Lightning can manage in Stamkos' absence, for however long it is

Scott Audette / National Hockey League / Getty

For most teams, it would be the death knell.

Team captain and leading goal scorer Steven Stamkos has been ruled out of the Tampa Bay Lightning lineup indefinitely, and could potentially miss a majority chunk of the season with a meniscus tear suffered in Tuesday's 4-3 win over the Detroit Red Wings.

It's a massive hit for Stamkos, who will miss significant time in three of the last four seasons, his unplanned absences costing him both a spot on Canada's Olympic team and the Stanley Cup Playoffs last spring.

But while Tampa Bay wouldn't have 10 wins from 17 games and a top-three spot in the Atlantic Division standing without Stamkos' start - which had him on pace to threaten his career-best point totals - this isn't a team that will wilt in his absence.

For all its top-end talent, Tampa Bay's strength is its depth. The Lightning offset injuries to Stamkos, top-pairing defender Anton Stralman, and No. 1 goaltender Ben Bishop on the path to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final last season, because the next man up doesn't present a significant drop-off in Steve Yzerman's organizational structure.

Jonathan Drouin's close to returning from injury, and like last spring when he showcased at the height of his career to date, he'll take Stamkos' spot in the Lightning front nine. Head coach Jon Cooper will have to incorporate the blender to accommodate the personnel shift, and saturate the center ice position, but the Bolts remain high skilled and fully capable of cruising to a postseason spot in their post-Stamkos configuration.

This luxury is twofold, because the process of healing a meniscus injury can involve certain strategy. Whether it's surgery or stringent physical rehabilitation, the Lightning can exercise patience, and choose the healing method best for Stamkos' long-term health and performance.

After a season of slumps, scorn, and sickness, Stamkos was off to one of his best starts, and offering value on the $68-million discounted contract he signed in the summer.

For this reason, his absence is extraordinarily disappointing. But it's one the Lightning have proven they can handle.

Lightning can manage in Stamkos' absence, for however long it is
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