The Tampa Bay Lightning has been decidedly vague about any potential return to the ice for Steven Stamkos in the Stanley Cup playoffs and that’s with excellent reason.
Clearly, the Bolts could use Stamkos back as soon as possible while embroiled in a tough second-round matchup against the New York Islanders, but that doesn’t appear as if it’s going to happen with Tampa just four tantalizing wins away from a return to the Eastern Conference Final. The Lightning superstar has been out since April 4 following his surgery for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, a blood clot condition that involves an area at the collarbone that requires a fairly extensive surgery to repair.
The surgery involves cutting the muscles around the clot, and permanently removing a rib.
The original prognosis for Stamkos was a recovery time of 1-3 months. In an optimistic development, the 26-year-old has skated with his teammates for the past few days in a non-contact jersey. Stamos made it clear that he doesn’t know when he’ll be able to even get a chance to return and those that have gone through the same injury and surgery hope he does take his time.
Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid had the same Thoracic Outlet Syndrome blood clot issue and surgery in the lockout-shortened 2013 season, but his took place in the first half of the schedule wiped out by the labor dispute. He was told at the time the injury was something extremely rare for a hockey player, but now he’s hearing of other cases around the league, including Stamkos and Andrei Vasilevskiy.
“Everybody told me how rare it was for me to have this as a hockey player, and now there have been at least three other cases since,” McQuaid told CSNNE.com when asked about Stamkos at Bruins breakup day a couple of weeks ago. “It’s interesting. I don’t know if there’s a reason behind it. It can be a genetic thing where the space in there is a little smaller than somebody else, so somebody that doesn’t play sports or really lift weights won’t ever have an issue with it.
“Or it can be a previous injury that’s changed the landscape of your anatomy. I’m not 100 percent sure what the case was for me, but those are the causes, I guess. It sounds like [Stamkos] had the exact same surgery I did, so we’ll see. I followed the doctor’s orders and I still feel like I pushed things a little bit, and it was two months on blood thinners. I couldn’t lift anything for a month, so it takes a while to get all of that back.”
Regardless of how it happened, it took McQuaid multiple months to get off the blood thinners, get back to working and get on the ice for the first time, so he knows that any Stamkos return is later rather than sooner. It was also very clear to anybody who watched the rugged, rangy B’s blueliner in the 2013 abbreviated schedule that the extended period of time away from working out had a negative impact: McQuaid was seriously compromised in size and strength until getting a full summer to work back into peak condition.
So, jumping onto a moving Stanley Cup playoff train is going to be awfully difficult, if not totally impossible, for even somebody as talented and gifted as Stamkos. It makes the one month end of the 1-3 month timetable released by the Lightning at time of Stamkos’ injury announcement as much wishful thinking than anything expected to be a realistic return for Tampa Bay’s captain.
McQuaid said he hopes Stamkos weighs his future when making the final decision on a possible return. Stamos’ status as an unrestricted free agent this summer really puts a different wrinkle into the unique scenario.
“I guess I was somewhat fortunate because of the lockout that I didn’t miss any time,” said McQuaid, who had the symptoms crop up while driving from Boston to Prince Edward Island in late September 2012. “I know looking back now that I really needed to take the time to get my strength back. I know I wasn’t where I had been before the surgery when I came back [to play].
“You’re a hockey player so you’re going to come back as soon as you can if you’re deep into the playoffs. You want to come back and do everything you can to help your team. But it can be a serious thing, you know? The blood clots. [Stamkos] is a great player with so many great years ahead of him. You’ve got to take the time to let your body heal and do things the right way so you won’t have issues down the road with it.”
Nobody questions Stamkos’ toughness after he returned to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Bruins in 2013 after a puck practically tore his nose off, and he’ll return if things fall into place. But here’s hoping valor doesn’t get in the way of common sense for a tough hockey player in Stamkos who should heed the words of McQuaid, who has been in the exact same difficult position.
