The Tampa Bay Lightning are neck and neck with the Florida Panthers atop the Atlantic Division in the NHL’s Eastern Conference. Even if they don’t take first place, they still have the balance and talent to make some serious noise during the NHL playoffs. And until recently, they were considered a realistic dark horse to make a run at the 2016 Stanley Cup.

Stamkos Done

Now, possibly not so much. Thanks to news on Sunday that star center Steven Stamkos will miss the next 1-3 months due to a blood clot in his arm, the team is now reeling, wondering how it’s going to make up for the loss on offense. The 26-year old Stamkos was the focal point of Tampa Bay’s strong offense, chipping in 36 goals on the year, along with 28 assists in 77 games.

Stamkos is expected to be fine going forward and his blood clot issue is not projected to be “career threatening”. A surgery on Monday made sure of that, but the long recovery period will end Stamkos’ 2015-16 NHL season prematurely – rendering him useless for the first time in two seasons.

The blood clot complicates two matters for the Lightning. The loudest of which is Tampa Bay’s plight for a deep playoff run, which until looked to have a strong back bone.

The other issue is the future of the Lightning without Stamkos, who could now leave the team in free agency this summer. The 26-year old Stamkos is now going to be a health risk to a certain degree, but should still also command serious cash on the open market. That could have him jetting to greener pastures if the money and situation is better. An ongoing story-line regarding Stamkos’ future indeed just got a lot more complicated.

Stanley Cup Odds

For now, all Tampa Bay can do is plan for the playoffs without their star and hope for the best. They don’t hold terrible odds to win the NHL title (15/1), but they’re far from the favorites (Capitals at 3/1) and their odds should only take a hit from here.

Even without Stamkos Tampa Bay still has a solid offense, as well as a strong defense to hang their hat on. They’ve also been just as good on the road this year (20-15-2) as at home, giving way to the possibility that they can beat anyone at anytime, anywhere.

The loss of Stamkos could also possibly give Tampa Bay a boost when it comes to team morale, as the team could rally together to try to make up for the staggering loss. On paper, we can’t count the Lightning out, but the loss of Stamkos is massive. They could still end up being a fun Stanley Cup bet based on odds (if/when they drop), but realistically their chances of winning it all in 2016 have taken a hit they probably won’t be able to overcome.

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