TORONTO – When Steven Stamkos crashed into the post in Boston on Monday afternoon, the shock waves could be felt all the way to Sochi, Russia.
The Tampa Bay Lightning star is out indefinitely with a broken right tibia, an injury that could be a significant blow to Team Canada in its efforts to defend gold at the Olympics. Stamkos was tied with Alex Steen as the NHL’s leading goal scorer, and with Sidney Crosby for the points lead at the time of his injury and figured to be a lock to make the team.
“Certainly from a Canada perspective, I don’t know of a time frame, but certainly probably going to be questionable if he can play in the Olympics,” said Detroit Red Wings general manager Ken Holland, who’s part of Canada’s management team. “Big loss for Tampa, big loss for our league.”
Stamkos lost his balance and crashed into the net during the second period of the Lightning’s 3-0 loss to the Boston Bruins. He writhed in pain on the ice and appeared to tell a trainer, “It’s broken.”
The broken tibia will require surgery to repair. The Lightning did not release a time frame, likely in part because the complexity of the fracture could affect things.
Surgery is set for Tuesday morning.
“The biggest concern for me, and the rest of the Lightning, is that decisions are made in Steven’s best long-term interest, and we feel this is the appropriate course of action,” Lightning GM Steve Yzerman said in a statement.
Yzerman is also Team Canada’s GM, making this potentially a double loss. Stamkos had 14 goals and 23 points in the first 17 games of the season, helping Tampa Bay climb to first place in the Atlantic Division.
Stamkos was just 20 years old when Canada won gold in Vancouver in 2010, and he did not make the cut for that team. In three world championships, Stamkos has 16 goals and 10 assists.
Hockey Canada president and CEO Bob Nicholson said the major priority right now is Stamkos’s health, not the impact on the Olympics.
“This isn’t about the Olympic team,” Nicholson said on the red carpet before Monday night’s Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony. “This is about Steve Stamkos making sure he takes care of himself.”
Of course it would hurt Team Canada if Stamkos is unable to play. Nicholson said there’s an injury clause in the Olympic agreement that could allow Canada to name Stamkos and replace him before the Games, but he said it’s “too early” to talk about that possibility.
“We’ll see what happens in the next 48 hours and then start to discuss that,” he said. “We were looking at naming the team by the first of January, but there is the injury clause and so we’ll have to explore all of the those options.”
Team Canada had an injury question going into the 2010 Olympics when Anaheim Ducks centre Ryan Getzlaf was questionable with an ankle injury. Jeff Carter was flown into Vancouver just in case, but Getzlaf was able to play.
That could happen again for Sochi, but with more complex travel.
“There’s lots of complications around it, but it’s just devastating that it happened to him today,” Nicholson said. “We’ve got a lot of time to figure out where we’re going to go, and we just hope things go well with him.”
Babcock, Team Canada’s head coach, was on the opposite bench with the Red Wings on Saturday night when Stamkos roofed a shot on Jimmy Howard. In Toronto for three former players being inducted into the Hall of Fame—Chris Chelios, Brendan Shanahan and Scott Niedermayer—Babcock expressed sadness over Stamkos’ injury.
“Tough for him,” he said. “Who knows. We’ll see what happens.”
While Holland conceded Monday evening that he hadn’t seen the play Stamkos was injured on. But former NHL great and Canadian Olympian Wayne Gretzky did.
“It’s horrible,”said Gretzky, a former GM for Team Canada . “(You) don’t want to see anybody get an injury like he sustained today. It’s unfortunate, and that’s the risk of being of being a National Hockey League player or a professional athlete. It really is difficult. Hopefully he mends from this and comes back even stronger. He’s a wonderful young man, and I’m sure he’ll come back a better player.”
If he cannot come back in time to help Team Canada in Sochi, it could open the door for someone like Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars or perhaps Patrick Marleau of the San Jose Sharks. Neither of those players were invited to Olympic orientation camp in Calgary, but preparing for an Olympic tournament without Stamkos is not something Canada wanted.
“You’re never replacing Steve Stamkos,” Nicholson said. “We have a lot of great players. Steve Yzerman has a very difficult job putting this team together, but you don’t replace Steve Stamkos and we’ll just have to find another way to make sure the lineup’s strong.”