In the matter of Steven Stamkos, the question is: Will the Lightning's star center play again this season?

Coach Jon Cooper responded Thursday by saying "yes."

He admitted it is just a gut feeling but added, "In my heart, I know he's coming back. I have no doubt."

Cooper then doubled down by saying, "I don't think the question is going to be, 'Is he coming back to play this year for the Tampa Bay Lightning?' The question is, 'Is he going to be back (in February) to play for the Canadian Olympic team?' I'm the optimistic coach, but that's how it might turn out."

The only way that happens is if Stamkos — who on Tuesday had a titanium rod inserted into his right tibia, broken during Monday's 3-0 loss to the Bruins — heals in three months, the most optimistic of the speculated timetables.

"But everything is pointing in the right direction," Cooper said. "The surgery went well. Nobody is saying the rod slipped. And he's only 23. He's coming into the prime of his career."

How can Cooper be so optimistic just three days after Stamkos was injured? "Everybody is about hope, and if you snuff out the flame, what do we have?"