There has been some debate brewing already about whether or not Steven Stamkos  should play for Sochi. It was sparked by the fact that Stamkos said that he doesn’t feel like he needs to play an NHL game before going to Russia with Team Canada.
This needs to be said often and early—Stamkos hasn’t been cleared to play. He is practicing with the team and is ahead of schedule but he hasn’t been cleared for a normal practice with normal contact, making this debate pure speculation and a waste of time.
Some have taken exception to Stamkos announcing that he will still go to Sochi without playing a game with the Lightning beforehand. Their argument stems from the idea that the NHL team is more important than playing for one’s country on the biggest international stage and feel Stamkos shouldn’t slight the team just to make Sochi happen.
This is an absurd point of view if one thinks about it. The NHL may not take part in future Winter Olympics, they haven’t made a decision as of yet, which means this could be the last chance Stamkos will get to perform for his country in an Olympics. Stamkos deserves to play for Team Canada and based on his play the last few seasons and earlier this year. It’s not right to scrutinize him and say he shouldn’t go because of an injury that he has been diligently rehabbing.
It’s also not fair to imply that he is more worried about Team Canada than helping his team. If it wasn’t the Olympics this year it would be an All-Star break of one week and Stamkos would be back with his team mid-February instead of playing in Russia during the 3-week layoff. He is pushing to be back as soon as possible for both Team Canada and the Tampa Bay Lightning and wants to help both accomplish their goals.
For some reason, people tend to forget that this team is a playoff team right now without Stamkos. They sit second in the division, four points out of first, and have been sitting in a playoff spot since the injury. The team doesn’t need to rush him back right now to play before Sochi so the idea of the team needing him right now is a fallacy.
Steven Stamkos needs to go to Sochi and not going to Sochi will hurt the Lightning more.
If Stamkos goes to Sochi, that’s three weeks of playing at a high level that he won’t be able to get in Tampa as there won’t be any games for him to play in. He is going to need those playing situations anyway and it’s better to have him do it in Russia than waste NHL games on getting him up to speed. He will be able to play up to six games if Canada makes it to the gold medal round, (two initial games against each group, one playoff qualifier, one quarterfinal, one semi final and then the gold medal round).
If he doesn’t go and is healthy, all he can do is stay in Tampa doing simulated practices which won’t help player or team, as he needs to build up his confidence and condition for game situations. Sochi will give him time to clear the rust and come back strong for the Lightning, as his body will be conditioned for competitive hockey.
If the argument is the Lightning should come first, then why push an unconditioned Stamkos to play in NHL games with points on the line during a division race? Especially, since he isn’t even cleared medically for either team.
Don’t look at the Sochi Olympics as a tournament that is preventing Stamkos from helping the Lightning, instead look at it differently.
It’s a conditioning stint, plain and simple. If it goes well, the player will be ready to play at the level the team wants him to and get them into the post season.