Tampa Bay Lightning: The NHL needs a fully-healthy Steven Stamkos in 2020-21

Steven Stamkos at the peak of his powers in 2020-21 will only be a good thing for the NHL and the Tampa Bay Lightning.

There is no greater tragedy in sports then when injuries rob a transcendent superstar of his prime years, denying us the chance to witness true greatness, and we are currently in that dangerous territory with Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

One of the premier talents in the modern-day NHL, Stamkos has scaled the peak of the mountain and the incredible highs that come with it, but he’s also experienced the crushing blows of professional sports and the painstaking lows.

And those contrasting emotions were perhaps best epitomized in 2019-20 when Stamkos played a key role for the Lightning during the regular season, recording 66 points (29 G, 37 A) in 57 games, only to be sidelined for the vast majority of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

When we say the vast majority of the postseason, we mean the vast majority with the 30-year-old skating in just 2:47 minutes of Tampa Bay’s run to finally slaying their Playoff demons to win the Stanley Cup.

Granted, it was a huge 2:47 minutes and it presented us with one of the most iconic and defining images in recent NHL history.

Having battled so hard to be even half fit for his team’s postseason run, Stamkos made his long-awaited return in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Dallas Stars, scoring on his only shot of the game to deliver a huge win for Tampa and one that arguably shifted the momentum in the entire series.

It was a storybook moment, a magical moment, and one that took on even more significance when Stamkos didn’t play another second of the Playoffs, only appearing in uniform again to hoist the Stanley Cup above his head, an emotional moment for a player who had been trying to get his hands on the greatest prize in all of sports for so many years.

Stamkos and the Tampa Bay Lightning had toiled for so long in their quest to be crowned the best team in the NHL and, after so many near-misses, after so many dominant regular seasons and after a humiliating First Round sweep at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2018-19, both player and franchise finally achieved their ultimate goal.

However, it was the sweetest of moments tinged with a hint of sadness and uncertainty watching Stamkos so proudly clutch the Stanley Cup, all of the emotion of a long and draining battle with multiple injuries breaking through.

After all, the Tampa Bay Captain had undergone core muscle surgery on March 2 but had suffered a new ailment by the time the NHL’s Return To Play Plan was in full swing, while that heroic goal against the Stars in Game 3 came at a heavy price with Stamkos damaging the same core muscle he had worked so hard to repair and rehabilitate.

Therefore, given that Stamkos has also suffered a plethora of different injuries and crushing blows throughout his career, there were some that wondered if maybe the first overall pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft would ride off into the sunset having finally got his hands on the one glittering prize that had long eluded him.

Few would have blamed him and, with 832 points (422 G, 410 A) in 803 career NHL regular season games, coupled with 54 points (24 G, 30 A) in 71 career postseason contests, his legacy would have been cemented.

Plus, having endured personal tragedy while inside The Bubble after his wife Sandra sadly miscarried the couple’s second child, everyone would have understood if Stamkos decided enough was enough and chose instead to focus on his family and life away from the rink.

However, after undergoing successful second surgery to repair his core, Stamkos is expected to be fully healthy for the 2020-21 season, although when that will start is anyone’s guess at this point.

But, and despite being the subject of trade talk earlier in the offseason, the fact that Steven Stamkos appears to be finally on the mend is great news for the Tampa Bay Lightning, and also fantastic news for the rest of the NHL.

Steven Stamkos, 91

Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91). Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Stamkos is one of hockey’s good guys and he’s also an elite talent, capable of changing a game in an instant and he was just two points shy of reaching the 100 point plateau as recently as the 2018-19 season, proving that he’s still at the peak of his powers.

Plus, despite being compromised for much of the regular season, Stamkos still put up 29 goals and 37 assists for 66 points in 57 games in 2019-20 while averaging 18:25 of ATOI, proving that, when healthy, he’s still one of the best and most potent forwards in the game.

As such, if Stamkos can fully heal by Training Camp and then remain healthy for the duration, not only will the Tampa Bay Lightning be getting their Captain back, but their offense will also be dramatically boosted by one of the best playmakers and two-way forwards in the game, as will the NHL.

Stars build brands and, when at his very peak, Steven Stamkos is one of the biggest names and icons not just in the Tampa Bay market but also in the National Hockey League, so a healthy and successful 2020-21 season from one of the best to have done it would spell very good news for the game of hockey.

Finally, if Stamkos can stay on the ice for the duration of the 2020-21 regular season and the Playoffs, then just maybe we could be referring to the Tampa Bay Lightning and its talismanic Captain and leader as back-to-back Stanley Cup Champions by this time next year.