Steven Stamkos broke his right leg in a matinee game against the Boston Bruins on Monday.
There is no definitive timeline for his return at this juncture.
Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos tweeted that the early indications in this case are that the break was "not overly complicated" and that Stamkos might be back in three months and play in the Olympics. On the other hand, Damian Cristodero of the Tampa Bay Times spoke to Rays orthopedist Koco Eaton, who said the general timeline for this kind of injury is six to nine months.
The ripple effects of an injury to a player as phenomenal as Stamkos can be hard to measure. The injury is undeniably, overwhelmingly negative, but at the same time, the absence of Stamkos also creates opportunities for other players.
Who will be impacted the most?
For the high-flying Lightning, the loss of Stamkos is absolutely devastating.
Tampa Bay has made the playoffs just once in the past six years, but 17 games into the 2013-14 NHL season, the team sits first in the Eastern Conference with 24 points and second to Boston with a plus-12 goal differential.
Stamkos is the team's best player, the NHL's best goal scorer and a vital piece of their success. He presently leads the NHL in both goals and points. He's irreplaceable.
For Martin St. Louis and Alex Killorn, the loss of Stamkos cost them not just a teammate, but also a linemate.
It's a hard blow for Killorn, who had been one of the NHL's pleasant surprises early, in no small part due to his solid work on the wing of Stamkos and St. Louis. HockeyAnalysis.com shows (unsurprisingly) that Killorn has had far better on-ice results on that line than elsewhere in the lineup.
The bigger loss might be for St. Louis, the 38-year-old who is rapidly running out of opportunities to win another Stanley Cup.
Even a team as deep as Canada has players who are absolute locks to be part of the Olympic team, and Stamkos was one of them. He would have been the team's top threat to score on any given shift, and despite Canada's incredible depth, there is simply no replacing a player like Stamkos. There isn't another Canadian-born player with the same level of dynamism.
If Stamkos is unable to go, Canada will add another extremely good player to the roster in his place, but they will be a weaker team for it.
It's a terrible thing to say, but the injury to Stamkos represents a tremendous opportunity for players on the Olympic bubble.
For someone like Mike Richards (pictured above) or Milan Lucic or Taylor Hall, the likely absence of Stamkos opens a spot on the national team roster that wasn't there before, and suddenly the team's last cut might be its last choice.
It's a lousy way to make the team, but it beats not going to Sochi.
Stamkos was one of the primary contenders for the Art Ross and Maurice Richard trophies, awarded to the NHL's best point and goal scorer, respectively.
His loss is a blow to the league, but it also narrows the race considerably. Sidney Crosby, who had been tied with Stamkos for the point-scoring lead, is now the prohibitive favourite. Likewise, Alexander Ovechkin, one goal back in the Richard race, just became the probable end-of-season winner.
While there are other players in the running—the duo of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry in Anaheim, for example—Stamkos was likely the biggest threat to Crosby and Ovechkin for the awards.
Five teams are currently clustered around the top of the Eastern Conference.
As of Monday, Tampa Bay led the way with 24 points. Boston was one back at 23, and then Pittsburgh, Toronto and Detroit were tied for third with 22. And the nature of the NHL is that what's bad for one team is good for just about everyone else, with the other four contenders for the Eastern crown the most likely beneficiaries.
It was going to be tough for the Lightning to stay in front of all of that group; now it will be close to impossible.
Steven Stamkos is one of the very best players in the world today.
The reason a league like the NHL has such appeal is because it is the home of the game's preeminent talent. The Olympics add the intrigue of nationalism as well as games played between the planet's most exceptional talents.
Stamkos should be in the lineup every time Tampa Bay plays a game, and certainly when Canada competes for the gold. His absence is a blow to the game and a disappointment for every fan who likes watching the best hockey possible.