
The clot — announced Saturday night after Stamkos sat out the Lightning's 3-1 win against the Devils — is a devastating blow to the defending Eastern Conference champions with the playoffs starting next week, especially considering Tampa Bay also has lost top defenseman Anton Stralman through at least the first round of the playoffs with a fractured left leg.
General manager Steve Yzerman said Stamkos, 26, has thoracic outlet syndrome, the problem that sidelined backup goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy to begin the season. It's a condition that's rare among hockey players, much less two from the same team.
"Just incredibly bad luck for us, which is an understatement," Yzerman said.
Stamkos has a team-high 36 goals, with seven in his past nine games. Saturday was the first game he missed in more than two years, since returning from a broken leg in March 2014.
Yzerman said Stamkos first felt discomfort in the arm after Thursday's game against the Canadiens, with swelling and tingling in his fingers. He was diagnosed Friday and has vascular surgery scheduled for Monday with bay area Dr. Karl Illig, who performed Vasilevskiy's surgery.
Yzerman said Stamkos' long-term health and career won't be negatively affected and the Lightning hopes to make a long-enough playoff run to get him back. The Lightning's magic number to clinch a playoff spot is two points.
"Obviously this situation is extremely disappointing because I wanted to help my team clinch a playoff spot," Stamkos said in a statement. "I will do all I can to help my teammates, and I hope to rejoin them soon in the Stanley Cup playoffs."
After Vasilevskiy's surgery in September, Illig said that generally, two months is the minimum time to be on blood thinners. He also said 90-95 percent of elite athletes return to their previous form.
Stamkos, in the final year of his contract, can be an unrestricted free agent July 1. Could he have played his last game in Tampa Bay?
"We want 'Stammer' to remain a Tampa Bay Lightning," Yzerman said. "And we are hoping at the right time we can make that happen."
The Lightning will experience what life could be like without Stamkos as it wraps up the regular season with a four-game road trip that begins Monday against the Islanders. Yzerman said there was no immediate plan to make a callup, though he said the team has to consider bringing up wing Jonathan Drouin, who has nine goals in 10 games with AHL Syracuse since returning from a suspension last month.
"(Drouin has) worked extremely hard," Yzerman said. "He's played very well. You see the stat sheet, the goals. You love his attitude, his work ethic. Everything about his play, we're very pleased with. His effort has been outstanding."
Yzerman said that in a couple of weeks, the team may have a better idea of whether Stamkos' recovery period is closer to one month or three months. Vasilevskiy, who had surgery on his left side Sept. 3, was cleared for full activity Oct. 21 and skated with the team Oct. 26 before making his first rehab start Oct. 28. Yzerman said the Lightning also needs a few weeks to see how Stralman's fracture is healing before solidifying his time line.
Until then, the Lightning will have to rely on its scoring depth, especially its new top line with the reunited Triplets: Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov. Kucherov scored his 30th goal Thursday night. The Lightning also will lean heavily on All-Star goalie Ben Bishop, the league leader in goals-against average, who could be a Vezina Trophy finalist and should get Hart Trophy consideration.
"Part of what makes it really difficult to win championships is staying healthy," Yzerman said. "You try to give yourself a chance every year to hang around and get in there, and hopefully at some point luck is on your side. For us, it's an opportunity for other players."
Contact Joe Smith at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.