Wednesday, 4 a.m.
Soon, the designation is coming.
Soon, if you do not acknowledge it already, you will.
Soon, you will be able to point to No. 91 as he glides across the ice. “There,” you will say, “goes the finest player who has ever played for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
He is just getting started. Remind yourself of that. He is 26 years old, an age that some players are still trying to make a dent in the National Hockey League.
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And Stamkos is a star. He is rich beyond imagination, and so far, he is a bargain.
Did you see Stamkos Tuesday night? He scored one goal by the time our national anthem was played and another by the time Canada's was. He was a blur, a notion for a Leafs' fan of what might have been if Stammer had come home. He scored his fifth goal of the season in seven games. And stop him if you can.
This is what Stamkos can do. He can light fire to the offense. He can make other players on the ice better.
"We wanted to come out strong, and I think that was the first game where we scored in the first period,” Stamkos said. “So it was something we talked about before was getting out to a good start, especially on the road, it's always important. It definitely set the tone for the game and put us up."
None of this is surprising, you know. For a very long time, Stamkos is the athlete in Tampa Bay who is most likely to get MVP votes. Say what you want about Evan Longoria, a fine player, or Gerald McCoy, who is very good. But neither of them would be favored to their league's MVP award.
Stamkos would be.
Okay, present-tense, Stamkos is probably chasing both Vinny Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis. Lecavalier had 383 goals in 14 seasons with the Bolts. St. Louis has 365 in 13 seasons in Tampa Bay.
Stamkos? He has 320 goals now at the start of his ninth season. By the end of next season, he should be able to catch them both.
It is a difficult thing in sports to decide when a current player has passed an established one. But Stamkos seems like he's on his way. When Lecavalier scored 92 goals in two seasons — and 192 over five — when St. Louis scored 200 over a six-season streak, they had this in common. You absolutely loved seeing one or the other with the puck on his stick.
Tuesday night, it hard not to feel a little sympathy for the Leafs. They had invested so much emotion in dreaming about Stammer last year. They almost envisioned him coming up the ice. It is dangerous to covet someone else's free agent.
Look, you can give credit to Steve Yzerman for bringing back Stamkos last season if you want. But the decision always belonged to Stamkos. The team — with reason — drew a line, and Stamkos decided he'd rather try to win with the roster here than the one elsewhere. So he studied his surroundings, and he made a play. It's what he does.
Amid all the rumors about how Stamkos didn't like the wing and didn't like Cooper and wanted the extra endorsement money that might have come in Canada, perhaps we should have figured it. Stamkos is an athlete with uncommon perspective. After a game, he has a way of summing up what just happened to the Lightning – good or bad, without excuses.
As it turns out, Stamkos will be here for a while, still summing up.
Along the way, he's going to have a few highlights.
Every time he does, be grateful he decided to stay in his pursuit of greatness.