Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Off the Dot: What Impact Could Steven Stamkos’ Return Have on Ensuring the Tampa Bay Lightning makes the Playoffs?

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The answer to the question of whether or not Steven Stamkos will return to the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2014 is of the inevitable variety.  The question isn’t if – the question is when.

Another important question for when Stamkos returns to the ice:  what will be his impact for the Lightning in the latter half of the season?  Because Stammer will have an impact, he is too good not to; broken tibia or no broken tibia.

But how much of an impact will that be?  And how much do the Bolts need Stammer to make the impact that befits his talent and role on the team prior to his Nov. 11 injury?

It bears reminding that through the first 17 games of the 2013-14 season, before Boston and the broken tibia, Stammer was leading the Bolts in points and goals while pacing the league.  It took nearly a month, if not more, for any other Lightning players (the committee of goal-scorers) to catch up and eventually surpass the pace Stammer set in only seventeen games to start the season.  Stammer tallied 14 goals, 9 assists for a total of 23 points before being sidelined for the past 41 games.

Leading me to my next question:  how quickly can you reasonably expect Stammer, when he gets back out there, whenever that may be (I have no current information of how soon it will be after the Olympic break, or how late), to be at 100% and basically pick up where he left off in November?

Clearly his comeback, his healing progress and every miraculous thing we’ve seen this season, Bolts Nation, from our very own Steven Stamkos has been amazing.  He was walking before we knew it.  He was skating before we knew it.  And he was practicing before we knew it.  But is it fair to expect him to just step back out there, once cleared by the medical staff, and just find his talent honed and ready to rumble, right there where he last laid it down?

My impulse is to answer…well, yes.  I do kind of expect him to do that.  He’s just that good.  But where I’m going with all this supposition is to ask the most pertinent, to me, question of this article.

If Stammer is able to come back (whenever that may be) and is able to match his production from October and early November, would that be the missing element, the final piece to the puzzle, to help push a fatiguing Lightning team firmly into the playoff picture?

Because let’s be honest with each other here:  the Bolts, as a whole, look tired.  Clear team MVP Ben Bishop (who has also started showing signs of fatigue and fragility the past few weeks preceding the Olympic break) looks to me to be someone the Lightning really need rested and healthy for the last 24 games of the season.

Without Bishop, Stammer or no Stammer, I don’t feel nearly as confident about the Lightning earning a playoff berth after a two-year drought; Bishop or bust as far as I’m concerned.

So I dearly hope this Olympic break proved to be just what the doctor ordered for the rest of the Bolts (especially Bishop and Valtteri Filppula).  Hopefully they just needed a few weeks to rest (most of the team anyways, obviously we got a few Olympians who won’t be benefitting from all that rest) and re-“Coop”-erate themselves a bit, steady their collective gaze and prepare for the most important leg of the season yet to come:  the Playoff Push.

They have had a darling of a season so far, truth be told.  The best season they have ever had as far as regular season records are concerned (the best season will always be 2003-4).  Despite the Boston Bruins and the Pittsburgh Penguins sort of being in a league of their own in the East, the Bolts have hung in there and maintained top-billing in the Eastern Conference, and the Atlantic Division, for the entirety of the season.  Except, for the last few weeks (or really the whole month of January to a certain degree) where at least three teams in the Atlantic have caught up with us and are now nipping on our heels.

Now the playoff push is set to begin in late February and March, upon the completion of the Olympics, and the Lightning needs every point they can get to stay competitive and keep themselves in the hunt.

Now, it is my opinion that the Bolts did a great job of establishing a scoring committee of several key rookie players (Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov) as well as veteran players stepping up (Victor Hedman, Martin St. Louis, Alex Killorn, Valtteri Filppula) to help in filling the production void left by Stamkos.  But I think that these committees of players are worn out and that’s why I think that if Stammer is able to come back to the lineup at 100% capacity then his impact will be felt up and down all of the lines, as they are in desperate need of a break.

Plus, Stammer is known for scoring the vast majority of the Lightning’s “sniper” goals from various long range areas on the ice.  A scoring threat, once again in my opinion, which has been sorely missed in Tampa Bay since Stammer’s injury (sans say Johnson, but still not a Stamkos).  There really isn’t another player on the Lightning’s current roster who can score goals the way Stammer does, and in bulk.

So, the impact could be great.  Giving the committee a chance to relax a little, if Stammer picks up where he left off, lifting some of the load from the shoulders of Tampa-cuse, and maybe the goals will start coming easily from every angle and every place, and from a new variety of players on the ice for the Lightning, just like old times.

Bearing in mind that Stammer comes back and he plays like he never missed a minute of ice time.

That part is paramount to the impact I feel his return could and should immediately make for the Lightning.

But based on his recovery:  how quickly he has healed, how quickly he has come back from his injury, I would not bet against Steven Stamkos blowing all of our minds when he gets back out there on that ice.

It’s kind of what he does.

And it’s kind of what the Bolts really need from him at this crucial point of the season.

 

Off the Dot is an ongoing column of opinions, feelings and thoughts on all things Tampa Bay Lightning.  This is a knee-jerk reaction column for the many things that a fan maybe feels or thinks throughout a hockey season.

This is NOT a stat by stat analysis of the Bolts, but rather a theater of words concerning the Lightning and the many emotions tangled up in supporting your favorite NHL team; a theater for all fans to come to for a more personal take on Tampa Bay hockey.

That’s why I call it “off the dot”.  Because if we were “on the dot”, as in face-off mode, well, things would be decidedly more on-point and specific.  While off the dot, while we’re still just milling around the face-off circle, as I am now, waiting for the whistle to blow, then we’re just being conversational.  We’re just talking about our thoughts on strategy maybe or whatever random concept happens to come to mind, needing to be expressed.  The fun off-key banter of fans before someone (whoever) decides to hunker down, spread out their skates, and get nose-deep over the dot for the real face-off, and maybe say, statistically speaking, what happened in a win or loss in their more researched opinion.  And we have those articles all over Bolts by the Bay, and I very much encourage you to check out those articles, too.

These are just my opinions, my feelings, and my thoughts – while we’re off the dot.

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Tags: NHL Steven Stamkos Tampa Bay Lightning

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