TAMPA -- Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos said Monday that reports of his return to the lineup during the regular season were premature.
Stamkos had surgery Nov. 17 to repair a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee and was expected to need 4-6 months to recover.
"I don't think it was close as everyone thought or maybe that we had thought at one time," Stamkos said Monday. "We might have gotten a little ahead of ourselves. When it came out that I was day to day, I don't think I was quite day to day. I was obviously out there working hard and trying to get myself into a position that if we could get in the [Stanley Cup] Playoffs I was going to try to give myself a chance to be healthy."
The Lightning went into the final weekend of the regular season with a chance to make the postseason; they were eliminated when the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday.
"That came about because he was feeling better," coach Jon Cooper said. "He was day-to-day and who knows, if we made the playoffs maybe he would have had the opportunity to come back. But we were pushing the envelope a little bit and you don't want to put him in harm's way. That was the decision that was made and it was probably for the best.
"Losing your captain, it's tough. But this is a longer rest period for him and we'd expecte him to be at full health come September."
Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said it may take more time for STamkos to fully heal.
"Whether he needs a little more time in the fall or not, I don't know that, but [with] a good offseason, I'm confident his knee is going to be great and he's going to come out and be the great player that he is, the dynamic player that he is," Yzerman said.
Optimism was high for Stamkos' return after he practiced March 29 and did every drill at full contact. After the practice, Stamkos and Cooper said the center could return by that weekend.
However, days later Stamkos hinted that his return was unlikely.
"I think we just got a little ahead of ourselves," Stamkos said. "I had two really good skates and practices and wanted to get some touches in certain areas of the rink with the power play and stuff. There was no setback [but] it didn't progress as fast as I originally thought it would that week."
Stamkos missed the final 65 games of the season but said expects to be 100 percent for the start of the 2017-18 season. He will continue to skate and work with Lightning trainers and doctors during the offseason.
"It's frustrating because you want to be out there in the worst way," Stamkos said. "I'm probably not going to take any time off this summer. I'm going to be in the gym and work on recovering and getting stronger for next season."