Once in a while – but God willing, not too often – we witness an injury that satisfies every awful requirement on the checklist of doom. That was the case on Monday afternoon, when Steven Stamkos’ collision with a goalpost in Boston resulted in a broken tibia that’s suddenly the story of this young season.
First off, it was aesthetically jarring, from Stamkos’ right leg being wrenched into a position that was visibly at odds with where it should be, to the sight of a megastar pounding the ice with clenched fists as if equally aware of and angered by what had just happened. Considering the level the league’s leading scorer was playing at, this was the NHL’s equivalent of LeBron James coming down after a dunk with an awkward thud that could be heard in every arena around the NBA. The fact Stamkos won’t be streaking through the slot with a one-timer on the brain anytime soon is a devastating for anyone with even the slightest stake in hockey.
It’s impossible not to feel extra compassion for Stamkos when you consider he was set to represent Canada for the first time on the Olympic stage in three months. And then there’s the fact he and the Lightning were off to a scorching start; if not for the continued excellence of the Colorado Avalanche, Tampa’s ascent to the top of the Atlantic Division would qualify as the surprise of the standings.
It’s a perfect storm of suck.
Unless Sidney Crosby suddenly demands a trade to satiate a newfound obsession with beach life, replacing Stamkos in Tampa is obviously not an option. Hell, replacing half of Stamkos would be an absolute coup. But while any transaction aimed at compensating for the loss of the dynamic centre might seem in vain, a couple of factors combine to make it more likely. As mentioned, the Bolts have already banked a chunk of points, giving them a head start on the playoff race. Also, the Eastern Conference is fairly terrible this year, so there’s all the more incentive for a Tampa team that doesn’t exactly frequent the post-season to go for it.
While everybody feels sympathy for Stamkos and the Lightning, compassion has a short shelf life and no history of being parlayed into tangible results. In lieu of that, here are three players who, some way, some how, might help Tampa skate through a tough spot.
With seven goals in 10 games this year, Cammalleri is off to a fantastic start after missing seven contests with a hand injury. A pending unrestricted free agent this summer, Cammalleri, at 31, doesn’t figure to stick around for the Flames’ rebuild, but will be a major bargaining chip if Calgary puts him in play. That means he won’t come cheap. But Cammalleri can play centre and wing, and also has 29 points in his past 26 post-season outings. And who knows, after spending a lot of time in taxing Canadian markets the past few years, maybe there’s some appeal to sticking around Tampa for a while.
We all knew the Columbus Blue Jackets were one average Sergei Bobrovsky season away from being in trouble. In reality, this is still a team in serious transition and Gaborik, like Cammalleri, is 31 and a UFA-to-be. He also has eight goals in 27 career games with the Jackets, so he’s not exactly tempting management into a lifetime contract. He’s a right winger, so the Bolts would have to move a player like Teddy Purcell to the middle. But if Gaborik struck some chemistry in Florida, he’s still got the speed and shot to be a difference-maker.
First, the good news: Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin would personally drive Desharnais down to Tampa if he could carry a seventh-round pick back north with him. The downside is, now the Bolts would be on the hook for paying someone who just flat out isn’t producing $3.5 million for three more years after this one. Desharnais is having a miserable time in Montreal and could desperately use a fresh start. If Tampa believes that’s enough to get him dishing out some assists again, maybe it’s worth looking into - if only because, unfortunately, looking away just isn’t a long-term option.