Does Stamkos’ injury change things for the Bolts?

by Gary Shelton on March 3, 2020

in general

Stamkos has spent too much time on the shelf./CHUCK MULLER

Tuesday, 4 a.m.

Say they lose.

Say the Tampa Bay Lightning makes it to the NHL playoffs. Say they win a round. Say they force overtime in a game 7 of the second round, when they lose after failing on a crucial power play.

Do they have a pass now?

Steven Stamkos is hurt. Again. Poor guy. It seems his career will be largely remembered by the times he spent away from it, recovering from

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surgery. Granted, Stamkos is no longer the finest player on the Lighting roster, but he's a darned good one, and he's the leader that other players look toward when it is time to make a state-of-the-union comment about the direction the team is headed.

Also, he's darned good from the circle on the team's power play.

Without him, the Lightning is less than it was. Without him, they are more vulnerable.

Here's the question then: Does Stammer's absence make a playoff exit somehow more forgivable by the Bolts?

Naturally, you will want to see the team's final 17 games before you decide. You want to see how resilient this team is, and how much firepower remains. You want to see if the Bolts charge into the playoffs or eke into them.

Yeah, you want to see just how big a hole Stamkos leaves.

But Stammer has missed games before. He'll finish this season while missing 25 of the 82 games. In 2016-17, he missed 65 games. In 2013-14, he missed 45. That's 135 games. That's more than a season-and-a-half.

Then again, there is this. In professional sports, there are never any excuses. I'm not suggesting that the rest of the Lightning players would ask for any. But it is one more thing to overcome.

No, I'm talking about the perception of the general public. After last season's embarrassment -- best team in the regular season, swept out of the first round of the playoffs - the mantra of this season was win-it-all-or-else. Anything short of the Stanley Cup would be viewed as a disappointment.

Does this change things? Probably not. The fan base is a demanding entity. Stamkos or not, you're going to hear a lot of "same old Lightning" comments if they lose again. You're going to hear that Jon Cooper has plateaued, like Tony Dungy or Joe Maddon before him. What's the old line? No one wants to hear how choppy the waters were; they just want to ship to make it to port.

In the case of Stamkos, it's permissible to feel simply awful for the guy. He cares, and he works hard, and his standards are as high as anyone else's.

For the team? The expectations aren't lowered. They can't be. There is still a lot of talent on this team.

Enough to win it?

We'll see.

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