DEFENSEMEN FOR SALE
It’s common knowledge to those that have covered the Bruins the past 10 years that Don Sweeney and the B’s previously took a run at puck-moving defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk when he was traded from the Colorado Avalanche. The puck-moving defenseman was instead shipped to the St. Louis Blues, where he developed into an All-Star defenseman who’s still playing in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs against the Dallas Stars.
But the former BU Terrier might not be sticking around in St. Louis for much longer.
According to an industry source, the Bruins “are well-positioned to take a run at Shattenkirk” because of the D-man’s desire to play in the Eastern Conference if/when he is dealt by the Blues this summer. Shattenkirk doesn’t have a no-trade clause per se, but it might sweeten the trade return for St. Louis if they move him to a new club confident he’ll sign an extension with them.
It also feels very much like something classy Blues GM Doug Armstrong would do in moving a good St. Louis soldier like Shattenkirk to a preferred NHL destination.
With the Blues up against the salary cap with both David Backes and Jaden Schwartz up for new deals on July 1, Armstrong will be looking to deal a defenseman given the emergence of 22-year-old blueliner Colton Parayko. With Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester and Carl Gunnarsson all holding no-trade clauses, it doesn’t leave a lot of viable options for tradable assets from the quality D-men surplus aside from the 27-year-old Shattenkirk.
The one sticking point for the Bruins will be price.
St. Louis and each of the other 28 NHL teams know that the Bruins are desperate for help on their back end, and that will be reflected in the premium price tag. Think something along the lines of the return to the Coyotes for a similar player in Keith Yandle: defenseman John Moore, top prospect Anthony Duclair, a lottery-protected first-round draft pick in 2016 and a second-round pick in 2015.
What’s the Bruins equivalent? Perhaps Zach Trotman, Ryan Spooner and a conditional first/second round pick based on whether Shattenkirk ends up signing a contract extension to stick around Boston beyond next season.
It makes perfect sense that the former BU defenseman could be one of the big blueline names moved this summer and the Bruins would register as a perfect fit given their need for a top-pairing puck-mover able to play 20-plus minutes a night with skill, production, precision and plenty of big-game poise.
Shattenkirk has all of those things, and would perhaps begin to allow Cam Neely and Sweeney to start patching together a back end that destroyed the Bruins’ playoff hopes last season.
*I got a kick out of the Twitter puritans that swore Jeremy Roenick let a curse word slip on the air in his Thursday night analysis of Game 1 between the Capitals and Penguins on NBCSN. Both Roenick and Mike Milbury were critical of the sloppiness and lack of defensive structure between the two teams, and JR called it basically a “shinny game” out on the ice.
A lot of people thought he said something that sounds like “shinny” and might have also aptly described the action from a defensive purist standpoint. For those outside the hockey bubble, shinny is basically a pickup hockey game with no penalties, no real hitting and just rushes up and down the ice where offense is a premium.
So, Roenick definitely said “shinny” in this instance, and I know this because I’ve also said “shinny” on the air only to have people think I was damning the torpedoes and swearing on the air. I actually had one viewer sending me angry emails that I was swearing while he and his son watched me on TV before I explained what I had actually said.
So once and for all its “shinny,” people. Get your minds out of the gutter!
*Speaking of the Capitals, they now become the heavy favorites to win the Stanley Cup in this humble hockey writer’s opinion with Western Conference heavyweights Los Angeles, Chicago and Anaheim now all eliminated from the postseason. Barry Trotz’s boys would be the first Eastern Conference team since the Bruins in 2011 to win the Cup if they can fully accomplish the mission at hand.
*I think it’s time to officially retire the “Darth Quaider” nickname for Adam McQuaid with the Bruins signing Czech goaltender Daniel “Darth” Vladar to a three-year, entry-level contract. There can be only one Sith Lord per NHL team. Besides, McQuaid still has never even seen the Star Wars movies despite the moniker. So the Force is not strong in that one.
Remember, keep shooting pucks at the net and good things are bound to happen.