Steven Stamkos is expected to be recovered from core muscle surgery and ready to play for the Tampa Bay Lightning if the NHL season resumes, coach Jon Cooper said Friday.
The forward had surgery March 2 and missed seven games before the NHL paused the season March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus. His recovery was estimated at 6-8 weeks.
"He improves every single day," Cooper said Friday. "I have no idea when things are going to get back together, but we have anticipated that all of our guys will be ready to go when that time comes. We know it's not coming tomorrow and probably not next week, but when the time comes, we anticipate everyone will be ready.
"I know he's worked hard to get back. A lot of it had to do with rest, which he's been getting."
Stamkos is second on the Lightning in goals (29) and points (66) behind Nikita Kucherov (33, 85).
Cooper said that he keeps in touch with his players regularly, but not as much as he did in the first few days after the season was paused. He recently spoke with defenseman Luke Schenn to congratulate him on the birth of his second child.
"Some days, I get in 3-4 [players]; sometimes, I go a couple of days without speaking to them," Cooper said. "It's a little different now that this thing has gone on longer and longer. There's more certainty now. We're pretty certain now we know what's going on, we just don't know how long it's going to last. But it's great to check in with guys."
Video: TBL@COL: Stamkos pokes in loose puck while falling
Cooper reacted to Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand's claim that younger, high-skilled teams like the Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs will recover from the layoff quicker than older teams.
"[Brad's] the best," Cooper said. "All I know is the Bruins are the No. 1 team in the League right now in just about every statistical category, including points.
"If anything, I think the rest helps teams that have a little bit more miles on you. I don't think it matters. I think every team has skill, every team is talented. I think what this break has done, in all seriousness, is allowed for some of the outstanding players in this league who have been on the shelf because of injuries to get healthy."
Tampa Bay (43-21-6) is in second place in the Atlantic Division, eight points behind Boston.
Cooper said Lightning players are doing their own workouts and should be fine physically. He is more interested in whether they are mentally prepared to return at a crucial point in the season.
"The guys are tremendous athletes, and they're working out in their own different ways," Cooper said. "Not being able to be on the ice is obviously an issue, but the guys keep themselves in outstanding shape. I look for the mental side of things to see if guys are looking forward to coming back and trying to finish what we've already started, and everybody's been in that mindset.
"I think the uncertainty has changed to a little bit of frustration. But I do believe there is a light at the end of the tunnel. It's going to be slow, but we are going to make our way back to what we hope is normal. I know as a league, Commissioner [Gary] Bettman is doing everything in his power to exercise what options [there are] for us to play. Those are all positive notes. It's just keeping the guys engaged knowing that there is going to be spring hockey ... it's just going to be shifted to summer."