Stamkos’ journey still has miles to go

by Gary Shelton on March 19, 2019 · 0 comments

in general

How many goals will Stamkos end up with?/TIM WIRT

Wednesday, 4 a.m.

It isn't the biggest peak in the mountain range, but for now, Steven Stamkos stands atop it.

And you wonder: How high might he climb.

Stamkos is only 29 -- albeit a very wizened 29 -- and he has been reborn. There for a while, it was popular to question him. Anymore, he wasn't as explosive as Nikita Kucherov, and he wasn't as dependable as Brayden Point, and he didn't tilt the ice as much as Victor Hedman. He was still popular, still the voice of his team, but some wondered if he would approach stardom again.

Then he did.

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With nine games to go, Stamkos is approaching the 40-goal plateau. He has 36 now, and a few more power plays, and he'll get there. Perhaps that shouldn't surprise anyone -- Stammer has surpassed 40 four times. But he hasn't done it since 2014-15. It was easy to wonder if his injuries had taken a toll.

Yet, here he is, the newly anointed leading goal-scorer in franchise history. Stammer passed Vinny Lecavalier, his old teammate, Monday night. And perhaps it is time to pause and reflect on the journey he has taken.

He survived Barry Melrose, remember, who didn't think he was ready for the NHL (on a roster filled with players who didn't belong in the NHL). He endured Len Barrie. He suffered through Oren Koules. He has gone from a 24-win season to the President's Trophy. He endured a shortened season. And he's been on a lot of teams that fell just short.

He is a humble man, but there is a regal nature to Stamkos. He carries himself like a player who is used to being the best player on his team's roster. His standards are high. His belief is great. It has hard to be around Stamkos and not to like him.

In a way, you can define Stamkos by the numbers. He has 384 goals and 750 points and 14,344  minutes on the ice. He has five hat tricks and six all-star games and 143 power-play goals. He has millions in the bank.

But numbers don't tell all of the Stamkos story. How many sprints up and down the ice? How many reps on the weight machine? How many times has he looked at his own scars and wondered how good he would be when they have healed?

And that's the Stammer story. Time and again, he has forced a body that betrayed him back onto the ice.

Again, it's a small mountain. Stamkos is the No. 1 scorer for the Lightning, but overall, he's just 112th among league totals. Heck, he's still 300 goals shy of Teemu Selanne. He's 510 behind Wayne Gretzky. He's 333 goals behind Phil Esposito, the guy upstairs.

No, he won't end up as the all-time leading scorer. But he's 100 goals behind Darryl Sitter, who is in 50th place. Yeah, that's attainable.

Look, none of us know how long Stamkos is going to play. He loves the game, and he's a local icon, so that'll keep him around. But Stamkos makes a lot of money. That can leave a guy looking for a spot late in his career.

Personally, I think the guy can go for another decade if he stays healthy and no one resents his contract. He's got five more years after this one (his salary tapers off the last three seasons, including dipping to $5.5 million the last two). He's probably got two more years after that from someone who needs scoring. Then a couple more years from someone who needs leadership, aka Dave Andreychuk. Then maybe one more for a farewell tour.

Granted, the next 10 years probably won't have the scoring success of his earlier year years. It would be a shock if there's another 60-goal season in him.

But can he get to 30 a couple of more times? Maybe 25 a time or two after that.

So let's guess that Stamkos has 266 more goals in his stick. That would put him at 650 by the end of his career, a conservative guess.

That would leave him in 15th place, all-time. He would pass Andreychuk, his old buddy. Andreychuck's numbers were good enough for the Hall of Fame.

If you think about it, 650 is a lot of goals.  Jarome Iginla didn't have 650. Neither did Mats Sundin, or Guy LaFluer, or Stan Mikita.

If there is a Mount Rushmore for the Lightning, it is made up of Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis. And probably Brad Richards. And Stamkos. You can debate the order. St. Louis was their finest clutch player. Lecavalier was probably their most talented. But when Stamkos unleashes that slap shot of his, he's in the conversation.

Appreciate where he is. Appreciate how he got here. And appreciate the time he has left.

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