Within a span of 24 hours last weekend, Tampa Bay sports fans were hit with a double-whammy: concerning injury news about Lightning captain Steven Stamkos and Rays Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell.
But which is most concerning? A Tampa Bay Times Sports roundtable weighs in:
Snell’s arm problems could become chronic
John Romano, columnist, @romano_tbtimes: The simple answer is Stamkos. He’s having surgery and the Lightning are a month away from the playoffs. How does that not seem more dire? And yet, in my heart, I’m more worried about Snell.
His 2019 season was a near-disaster because of elbow problems and now his 2020 season is starting off with soreness in the same elbow. Neither the Rays nor Snell seem terribly concerned about the pain — and that’s obviously good news — but I’ve seen too many All-Star pitchers fall by the wayside because of chronic arm injuries. Yes, the Stamkos injury seems more dramatic today because of the implications on the 2020 postseason, but I’m pretty certain Stamkos will be fine long-term. When it comes to Snell’s health, there is just a sliver of doubt.
Where the outlook is still sunny
Marc Topkin, Rays beat writer, @TBTimes_Rays: Sitting here as the Rays are playing on a sun-drenched field in Sarasota, I don’t see how it’s much of a question. Stamkos has the more serious injury, is certain to miss an extended period of time, is older and has a longer chart of past problems.
Snell, at least from what he and his bosses are saying, has only a mild issue, soreness at the spot he had bone chips removed last year, and inflammation, all of which can be handled by the cortisone shot he got Friday. By their schedule, Snell will miss a start, maybe two at the front end of the season since he’s not behind schedule.
If it turns out that Snell isn’t ready by then (which should be before Stamkos gets back), or gets sidelined again during the season by the same issue, maybe the question could be revisited. Then it wouldn’t be so sunny.
Bolts could face an early ending
Rick Stroud, Bucs beat writer, @NFLStroud: If he misses six to eight weeks, that means the earliest Stamkos could return is sometime during the first round of the playoffs. If it’s eight weeks, maybe the second round. After missing that much time, can the Lightning be sure how well Stamkos will be able to play if he’s cleared to do so?
More than that, Stamkos is the captain of the team. He’s the most important voice in the room. You can’t begin to replace that leadership or experience. You can’t lead unless you’re on the ice.
As for Snell, nobody seems certain about the severity of the injury. He’s getting a cortisone shot. That may help. Then again, the soreness could be a precursor to Tommy John surgery. That’s the biggest concern. But the Rays don’t act like it’s a dire prognosis. Snell went 6-8 last season and pitched 23 games. Yet without their ace, the Rays won 97 games. The season hasn’t started for the Rays. It’s nearly ending for the Bolts.
Uncertainty is a great equalizer
Diana C. Nearhos, Lightning beat writer, @dianacnearhos: The Lightning are losing Stamkos at a major moment. It’s extremely unlikely the Lightning misses the playoffs, but how you play leading into the playoffs is how you’ll play once you get there. Stamkos figures to miss the first round of the playoffs. If he comes back on time and in full form, that’s great. But how often does that happen?
What do the Rays know enough about Blake Snell’s “super sore” elbow? He might miss one start, or could this be the start of something major? Maybe that uncertainty balances out what we do know about Stamkos’ injury.
Timing is everything
Eduardo A. Encina, Pro sports enterprise writer, @EddieintheYard: You never want to hear about your ace pitcher being shut down because of a sore elbow, because a lot of times, if not managed perfectly, it will lead to Tommy John surgery at some point down the road. That’s basically two years off a pitcher’s career. In Snell’s case, it would take a big chunk out of his current five-year extension. Still, this is the time to deal with it proactively so it doesn’t get to that point.
Stamkos’ injury is more concerning because of the timing. Coming off last year’s collapse in the playoffs, everyone is already holding their breath, and starting off the most meaningful games of the year without your captain doesn’t help. Keep in mind, both teams have won without the players we’re talking about in the regular season. But in hockey, the postseason has an entirely different level of intensity, as the Lightning know all too well.