“Let’s wait a little bit longer on that”.
While that was a specific answer Coach Cooper gave in regard to Steven Stamkos’ return to game action, it’s also been the organization’s overall answer to the rehab status of their captain. It’s been almost four months since Stamkos left the game against the Red Wings with a torn lateral meniscus in his right knee. With the original recovery time set at 4-6 months, fans and reporters are getting anxious to know when the star center will return to the lineup.
Stamkos, who at this point is not available to the media for comment, is going to be more and more visible as the days tick by. He is going to be skating more, so it’s only natural to hope that his return is imminent. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works.
Although Stamkos has been on the ice with his teammates for the last few morning skates, he isn’t taking line rushes or participating in one-on-ones. He is skating, but he is still a long way from being ready to participate in a game.
It has to be frustrating for the Markham-native to be on the sidelines watching the team struggling to score, but it’s a very dangerous time for him. He will be tempted to return too soon and risk turning the knee injury into a lingering problem. It’s better for him to wait and make sure it’s 100% so he can help the team for many years as opposed to rushing back to help them claw their way into the playoffs this year.
Skating with the team is the first visible step in the final stage of his return, but not the last by far. He still has to participate in practice (probably with a no-contact jersey at first), then he has to practice without any restraints. With only a month to go in the season, there probably isn’t time for him to go to the Crunch for a rehab session.
At a larger level the organization probably has a benchmark for when Stamkos is ready to play. If the team is in the playoffs when he hits that mark, they will probably suit him up for the return stretch, if they’re not they may shut him down for the rest of the season. So, expect to continue to hear a lot of “I don’t know that,” or “Still too early to set a date” coming from Mr. Yzerman and Coach Cooper over the next couple of weeks.