PITTSBURGH – It’s basically all-or-nothing for Steven Stamkos right now.
As doctors continue to monitor how his body reacts to the injectable blood-thinning drug Lovenox, the Tampa Bay Lightning captain believes a decision about whether he’ll be able to play again this season is drawing near.
And he has absolutely no clue right now whether it’ll be welcome news or not.
“There’s still a chance that I can play in this series and there’s still a chance that I may not be able to play in the rest of the playoffs,” Stamkos said Monday. “That’s honestly the truth. It’s tough for me to feel so physically close, but like I said before, whether it’s Game 3 or 4 or 5 (he plays) or coming to the reality that it’s not in the best interest of my long-term health to play in the playoffs, those are the questions that we’re getting closer and closer to getting answered every day.
“We’re doing our due diligence with regards to making sure we’re seeing the right medical personnel and opinions that we can and going forward from there.”
It certainly sounds like there are a lot of voices involved in the decision.
The most important factor to consider is obviously Stamkos’s health following an April 4 surgery to remove a blood clot near his right collarbone. He made it abundantly clear that he’s taking no risks on that front.
The 26-year-old is currently receiving two injections of Lovenox each day and the drug remains in the blood stream for approximately 12 hours.
In order for him to return to play, he would need to skip an injection on game days – something NHLers such as Kimmo Timonen and Tomas Fleischmann have done in the past. But first doctors must determine if enough time has passed since the surgery for Stamkos to safely adopt that kind of routine.
“It’s just a matter of how long do you have to be on the twice a day injections, versus if you played, you have to skip an injection,” he explained. “Those guys who have played have done an injection, skipped a dose, played and they’re ultimately as safe as anyone in this room. Those are the things that obviously we’re exploring.”
Physically, he feels great. Mentally, he’s had to endure the natural frustration that comes with having to watch his team make its way through the playoffs without him.
Stamkos took part in an optional morning skate ahead of Game 2 at Consol Energy Center on Monday, and has been spending a lot of time lifting weights. Should he get clearance to play, it could happen as soon as this week when the Eastern Conference final shifts back to Tampa.
“I know there’s a chance for a game after (Monday) or the game after that,” said Stamkos. “We could come to a conclusion after all of our research that it’s just not safe enough to play at all in these playoffs. That’s the reality that I’m living with. I’m just as frustrated as you guys, having to sit here and answer these questions, and just in the same way I’m asking these same questions too and I get the same answers back.
“That’s the tough part now. I’m just trying to give myself a chance that if that day comes that we speak with the docs and we feel, as a group, and me and my family that we feel it’s safe to get back on the ice, then I certainly will.”
Stamkos has leaned on a lot of people throughout this process, including teammate Andrei Vasilevskiy, who had a blood clot in the same spot earlier this season. The goaltender wound up missing seven weeks of action and was completely off medication when he returned.
It is currently six weeks since Stamkos had surgery and it sounds like his return would likely include an altered Lovenox schedule similar to what Timonen did with the Philadelphia Flyers last season. Some types of blood-thinning medication are taken orally rather than being injected, and the Lightning centre has been pleased with his experience so far.
“The great thing about the injectables as opposed to orals is some of the oral medications have strict dietary restrictions,” said Stamkos. “With the injectables you don’t have to test your blood every two or three days. They know what the results are going to be so it’s very easy to maintain.
“You don’t feel any different.”
When you hear Stamkos speak about his blood clot and the subsequent treatment, it’s very clear he has done an exhaustive amount of research on the topic. He sounds like an authority. And when it comes time to make a final decision, the pending unrestricted free agent will do so with a clear mind.
“We’ve done our due diligence,” said Stamkos. “It’s been a process. Safety first, health first. It hasn’t changed.”
Despite the gravity of the situation, he’s managed to maintain his sense of humour. Asked about how the medication has altered his daily routine, he made a quip about his thick playoff beard.
“I haven’t had to shave,” said Stamkos. “So that’s a good thing. I don’t have to worry about the razor blade.”