Steven Stamkos

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‘A good start’ — Stamkos stands out in preseason debut

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The Tampa Bay Lightning and National Hockey League unveiled the 2018 All-Star Game logo Friday.

Far more importantly for the Bolts this evening was the return of their all-star center Steven Stamkos, as he made his preseason debut in what was his first game in 10 months.

His 2016-17 season was abruptly ended in the middle of November because of a knee injury and subsequent surgery, making it the second time in four years his regular season had been disrupted by a major injury.

It may still take a while before Stamkos feels truly comfortable coming back from this injury.But his performance on Friday proved to be a very promising start for No. 91, the Bolts and their fans in Tampa Bay.

He didn’t score, but he assisted on two first period goals, including a nice set-up to linemate Nikita Kucherov, and the Lightning beat the Nashville Predators by a score of 3-1. Stamkos also received a healthy dose of ice time, playing more than 19 minutes, including 5:32 on the power play.

His pass to Kucherov resulted in a power play goal.

“It was exciting to get out there, I was pretty anxious about it… It was a good start, something to build on,” said Stamkos afterward, per the Lightning. “It was nice to just go through a game day, I haven’t done it in a long time… I was glad with how the first one went.”

Stamkos to make preseason debut tonight vs. Predators

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For the first time since Nov. 15, 2016, Steven Stamkos will be in the Tampa Bay Lightning lineup.

Per Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times, the prolific scorer will play tonight for the Bolts, as they continue the preseason against the Nashville Predators.

Stamkos suffered a knee injury last November. He underwent surgery but didn’t make it back to the lineup for the remainder of the year, marking the second time in four years his regular season was derailed by a significant injury.

“Listen, I snapped my leg in half and came back and was playing the best hockey of my career,” Stamkos told the Tampa Bay Times, referring to his broken leg suffered during the 2013-14 season.

“So this is another hurdle. I’m confident that when you put in the work, you’re going to find ways. It may be different ways. You may have to adjust certain parts of your game. But we’ll handle that when I see how it feels in a game situation. We’ll know more tonight.”

Given such a lengthy time away from game action, it might be wise — at least early on — to temper expectations of Stamkos.

He is one of the league’s most dangerous scorers. But he also hasn’t played a game in 10 months. In a conversation with the Tampa Bay Times, Minnesota Wild forward Zach Parise, who had the same surgery in 2010, said it “took probably a year and a half to get back to feeling back to normal.”

It appears Stamkos will center a line tonight with Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov, who should certainly be pleased to be playing alongside No. 91.

David Pastrnak is a star and the Bruins should be willing to pay him like one

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As training camps draw closer all eyes in the NHL are starting to turn to the situation in Boston where restricted free agent David Pastrnak remains unsigned.

According to general manager Don Sweeney, there is no timetable on when a deal is going to be reached and there seems to be a bit of a gap between the two sides when it comes to the type of contract Pastrnak is going to get.

The Bruins have reportedly offered a seven-year deal worth around $6 million per year, while Pastrnak would reportedly prefer a deal closer to the eight-year pact Leon Draisaitl received from the Edmonton Oilers. Given their ages and overall production to this point, as well as the market for RFA’s of that skill level, it is not a completely unreasonable ask.

There are a couple of problems for the Bruins here, and a big one is simply the optics of the situation.

The Bruins have a 21-year-old player that appears to be on the verge of stardom in the NHL. He not only can be a young, cornerstone offensive player, he already is one. They also have more than enough salary cap room to fit him in.

What keeps the Bruins from getting the benefit of the doubt in this situation (at least from this perspective) is the track record they have in dealing with young, cornerstone offensive players. They tend to toss them aside, having traded Joe Thornton, Phil Kessel, Blake Wheeler, Tyler Seguin and standout defenseman Dougie Hamilton all within the past 12 years (and with three different general managers completing those trades). It creates the perception that the organization as a whole doesn’t properly value high end talent and would rather trade it away — often times for pennies on the dollar — than pay market value to keep it.

The argument against paying Pastrnak a deal similar to the one Draisaitl received, for example, is that the team is paying for potential. He might not pan out. It might not be a great value.

Pastrnak at this point in his career has one monster season and a couple of half seasons where he flashed star potential.

But his production puts him in some pretty rare and special company when it comes to impact players.

Over the past 20 years there have only been 10 players that have appeared in at least 170 games and scored at least 59 goals by the end of their age 20 season: Sidney Crosby, Ilya Kovalchuk, Steven Stamkos, Marian Gaborik, Jeff Skinner, Evander Kane, Jordan Staal, Vincent Lecavalier, Nathan MacKinnon and … David Pastrnak. The only player on that list that really didn’t continue on the same path that they showed early on has been Kane, and a lot of that has been due to injury and health.

