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Tuesday, Sep 16, 2014
Martin Fennelly Columns

Fennelly: Stamkos’ return needs to be with Bolts

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Published:   |   Updated: January 29, 2014 at 06:48 AM

TAMPA — Steven Stamkos needs to play his way into the Olympics.

If he can’t go for the Lightning in a game before heading to Russia, he shouldn’t go.

I’d rather break his heart than have him break something else, even in the name of Canada.

We’re officially in a weird area.

It’s just three weeks until hockey begins in Sochi.

The Lightning appear playoff bound.

Lightning GM Steve Yzerman can’t listen to Stamkos’ heart.

It’s complicated, since Yzerman is also GM for Team Canada. By the way, Y needs to drop one of those gigs after these Games. We’ve seen from the Marty St. Louis Olympic snub that Yzerman is in an awkward position. Now it’s stranger still with Stamkos’ situation.

I think Yzerman, with the doctors, will make the right call.

Stamkos’ heart can’t be the tiebreaker.

The Lightning played the Maple Leafs on Tuesday night, not far from where Stamkos grew up and where every hockey head in a hockey nation needs to know: Is Stammer going?

Tuesday morning, Stamkos skated with his teammates for about 15 minutes. Then he broke some news. He doesn’t necessarily think he has to play in any Lightning games before the Olympic break to play in Sochi.

Sochi? Going in cold?

This doesn’t feel right.

It was always play for the Lightning, then the Olympics ...

This doesn’t feel right.

I’d want to see him in a game or two before Sochi. Doesn’t Stamkos need to get knocked around in an NHL game, full tilt, for him to know? For the Lightning to know?

This after what you can’t call anything but a setback — Monday, when Stamkos tested his surgically repaired right tibia and something didn’t feel quite right.

If Stamkos was injured in Sochi ... if it was his leg ... or if he suffers any setbacks ... or even if he doesn’t, without first playing a game for his employer ...

The Lightning can’t get this wrong.

Stamkos’ head and heart must be swimming. He wants these Olympics, badly. It doesn’t look like the NHL will close shop and send its players to South Korea in four years, or maybe to any Olympics after that. This might be Stamkos’ only shot.

But the Olympics can’t be the start line.

Understand: Stamkos isn’t doing anything that hasn’t been cleared by doctors. His progress has been amazing.

So what’s the harm of him going to Sochi and practicing and playing with the best in the world for a few weeks? A sort of training camp, with medal rounds.

Maybe there’s no rush. Yzerman and his Canadian staff have more than two weeks, until 24 hours before Canada’s first Olympic game, on Feb. 13, to decide whether or not to replace Stamkos on Canada’s roster. There’s time. And there will be more X-rays.

I just don’t think the Olympics should be Stamkos’ warm-up act.

It’s time for cool heads, not warm hearts.

Monday, after his leg didn’t feel quite right, Stamkos said, “At this point, you want to err on the side of caution.”

Indeed.

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