Boston Bruins v Tampa Bay Lightning - Game Six

Seen Stamkos: young sniper will wear the “A” to start the season

It may be temporary, but Steven Stamkos will start the season for the Tampa Bay Lightning as one of their alternate captains. With Mattias Ohlund out with knee problems, the 21-year-old will join Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis as members of the Lightning leadership. Not too bad for a team that has veterans like Dominic Moore, Ryan Malone, and Eric Brewer on the roster. Then again—ever since he was drafted first overall in 2008, Stamkos was supposed to be a leader as well as an elite goal scorer. And so it begins…

Lightning head coach Guy Boucher explained the rationale for selecting the young star:

“He’s earned it. We saw him become a man during the playoffs.”

There’s no question that Stamkos’ play on the ice has already made him a de facto leader on the team and one of the faces of the franchise. There’s something about averaging 48 goals over the last two seasons that has the tendency to earn the respect of teammates and opponents alike. But as Boucher mentioned, over the regular season and during the playoffs last year, Stamkos took his game to a new level—which had nothing to do with goal scoring.

Many people will remember Stamkos returning to the ice in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals after taking a shot directly to the face. He returned to the ice only minutes later after the training staff affixed a cage to his helmet and shoved cotton up his nose to temporarily stop the bleeding. He had stepped up his game over the course of the playoffs—but that one single visual of an injured Stamkos returning to the ice demonstrated that winning with his team was the number one goal.

He’ll give up the “A” when Ohlund returns from his knee injury, but don’t expect him to give up the leadership role on the team. It’s only a matter of time before Stamkos receives the alternate captain role on a permanent basis—and even more before his career is over. Obviously his goal scoring makes him an elite sniper around the league. But his offseason training and leadership qualities as a young player truly make him a guy the Lightning can build around for the future. For the first few games this season—the future is now.

Some tough decisions await the Blues

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Yet again, the St. Louis Blues failed to achieve their ultimate goal.

And boy does it hurt right now.

“We’re all hurting,” coach Ken Hitchcock said last night after getting eliminated by the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Final.

“You don’t want this to be our best opportunity. You want this to be a building block. In this game, in this era, in this cap world, you don’t know where you’re going to be a year from now.”

Indeed, GM Doug Armstrong has some tough decisions to make this offseason.

At the top of the list is whether to bring Hitchcock back. Yes, the Blues did better than 26 other teams, and yes, they finally got past the first round. Still, there are people who believe this will be it for the head coach, that a new voice could help. Overall, Hitchcock has done a great job in St. Louis. But then, so did Todd McLellan in San Jose. Sometimes, change can be good.

Then there are the unrestricted free agents. Both captain David Backes and winger Troy Brouwer need new contracts. The former is 32, the latter 30. The former had seven goals in the playoffs, the latter eight. How much money will they want? How much term? The second question might be the most important.

On the back end, it’s Kevin Shattenkirk that will garner the most attention. He’s signed through next season before he can become an unrestricted free agent. Just 27 years old, and considering the demand for what he does, he’ll be very expensive to keep. And with the emergence of Colton Parayko, trading Shattenkirk could probably be justified, especially if the return is good. A team like the Boston Bruins might be willing to pay up.

Right now, the pain is still fresh for the Blues.

“It’s so hard to win in the league right now,” said Hitchcock. “It’s so hard to win a series. So hard to just get in the playoffs. When you get this far, you get this close, you think you got the opportunity.”

The challenge for Armstrong will be to give his team another opportunity next season. And with the draft less than a month away, all these tough decisions will need to be made very soon.

Goals of the Week get tougher as Cup Final approaches

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The Stanley Cup Final is almost upon us and picking the very best Goals of the Week is a tough task. See how we did on this edition!

Just for Men: Mike Commodore

RALEIGH, NC - JUNE 14:  Mike Commodore #22 of the Carolina Hurricanes warms up before game five of the 2006 NHL Stanley Cup Finals against the Edmonton Oilers on June 14, 2006 at the RBC Center in Raleigh, North Carolina.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Maybe one would argue that time hasn’t been kind to the 2006 Stanley Cup-winning Carolina Hurricanes (at least compared to the pedigree of other winners), but Mike Commodore’s incredible red afro and beard rank as one of hockey’s most timeless combinations.

Seriously, just take a step back from your monitor* and bask in the splendor of that carrot-topped Commodore.

Even then-President George W. Bush remarked on Commodore’s bushy hair and beard (or its tragic absence) when the Canes visited the White House:

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all for coming. Have a seat. It’s a pretty big deal for a guy that doesn’t know how to ice skate — (laughter) — to welcome the Carolina Hurricanes to the White House. We appreciate you coming. You know, I’m not sure what is prettier, the Stanley Cup, or Mike Commodore’s hair. (Laughter.) A little disappointed you got a haircut. (Laughter.) But, welcome.

Good stuff.

And it really is kind of disappointing any time you see Commodore relatively clean-shaven. It’s like Superman without a big “S” on his chest or Metallica with short hair or any number of not-quite-right sights.

* – If you’re doing the Rumsfeld-style “standing at your desk” thing then … kneel for a second maybe?

Here’s your Stanley Cup playoffs schedule for tonight

Stanley Cup
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There’s nothing better than a Game 7, especially when a spot in the Stanley Cup Final is up for grabs. The Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins will battle in a do-or-die game for the right to play the San Jose Sharks with Lord Stanley on the line. You can watch the game via the NBC Sports Group’s television and digital platforms.

Tampa Bay at Pittsburgh (8:00 p.m. ET)

The television broadcast of Game 7 will be on NBCSN. To stream the game using the Live Extra app, click here.

Here’s some reading material to get you ready for this one:

Penguins, Lightning prepare for ‘roller coaster’ Game 7

Penguins force Game 7 after holding off Lightning rally

Lightning lament Game 6 effort, Cooper doesn’t blame disallowed goal