He will not be back in the Lightning lineup until the end of February, at the earliest.
Just 12 weeks after breaking the tibia in his right leg on Nov. 11 in Boston and having a titanium rod inserted during surgery the next day, Stamkos did not receive medical clearance to play after a checkup on Wednesday. The latest check-up included a three-dimensional CT detailed scan of the tibia, which revealed the bone has not sufficiently healed to play, and the decision was made after consultation with team doctors.
“Dr. (Ira) Gutentag was pretty firm in his assessment,'' Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said. “He was not comfortable enough to clear him to play. The bone is not sufficiently healed to play in the NHL, to play at that level yet, so he's looking out for Steven's best interest and his long-term health.''
Stamkos was not immediately available, but will hold a news conference on Thursday morning to address the situation. The team released a statement on his behalf.
“Today is obviously very disappointing for me,” Stamkos said in the statement. “I honestly believe that we did everything possible in order to have my injured leg ready in time for the Olympics, but I realize you can't force healing.
“I know, in the best interest of my long term health, I cannot represent Canada in Sochi, as much as I would like to. I would like to thank the training staff for their dedication and hard work and I look forward to returning to the Lightning once cleared by the medical team.”
Team Canada did not immediately name a replacement for Stamkos, though Yzerman, also the executive director for Team Canada , said a decision is expected in the next 48 hours. Lightning captain Marty St. Louis is among those under consideration.
As recently as Tuesday, Stamkos participated in some battle drills along the wall with teammates without any issues or unexpected pain in his right leg. There was hope he would get the medical clearance to clear the path for his return to the Lightning lineup Saturday against Detroit.
But with Wednesday's announcement, that idea has been shelved, along with his participation for Team Canada, which opens play in Sochi, Russia on Feb. 13 against Norway.
Not being cleared to play, however, should not be viewed as step back in the recovery process.
“There is no setback that's one thing we want to make clear,'' Yzerman said. “(The doctors) were very pleased with what they see at this point. They are very happy with what he's doing and functioning on the ice and off the ice, how the fracture looks, the bone healing, they couldn't be happier. They admire how hard Steven has pushed and it has helped the process.
“But there's only so much you can do. This takes time and unfortunately it's going to take more than 12 weeks.''
Stamkos will take advantage of the extended time off during the two-week Olympic break to continuing training and strengthening the bone and muscle with team trainers, with an eye toward returning to the Lightning lineup on Feb. 27 at Nashville, though that is not considered a target date at this point. He will be re-evaluated on the same 2-3 week timetable that has been the case throughout the recovery process.
After experiencing so much optimism in the previous days, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said he was disappointed for Stamkos.
“I truly wanted stammer to play in the Olympics, I really did . . . you cheer for your guys for this to happen and that's the part that I'm really sad for,'' Cooper said. “But I guess in the end, this whole scenario was black-and-white; are you healthy enough to play or are you not. Right now he is not healthy enough to play and unfortunately for Stammer and Team Canada he won't be able to go.''