Over the weekend, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper told reporters the next step for Steven Stamkos to return from a broken right leg would be to participate in a full-contact team practice. That didn't happen Monday morning. Stamkos skated on his own, according to Cooper, and did off-ice rehab during the morning practice session.
Neither Cooper nor Stamkos would call missing practice a setback.
"I guess at this stage you just want to err on the side of caution. It didn't feel the best this morning so I didn't want to risk anything," said Stamkos. "You have to be prepared for really good days and days when it doesn't feel that good. Obviously I've had a lot more good days than bad days lately."
Stamkos broke his leg on November 11 in Boston and has been on aggressive rehabilitation plan since having surgery a few days later. Saturday morning, Stamkos took on light contact off to the side of practice but did not absorb full hits.
His progress has been steady and his return is nearing. The Lightning star hopes to be ready to play for Team Canada in the Sochi Olympics, which begin in less than three weeks.
"Some days I get out of bed and I take my first step and I don't feel like I've had a broken leg. Some days I feel it. It's really kind of those first couple steps where I know if it's going to be a good day or not.
"Whenever it doesn't feel good it is a little frustrating but again I've not gone through something like this before."
Shortly after surgery, Stamkos set a target date of early February to return to the ice. He has to decide before the February 9 deadline if he's healthy enough to play in the Olympics or if he'll need to be replaced on his native country's roster.
"I just want to play at this point," he said. "It's a bigger story now because there is a deadline. If there wasn't then I'm sure we wouldn't be having as many conversations as we are. Usually when you are hurt you come back whenever you feel ready. We are pushing it a little bit because of the magnitude of the Olympics and me wanting to come back and play before the Olympics. That's the ideal situation. If it doesn't happen that's something that the management staff of Team Canada and I are going to have to chat about, whether or not it's in the best interest of me or the team for me to go over there. We haven't had that discussion yet. We're still planning on being able to play before the Olympic break so that's where the mindset is right now."
The Lightning has six games remaining before the Olympic break. Ideally Stamkos would be on the ice for Tampa Bay before playing for Team Canada. The timeline for returning from this kind of injury has been accelerated because of the weight that being a member of the Olympic team carries in the nation of Canada.
"This still is probably on the aggressive side of it," Stamkos said of the timeline to return he's trying to stick to. "I understand that. You have to sit back and take that into consideration sometimes knowing that when you do have a day like today you're still ahead of, again like you said, a lot of people thought I would be at this point. It's not necessarily a step back. I had a good off-ice session. It's not like today was totally wasted because it was a little sore. If you look at it that way it's still a positive."
The Lightning will face the Maple Leafs Tuesday night in Toronto. Stamkos will travel with the team.