Sunday, 3 April 2016

Thoughts on the Stamkos Injury and Its Impact on the Lightning

When news that Steven Stamkos will miss the next 1-3 months with a blood clot issue broke last night, a sense of shock echoed through the hockey world.  The immediate reaction from all corners of hockey's tight-knit community was to wish the Tampa Bay Lightning Captain all the best during his surgery, which is scheduled for Monday, and recovery.  Beyond that, there were big questions posed about the injury's impact on the team's chances this season.  I mean, let's be honest, the Lightning are now without two (Stralman is out with a fractured fibula) very key cogs in their machine:
The picture painted there is bleak, so it's only reasonable to be a little bit down on the Lightning's chances this spring.  Combine that with the very real possibility that Stamkos may never suit up in a Lightning jersey again, and it would be easy to get quite morose about this whole situation.

Of course, there's no sense in sulking around for the next few weeks (and hopefully months) as the team marches into and through the postseason.  There is still work left to be done, and this team has never shown an inability to perform in the face of adversity.  With that in mind, last night I had a number of thoughts on the Stamkos injury and its impact.  Here's an expanded look at those thoughts for those of you who don't already follow me on Twitter:

The Lightning are going to get a real good look at what life without Stamkos is like over the next few weeks.  My feeling is that they'll learn fairly quickly that it's not all that pretty.  While Stamkos isn't a 50-goal or 60-goal scorer in today's NHL, his is still one of the premier snipers in the game.  Even when he's "off," he attracts the attention of opposing teams' top defensive pairings.  It opens up room for the Triplets.  It opens up room for guys like Vladislav Namestnikov.  In short, it has a trickle-down effect.  Without him, everyone's matchups just got a little bit tougher.

As much as we all like to talk about this team's bevy of young talent and bright future, the reality of the situation is that there's not a lot of high-end talent left in the system; that's a symptom of all said talent making its way to the NHL already, which is far from the worst thing in the world.  What it does mean, though, is that there isn't some saviour coming next season in the event that Stamkos goes.  Jonathan Drouin is probably the closest thing to that, and there's no guarantee that he'll be back at this point.  Life without Stamkos now will give Yzerman a good look at what this team might be next season with Stamkos in a Toronto jersey, or Montreal jersey, or Detroit jersey, or...

And, if things are really ugly, maybe it scares Yzerman into caving in negotiations.  Maybe he ends up offering Stamkos a little bit more money after seeing what the team looks like without him.  Maybe this all works out in the end.  There are a lot of 'ifs' here, but this sort of scenario really isn't outside the realm of possibility.

Speaking of Drouin...

In case you haven't been following, it's worth noting that he's been on fire with the Syracuse Crunch over the last handful of games.  He's scored nine goals in his last nine games down there, and has reportedly 'looked good' if you're into that sort of analysis.  With arguably their best offensive player out, the team has no choice but to call up Drouin, right?  It's time for the coach to swallow his pride and play a guy who is quite possibly the team's best chance at additional offence right now.  The team was already struggling to score with Stamkos; that situation isn't going to get any better without him.  Bring up Drouin.  Play him.  Reap the rewards.  It's a simple, simple recipe.

If the team opts not to call him up and play him, however, it's difficult for me to see how the relationship can be mended.  As much as people have talked about him being an "entitled" kid, I struggle to see how he ISN'T entitled to this call-up.  Stamkos is out.  He's the hottest hand in the American Hockey League.  He has experience at the NHL level.  Find me a better option.  If a player doing what he's doing in the American League was named something other than Jonathan Drouin, I don't think this would even be a debate.

No road in the playoffs is going to be easy without Stamkos and Stralman, but I think the road through Detroit is likely easier than any of the alternatives.  It would take a little bit of luck, but I can see a Stamkos-and-Stralman-less Lightning squad squeaking by the Red Wings, while I struggle to see it with a team like the Islanders or Bruins.  Detroit has been a bubble team all year long, they aren't particularly physical, and the Lightning have had success against them in the past.  Again, it wouldn't be easy, but I think it would be possible.

No commentary needed.

As always, thanks for reading.

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