Steven Stamkos and the lost years of his prime

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During the 2011-12 season Steven Stamkos became just the fourth player in the past 20 years to score 60 goals in a single season. It put him a list that includes only him, Alex Ovechkin, Mario Lemieux, and Jaromir Jagr. With the way goal scoring in the NHL is right now, it is unlikely that list will grow anytime soon.

At the time, he was still only 21 years old and had already established himself as one of the two best goal scorers in the league. Given that it was during the two-year window where Ovechkin was being held back by an overly conservative Capitals system that was begging him to be something he was not, Stamkos was probably the best goal scorer in hockey at that time.

While he has continued to be one of the two or three best in the league, the five years that have followed that monster season have been a roller coaster of ups and downs. He recently had another down moment when it was announced by the Lightning that knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus will keep him out of the lineup for at least the next four months.

That means one of the NHL’s best goal scorers is going to lose a significant portion of yet another season in what should be his best and most productive years in the league.

Assuming that four month timeline is accurate, that means the earlier we will probably see him back on the ice for Tampa Bay is in the middle of March. That would mean he is likely to miss around 54 games of the 2016-17 season.

When you add it to the games he’s missed over the previous four years it comes out to nearly two full seasons between the ages of 22 and 26. Or in other words, we should be the most productive years of his career.

A brief recap.

  • He lost half of his age 22 season (through no fault of his own) to the 2012-13 NHL lockout. He still scored 29 goals in 48 games (second most in the league). That would have put him on a pace to flirt with 50 goals over a full season.
  • He came back the next season with 14 goals in his first 17 games(!) before a broken leg sidelined him for months during the middle part of the season. He ended up with 25 goals in 37 games, a pace that would have been good enough for 55 goals over 82 games.
  • He returned for nearly two fully healthy seasons before a blood clot issue at the end of the 2015-16 season sidelined him for the final games of the regular season right up through Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final.

Back to 100 percent health at the start of this season, he was off to an incredible start for the Lightning and was one of the NHL’s leading scorers before the knee injury in Detroit that is going to sideline him for the next several months.

Together, between a lockout, two major leg injuries, and a blood clot issue he will have only played in around 64 percent of the games he was eligible for over the past five seasons, during a time when he should have been scoring at his peak levels.

Given his goal scoring numbers during that stretch (.544 goals per game) when he was averaging between 45-50 goals per 82 games, it would not be unreasonable to estimate that he will probably lose out on about 70-75 goals during that time frame. That is … a lot. That means he probably should already be pushing the 400-goal mark by the end of this season. All before his 28th birthday (he doesn’t even turn 27 until the end of February). Keep in mind that only 12 players in league history have recorded 400 goals before their age 28 season.

When we think about great players losing significant portions of their best years to injury Eric Lindros is usually one of the first ones you go to. One of the most physically dominant players to ever play in the league, Lindros lost years of his career to injury (concussions, specifically) and is one of the biggest “what if?” stories in NHL history. But even he only missed 96 games between his age 22 and 26 seasons, before missing his entire age 27 season. More recently, Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby lost 148 games between the same ages.

The point here is that injuries are unavoidable in the NHL. It is at times a brutal, collision sport that will wear even the best players down over time.

The unfortunate reality of that is that it will sometimes rob you of seeing the best players at the top of their game. Stamkos is just the latest example.

He is still going to be a great player and what we have seen from him has been everything the Lightning could have hoped for. But during the years where he was supposed to be at his best we never really got to see all of it.

Capitals sign Dylan Strome to five-year, $25 million extension

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FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The Washington Capitals signed forward Dylan Strome to a five-year extension worth $25 million.

The team announced the contract during NHL All-Star Weekend, which is taking place in South Florida – the place Strome was drafted third in 2015.

Strome will count $5 million against the salary cap through the 2027-28 season. He was set to be a restricted free agent this summer.

“Dylan is an intelligent and skilled center and has been a great addition to our organization,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “We are pleased to sign him to a long-term contract. We feel his skill set is a great fit for our team as he enters the prime years of his career at an important position.”

Strome is getting a raise from the $3.5 million deal he signed with the Capitals after the Chicago Blackhawks opted not to tender him a qualifying offer and made him a free agent. Strome has 11 goals and 25 assists in 36 games this season and ranks third on Washington’s roster with 14 power-play points.

The Mississauga, Ontario, native who played his junior hockey alongside Connor McDavid with the Erie Otters has 206 points in 325 regular-season NHL games with the Arizona Coyotes, Blackhawks and Capitals.

Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

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LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced.

The Knights termed the procedure as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

But he was injured Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers, and his absence has had a noticeable effect on the Knights. They have gone 1-5-2 without Stone, dropping out of first place in the Pacific Division into third.

Stone is second on the team in goals with 17 and in points with 38.

Devils associate coach Andrew Brunette charged with DUI

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DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — New Jersey Devils associate coach and former Florida Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette was arrested in South Florida while driving home from a bar in his golf cart, authorities said.

