Saturday, May 26, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Stamkos' broken leg awful for him, team

This stinks.

Of all the awful images we saw Monday afternoon from Boston, this is the lasting one: the Lightning's Steven Stamkos, his hands covering his face, being carted off on a stretcher.

You just knew it was bad.

Turns out, it was about the worst thing that could have happened.

Stamkos suffered a broken leg and, just like that, the Lightning season is in jeopardy. More important, we can only hope that Stamkos can be an elite player again someday, regardless of when that someday is.

It's all just so depressing, the kind of moment that breaks your heart. You wish that you were dreaming, that what just happened really didn't happen.

Injuries in sports happen all the time. But this one feels unfair. Partly for the Lightning, but mostly for Stamkos. He is one of the good guys, a kid who is as humble as he is talented. And there aren't many who are more talented at anything than Stamkos is at hockey.

You could argue Stamkos is the best player in the NHL. You could argue no player is more valuable to his team than Stamkos.

But there is no argument about this: the Lightning will desperately miss Stamkos, so much that it's hard to imagine this is still a playoff team without him.

Even with Stamkos, the Lightning's fast start to the top of the Atlantic Division still had not convinced many that this team was for real. Without him? The Lightning will carry on, but let's face it, this team is not nearly as good today as it was yesterday.

The Lightning has 52 non-shootout goals this season. Stamkos has scored or assisted on 23, meaning he has had a hand in 44 percent of its goals. Last season, he had a hand in 39 percent — more than such stars as the Penguins' Sidney Crosby and the Caps' Alex Ovechkin. Two years ago, it was 42 percent.

No player has scored more goals in the NHL since the start of the 2008-09 season. No player has scored more goals this season. No player has more points.

In short, this is a devastating blow to the Lightning, one that, frankly, seems too big to overcome.

Talk all you want about other players stepping up and pulling together and working harder — and Lightning coach Jon Cooper said all those things Monday — you can't replace talent. The type of skill Stamkos possesses can't be replaced with a pat on a back and go-get-'em-boys speech.

Working harder doesn't make anyone shoot a puck like Stamkos. Banding together doesn't make anyone else skate like Stamkos. Telling this guy or that guy to step up doesn't mean this guy or that guy will suddenly develop a breathtaking one-timer on the power play like Stamkos.

The Lightning's best player is gone and you're fooling yourself it you think it can continue to win at the same clip. That's not meant to slam the rest of the team because you could say the same about any team that loses its best player.

But, okay, if others are going to step up, who must they be?

Let's start in goal. The Lightning must continue to get elite goaltending from Ben Bishop and that was true even if Stamkos didn't get hurt. Bishop's play becomes even more critical.

Marty St. Louis has to continue playing at a high level, although it should be noted that Stamkos assisted on all seven of St. Louis' goals this season. Valtteri Filppula, who is off to a nice start, likely will move to take Stamkos' spot on the top line and he needs to play like a No. 1 center.

Ryan Malone, who always seems to be hurt, has two goals this season. That's simply not acceptable. He has to score like the 25-goal scorer he used to be, maybe even more. Teddy Purcell has five goals. He needs to turn it up a notch or two.

That's just the start. And that's assuming the defense continues to play well and that the Lightning doesn't suffer any more serious injuries. Maybe if the Lightning can hang around the playoff pack, general manager Steve Yzerman pulls the trigger on a trade later in the season for more scoring punch.

For now, the Lightning will go one of two ways.

It could go into shock, feel sorry for itself and that could sent it into a tailspin from which it doesn't soon recover. Or, the injury could galvanize and inspire the team, especially in the short term. Eventually, however, the longer Stamkos is out, the more it will miss him. That's how it works when you lose such a talent.

Meantime, the health of Stamkos is so much more important than the health of the Lightning's playoff chances. It's too early to tell, but he appears to have a long road of recovery ahead of him and the thought of that must be depressing for the 23-year-old.

The whole thing is just so awful. For him. For the Lightning. For the Canadian Olympic team. For anyone who likes hockey.

The whole thing just stinks.

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