What stands out about Pastrnak on that list is how little ice time it has taken him to reach that level compared to some of the others. Via Hockey-Reference.

On a per-minute basis his production is off the charts for someone his age.

Players that produce at this level at this age tend to be good enough to sustain it.

It’s not paying for potential. It’s paying for what a player will do for you instead of what a player has done for you.

The Bruins have been fortunate to get some tremendous bargains with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron over the years, and giving Pastrnak $7-8 million per season right now might look like a little bit of an overpay. But not every contract has to be below market value. Plus, if Pastrnak continues on his current path — and there is every reason to believe that he will given what he has done so far, his ability to generate shots and his possession numbers — that contract, too, could look like a bargain in the near future.

Tavares says contract situation is ‘more complicated’ than people realize

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It looks like the New York Islanders will go into this season with the face of their franchise set to become an unrestricted free agent next summer.

That doesn’t mean that John Tavares won’t sign an extension with the club at some point during the regular season, but as of right now, he hasn’t put pen to paper.

There’s no denying that Tavares is the most important player on the roster. Without him, the Islanders would be in a really, really, tough spot. Tavares knows that, management knows that and the fans know that better than anybody.

“Things are a lot more complicated than (the fans) think,” the Islanders captain said, per NHL.com. “I think everyone’s situation is different, everyone’s circumstances are different, but you look at some of the situations with guys in similar situations that I’m in, it doesn’t always happen the first day or that first month. It takes time. It’s a big decision in your life and you want to make sure you’re thorough and you understand everything going forward, so I think anybody making any decision like this in life would approach it the same way.”

Obviously, if he does hit the open market, every team would want to bring him into the fold. Players of his caliber just don’t hit free agency anymore. Even Steven Stamkos, who was days away from free agency last year, decided to stay in Tampa Bay instead of bolting to another club. Will Tavares do the same?

A franchise player who is a pending unrestricted free agent could easily become a distraction for the player and the team. The Islanders and Tavares will have to overcome that daily speculation from the media, which isn’t always easy.

“I think it becomes a distraction if you let it become a distraction. I don’t try to listen too much to what’s been written or said. I think you make your own judgments, you handle everything in your own way and you go out there and play the game that you’ve been playing since you were 3 years old. I think I’ve been here long enough, a lot of the guys know me and know who I am. I’m not going to try to change any of that.”

Steven Stamkos expects ‘no restrictions’ heading into Lightning camp

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Training camps aren’t here yet, but many players got back on the ice – or at least back on the ice with media members around – for the first time in ages on Saturday.

It’s no surprise, then, that the optimism is running high among returning NHL players on Tuesday. Even by that standard, Steven Stamkos‘ feedback is remarkably positive, right down to him expecting to participate in Tampa Bay Lightning training camp with “no restrictions.”

As Stamkos told reporters including the Tampa Bay Times’ Joe Smith, he realizes after years of puzzling injury woes and even surgery, that he doesn’t totally know what “100 percent is” any longer. There’s a certain weariness that comes from being a savvy veteran of injury/surgery rehabs, yet his excitement also seems palpable.

Maybe to the point that it might make it difficult for some to ignore the advice of PHT’s Cam Tucker in tempering expectations for the kind of player Stamkos can be in 2017-18.

Smith also transcribed some of Stamkos’ enthusiastic takes:

“I mean, it takes time,” Stamkos said. “Anytime you’re out for as long as I was, it’s going to take some time to get adjusted back to game speed. Nothing replicates a game until you get in that situation. Once you do that, then you’ll know how your body feels. When you go through something like that you have to find a way to put yourself in position to feel good and still find a way to be the player you know you can be. My expectations are that I’m going to get back to that player. Hopefully it’s right away. That’s the plan. We’ll see how it goes.”

Of course, Stamkos himself admits that his competitive nature pushed him to aim for too much, too soon before. He’s bright enough to acknowledge past mistakes, yet you wonder if that fire in his belly could inspire him to fly too close to the sun again.

To some extent, there’s really only so much he can do, anyway. Just about every player, even the seemingly bionic ones like Max Pacioretty, see ups and downs when they come back from injuries.

The Lightning probably won’t be too offended if they had to “settle” for, say, 80-percent-Stamkos next season. Especially if they get that guy for close to 82 regular-season games.