Brunette, 49, was pulled over just blocks from the ocean in the Deerfield Beach area, north of Fort Lauderdale, according to a Broward Sheriff’s Office arrest report. He was charged with one count of driving under the influence and two counts of disobeying a stop or yield sign. Brunette was released on $500 bond.

The Devils said in a statement that the team was aware of Brunette’s arrest and gathering additional information.

According to the arrest report, a deputy was in the process of giving Brunette’s illegally parked golf cart a ticket around midnight when Brunette walked out of a nearby bar and told the deputy he was about to leave. The deputy said Brunette seemed unsteady on his feet and slurred his speech, and when he was joined by his wife, the deputy said he overheard the wife tell Brunette not to drive while the deputy was there.

The deputy remained in the area and reported watching the couple drive away about 17 minutes later, according to the report. The deputy said he watched the golf cart run two stop signs before pulling Brunette over on a residential street about a mile away from his home. According to the report, Brunette had difficulty following instructions during a field sobriety test before eventually quitting and asking for an attorney. He also declined to take a breathe test to measure his blood-alcohol level, officials said.

Online jail and court records didn’t list an attorney for Brunette.

Brunette is in his first season as associate coach of the Devils. He was interim coach of the Florida Panthers last season after taking over when Joel Quenneville resigned for his connection to a 2010 Chicago Blackhawks sexual abuse scandal.

The Panthers fired Brunette after they lost in the second round of the playoffs last spring despite him leading them to the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s top team during the regular season.

The Sudbury, Ontario, native played 1,159 NHL games for Washington, Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota, Colorado and Chicago from 1995-2012. He was a Wild assistant in 2015-16 and worked on Florida’s staff from 2019-2022.

Stars aligned with new coach DeBoer, Nill-constructed roster

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DALLAS — General manager Jim Nill sensed things were coming together for the Dallas Stars even before the season started with new coach Pete DeBoer and a roster mixed with proven veterans, up-and-coming young players, and even a teenaged center.

At the NHL’s All-Star break, after 51 games together, these Stars are leading the Western Conference.

“Every year you start, you put a team together, and there’s always going to be question marks,” said Nill, in his 10th season as the Stars GM. “You have ideas how you think you’re going to come together, but there’s always the unknown. . This year has been one of those years where right from the start, you could just see everything was kind of jelling.”

The Stars (28-13-10, 66 points) have their trio of 2017 draft picks that just keep getting better: All-Star winger Jason Robertson, goaltender Jake Oettinger and defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The seemingly ageless Joe Pavelski, at 38 and already re-signed for next season, is on the high-scoring top line with Robertson and point-a-game winger Roope Hintz. Wyatt Johnston, their first-round pick in 2021 and half Pavelski’s age, has 13 goals.

There is also the resurgence of six-time All-Star forward Tyler Seguin two years after hip surgery and 33-year-old captain Jamie Benn, who already has more goals (19) than he did playing all 82 games last season.

The Stars have a plus-40 goal differential, which is second-best in the NHL. They are averaging 3.37 goals per game, more than a half-goal better than last season when they were the only team to make the playoffs after being outscored in the regular season. They are also allowing fewer goals, and have improved on power plays and penalty kills.

“Where we sit at this break, I think guys are happy with that,” Seguin said, before being asked the keys to the Stars leading the West and on pace for a 100-point season with their new coach.

“Our style, our team speed, our puck speed, being predictable. All the clichés, knowing where the puck’s going. Really how we play the five-man unit,” he said. “Our pace this year, it’s been a lot quicker. There’s been some solid depth scoring this year while we’ve got one of the best lines in hockey.”

The Stars went into the break on their only three-game losing streak of the season, all 3-2 overtime losses at home.

“Those aren’t real losses,” said DeBoer, who twice has gone to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season with a new team. “I’m happy where we’re at. I like how we’re playing.”

Plus, Dallas won’t have to worry in the playoffs about 3-on-3 hockey, which has been the only real stain on their season so far. Only one team has more than its 10 losses after regulation.

“We’ve played a lot of good hockey. We’ve made a lot of good strides in our game,” DeBoer said. “We still have another level we have to get to when we get back, but there are a lot of good things that have happened. They’ve worked to have us where we are right now in the standings. Good spot to be in.”

The Stars have 31 games left in the regular season. The first four after the break at home, like the last four before their week-long hiatus.

Robertson’s 33 goals rank sixth in the NHL, and the 23-year-old has the same number of assists while averaging 1.29 points a game even after he missed most of training camp before signing a four-year, $31 million contract. Pavelski has 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists) while playing every game, and Hintz 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists) in only 43 games.

Oettinger, who is 21-7 in regulation, has a .923 save percentage and 2.26 goals against average since signing his three-year, $12 million contract. That deal came after 223 saves in a seven-game playoff series against Calgary last May, capped by 64 in the series finale that went to overtime.

Nill said Robertson’s production has improved even with the league adjusting to the high-scoring forward, and that Oettinger is proving to be one of the league’s best goalies. But they are just part of what has been a tremendous team effort.

“They kind of had that mojo right from the start, and it was kind of this team’s got the right mix,” Nill said. “It’s come together well, and it’s shown in the standings. It’s been good to watch.”