Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos feels 100 percent ready to return to the lineup. But it will be at least another nine days before he suits up to play again.
Following his 14-week checkup today, which included an X-ray and consultation with team physician Dr. Ira Gutentag, Stamkos was not given medical clearance to play during the Lightning's upcoming four-game road trip that begins on Thursday in Nashville.
Stamkos will be re-evaluated when the team returns from the trip on March 5 with the hope that his first game back will be March 6 when Tampa Bay opens a six-game homestand against Buffalo.
"I feel like I'm ready to play, it's just a matter of getting this thing perfect really before I come back," Stamkos said. "I kind of knew based on what (Dr. Gutentag) had said last time we did the CT scan, which was a pretty clear picture that it wasn't ready, that he kind of said from this point probably three or four weeks is what you are going to need, so we are at three weeks."
Stamkos, who was leading the league with 14 goals and 23 points through 17 games, has missed the past 41 games after crashing into the right post during the second period against the Boston Bruins on Nov. 11. The next day he underwent surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital to insert a titanium rod into his right leg after suffering a broken tibia. The original time frame established for the two-time Rocket Richard Trophy winner was three to six months before he could return to action.
The 12-week mark came at the beginning of February, when he had hoped to be cleared in time to play one or two games with the Lightning before the Olympics and then head off to Russia to represent Canada, which went on to win the gold medal.
But a CT scan revealed the bone, though ahead of schedule in the recovery process, was not 100 percent and Stamkos was not given medical clearance to return. Today's X-ray showed that the bone is still not quite 100 percent healed, though nothing will change in his workout and practice regimen, which includes taking full contact.
"The more rest we have now, the more it's going to continue to heal and get back to exactly 100 percent," Stamkos said. "There will be even more bone growth and it's just going to continue to calcify and get even stronger in and around the fracture site. Everything is going extremely smooth and we just want to be smart and just make sure that it's 100 percent.
"I wouldn't say that it's 100 percent yet, whether we are at 95 or 98, we just want to make sure that it's 100 percent healed before we get back."
Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said after practice that he was prepared not to have his two-time 50-goal scorer back in the lineup at the start of the post-Olympic break schedule.
"In my head, I (had) Steven coming back the first home game against Buffalo," Cooper said. "If he came back for Nashville, it would be playing with house money. And (Monday) would be the CAT scan heard around the world. Because of what happened last time, I had no expectations."
While there was obvious disappointment earlier in the month when he couldn't participate in the Olympics, he prepared himself mentally this time around that he might not be cleared to play, but that doesn't mean he likes to be told to sit out another two weeks.
"Any time that I can't play it is a little disappointing for sure," Stamkos said. "I want to get back and play as soon as possible. We've talked about that from the beginning, so I can't say that I'm happy about it. But we are doing the right thing, we are playing it smart and I know that I'm going to be back very soon and that's kind of reassuring."
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