Think you had a bad week? Put yourself in Steve Yzerman’s shoes for a minute.
On Monday, in the only game on the NHL schedule, you lost your star centre, Steven Stamkos, for an indefinite period because of a broken leg.
One minute, your NHL team, the Tampa Bay Lightning, is riding high, nicely in the playoff mix after two years on the outside, and Stamkos had overtaken Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby for the NHL point-scoring lead. The next, Stamkos is on a stretcher, being carted off the ice, facing surgery and a long convalescence.
You have no idea how long Stamkos will be out and with all the pins and other hardware being inserted in his leg you can’t say how effective he will be when he eventually gets back. His loss is incalculable to your NHL team because how do you find another player with his scoring touch, his personality and his presence?
Short answer: You don’t. It is bad for you and bad for the league.
Beyond that, there are also implications for Canada’s men’s 2014 Olympic hockey team, of which you are the executive director. Stamkos had been safely pencilled in as one of the 14 forwards going to Sochi, a natural centre that likely would play the wing on the Olympic team. And he still could. The roster doesn’t officially have to be announced until the end of December, and you have the luxury of carrying 25 players because of the long travel times from North America to Sochi.
Theoretically, you could place Stamkos on the roster, in the hope he’ll be ready to go by the second week of February. If he isn’t, you could switch him out at the 11th hour.
All these things were weighing on Yzerman’s mind Tuesday, as the NHL general managers held their semi-annual meeting.
From there, Yzerman was to get together for dinner with the rest of the Team Canada management team, who will then meet formally Wednesday morning. Suffice to say, the Stamkos injury threw an unexpected curve into the discussion.
“He’s elevated his game at this early stage of the season to a level beyond last year in all aspects of his game,” Yzerman said. “He’s been tremendous. Even beyond the Olympics, he’s motivated to be not just the best scorer, but the best player in the world.
“But in regards to the Olympics, we’ll wait and see. I don’t have a time frame on long how he’s going to be out. I do know when they tell me, it’s going to be a pretty broad range. Knowing him and him being young, I expect he’ll be on a shorter rather than the longer end of the rehab process.
“All I can say is he’s out indefinitely for now.”
Yzerman reported Stamkos’s surgery went well; there were no unexpected issues; and he was upbeat following the procedure (“Not surprising if you know him”).
Stamkos also promised Yzerman “to come back stronger than ever. All things considered, he was in good spirits. It’s an injury [doctors] believe he’ll make a 100-per-cent recovery from.”
Without discussing anyone specifically, Yzerman said a handful of players had played themselves into the mix for the Canadian Olympic team because of strong starts to the 2013-14 NHL season.
“Regardless of the starts they’ve had – good or bad – we give some of the veteran guys the benefit of the doubt at least to stay in the discussion,” Yzerman said. “But we can’t ignore some of the younger players who’ve played particularly well. They’ve always been on the radar. We’ve always been watching them.”
The pool of players Canada can draw from for an Olympic team is so deep Yzerman and Company has some flexibility. It’s different when he puts on his NHL GM hat. Yzerman said he would explore the trade market, but in the short term, J.T. Brown was called up from the minors to play Tuesday against the Montreal Canadiens.
“We’ll have conversations, sure, but realistically, there’s nobody in our organization – and there’s nobody, apart from a handful of players in the league that we’re not going to be able to get anyways – that can fill the role Steven’s playing for us,” Yzerman said. “We’ll see how we do as a team and look at every option there is to fill the void.”
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