Key Contributors Set to Return for NHL Contenders

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  • In a season that saw many injuries to star-caliber NHL players, many contenders are set to get key contributors back if the NHL season resumes
  • The Tampa Bay Lightning will get star center Steven Stamkos back after core muscle surgery that would have kept him out of some playoff games
  • The Pittsburgh Penguins should get star winger Jake Guentzel back after it was feared he would miss the remainder of the season with shoulder surgery
  • Toronto Maple Leafs will get key defender Jake Muzzin back after he sustained a broken hand

The NHL season is annually jam-packed with injuries, but it seemed this season was especially hard on injuries when it came to star-caliber players.

It’s difficult to find a club that wasn’t struck by the injury bug at some point this season, and some contending teams were facing the prospect of missing key pieces come playoff time.

That said, the current pause in action has allowed many player to heal up and be ready for the return of the NHL, if that happens.

Here are a few.

Stamkos to be Ready for Lightning

The Lightning were on a course to avenge last season’s shocking first round, four-game sweep at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets this time around.

That said, when Steven Stamkos suffered a core muscle injury that required surgery on February 25 against the Maple Leafs, the Lightning faithful collectively held their breath.

Just days later, it was announced that Stamkos would undergo surgery to fix the problem, a procedure that would cost him six-to-eight weeks, meaning he would at least miss some postseason action.

At the time, it was a big blow to a Lightning team that was Stanley Cup or bust again this season.

“With the timing of all this, it was devastating at the beginning, because I thought I would be possibly missing some playoff games,” Stamkos said in a video posted by the Lightning on Friday.

The Lightning captain then said the words the fans wanted to hear.

“And the stoppage happened, we didn’t know how long it was going to be, so the kind of silver lining in that was I’ll be ready when we resume.

Breath a sigh of relief, Lightning fans.

Pens’ Guentzel to Return From Shoulder Injury

When Jake Guentzel went crashing into the boards after scoring his 20th goal of the season in a game against the Ottawa Senators on December 30th, it was not pretty.

Clutching his shoulder while immediately heading towards the Penguins’ dressing room, no one blamed Penguins fans from fearing the worst.

Those fears transformed into reality less than 24 hours later as it was announced Guentzel would miss four-to-six months after undergoing surgery on the injured shoulder.

The latter end of that time frame put his recovery towards the end of June, meaning it was possible he could miss the entire postseason, and it was likely he would miss at least a round or two regardless.

That said, Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford stated that Guentzel is on the front end of that timetable, meaning he’ll certainly be ready for if/when the NHL returns.

“If you take the shortest [recovery] period, and that would be the end of April, and if it’s six months, it’s June. “But I would expect that knowing Jake Guentzel that he’s going to be ready, and his rehab is going well. And he’s at the point now where he’s one of the guys who’s returned home and will continue to rehab on his own.”

Of course, it’s wonderful news for Sidney Crosby’s left winger and the Penguins leading goal-scorer at the time of his injury.

Guentzel posted 40 goals alongside Crosby a season ago and has developed into one of the best left wingers in the NHL today.

Muzzin’s Hand Ready to Go

While no one would put Muzzin into the same star category as Stamkos or Guentzel, his importance to the Toronto Maple Leafs is substantial.

The same night that Stamkos injured his core back on February 25, Muzzin took a shot off his hand, breaking it and sending him to the long-term Injured Reserve as well.

It was the second long-term injury for the veteran blueliner this season after he broke his foot on December 27.

The injury also came at a brutal time for the Maple Leafs as the team was already without Morgan Rielly and Cody Ceci for the long-term, meaning the Leafs were to be without three of their top four defenseman in terms of minutes played.

However, Muzzin confirmed on Tuesday that his hand is ready to go and he’s feeling great.

“The hand is doing great; the body is feeling good. I’d say I’m pretty much 100 per cent ready to go,” Muzzin told reporters on a conference call on Tuesday. “I’ve been getting treatment, and just working out, trying to stay ready like everyone else. My strength and mobility is all back and we’re ready to go.”

For a Maple Leafs team with defense as their key question mark, Muzzin’s presence in the lineup is huge. He’s a big contributor at both ends of the ice and also possesses a physical aspect to his game that the team lacks elsewhere.

His importance to the club was also realized when he signed a four-year, $22.5M extension with the club in February, a deal that keeps him in Toronto through the 2023-24 campaign.

These aren’t the only injured players that will return, of course, but just a few examples of teams being healthier than ever if the league can indeed resume this summer, or later.

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Brenton Kemp / Author

Brenton is a lifelong sports fan who resides in Ontario, Canada. Brenton is a fan of most all sports but specializes in hockey, baseball, football, basketball, and golf. He’s a fierce researcher with a strong appetite to deliver accurate and relevant facts that in turn have led to past success with picks and DFS advice across the board. Brenton’s biggest goal is to deliver readers with the picks and advice that can build their bankroll. He takes great pride in his success and loves nothing more than to share that success for the benefit of everyone involved.