TAMPA — Ever since captain Steven Stamkos had surgery on his right knee Nov. 17, Lightning fans have clamored for updates.
There's not much new to report. Stamkos, 26, is still on crutches, continuing his rehabilitation behind the scenes at Amalie Arena. Stamkos hasn't addressed the media since the injury, and he may not until he begins skating, which likely won't be for at least a month. The Lightning expected Stamkos' recovery to take four months, which would make for a mid-March return. Thursday is the six-week mark, and Stamkos appears on schedule.
"He's doing fine," general manager Steve Yzerman said.
For high-level athletes who have had Stamkos' surgery, to repair a torn lateral meniscus in his right knee, four months is a pretty safe return estimate.
"I haven't had any re-tears when we wait until four months," said Stamkos' surgeon, Robert LaPrade of the Steadman Clinic in Vail, Colo.
LaPrade couldn't discuss Stamkos' case specifically because of health care privacy laws, but he and other surgeons say rehabilitation is typically lengthy.
"It's a milestone-based recovery," said Scott Faucett, an orthopedic surgeon in Washington who has performed the surgery on many college hockey players. "You can't work on strength if your knee is swollen. If you're not strong enough, you can't do a single leg squat or tolerate 5, 10 minutes of skating."
Though patients like Stamkos are expected to be on crutches for at least six weeks, they can work on their range of motion in the first few weeks, increasing the workload as they can tolerate it. At six weeks, patients can start progressive weight bearing and slowly be weened off crutches. Then comes stationary bike work.
At three months, sport-specific exercises that don't stress the repair can begin. Progression depends on the tear size, and type and number of sutures, LaPrade said.
"During the first two to four months, you're really working on getting the leg stronger," Faucett said. "So you're really addressing some of the weight-bearing and balance exercises. Usually around seven, eight weeks, you're walking on a treadmill, jogging (in water), more resistance on the exercise bike."
Once patients recover from the surgery, the knee is "back to normal," Faucett said. So Stamkos, who was playing some of the best hockey of his career, should return to form.
It'll just be a few more months before Lightning fans can see it.
TRADE TALK: Though goalie Ben Bishop is out three to four weeks with a lower-body injury, it shouldn't significantly impact his value at the March trade deadline, says Craig Button, a former general manager and current analyst for Canada's TSN network. "I don't think it's a factor so long as teams are satisfied it's not a long-term injury," Button said.
Button thinks the biggest obstacle in moving Bishop, who can be an unrestricted free agent in the summer, is Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury is also expected to be dealt and has two years remaining with a $5.75 million cap hit. "He has a good contract and a cap hit that's very attractive," Button said.
SLAP SHOTS: Defenseman Nikita Nesterov looked surprisingly good as a forward Thursday against the Blues, and it might be worth extending the experiment. … You can see how much more confident defenseman Slater Koekkoek is now that he's playing regularly. … Forward Jonathan Drouin is turning into the dynamic force the Lightning envisioned when drafting him third overall in 2013. He can be a restricted free agent in the summer and is also driving up his price tag. … The Lightning signed wing Mathieu Joseph, a 2015 fourth-round draft pick, to a three-year entry-level contract Saturday. Joseph, 19, plays for the junior Saint John Sea Dogs and is on Canada's team at the World Junior Championship.