Appreciating Steven Stamkos’ ability to remain an elite producer

Steven Stamkos
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It would be unfair, and probably a little ridiculous, to call Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos “underrated.”

Not only because he has clearly been one of the best players of his era, but because the underrated label has become mostly meaningless in hockey discussions. It usually is just another way of saying, “this player is really good but I do not watch their team all that much.”

But there might be an argument to be made that Stamkos’ career has been taken for granted a little bit. And still is.

Not only has he spent his entire career playing in the shadows of Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, the two players that have defined this era, but he also had a significant chunk of his prime years taken away by significant injuries that have cut into his career goal and point totals.

[NHL Power Rankings: Avs stay on top; Flames, Wild climb]

It is worth mentioning all of this because he is still rolling along as a dominant player for the Lightning and putting together another outstanding season. Entering play on Monday he is pacing the Lightning with 51 points in 44 games and still doing his part to lead an offense that has spent most of the season without Brayden Point and/or Nikita Kucherov. Just shy of his 32nd birthday he is still on a pace for close to 40 goals and 100 points over an 82-game season. It is not quite as age-defying as what somebody like, say, Ovechkin is doing for the Capitals, but it is still above what the overwhelming majority of players in their 30s can consistently produce.

Barring significant injury, he is going to eclipse the 500-goal mark sometime early next season and still be on track to reach 600 (and beyond) for his career. That is no small accomplishment in this era. He has been without question the second-best goal scorer of this generation and, quite literally, one of the all-time best. His career goals per game mark of 0.52 is currently the 18th best mark in NHL history. He is one of only four players in the top-35 of that category that made their NHL debut after the 2000 season, joining only Ovechkin (sixth), Auston Matthews (seventh), and Connor McDavid (30th).

What stands out about his career goal total (currently at 459) is that when he was at his peak as a goal scorer he was missing the most significant part of his career due to injury (and a lockout). Between the 2012-13 and 2016-17 seasons, his age 22-26 seasons, he played more than 40 games in just two of the five seasons.

The 2012-13 season was cut in half by a lockout.

He played just 37 games during the 2013-14 season due to a leg injury.

He missed the end of the 2015-16 season and all of the playoffs due to a blood clot issue.

His 2016-17 season was limited to just 17 games due to another leg injury.

During those five seasons he was averaging a 45-goal per 82-game pace. With better health (and labor relations) luck it is not a stretch to think that he could have scored 70-80 goals during that stretch and already been closing in on the 600-goal mark while also already topping 1,000 points. He should still eventually get there, it will just take a little longer and put a dent in his overall career numbers.

The “what if” game is one that has been played in sports many times over, and it is one that gets asked often in hockey with players whose careers have been derailed by injury (especially in this era with Sidney Crosby whose prime years were also robbed by injury). But we sometimes seem to forget about it with Stamkos.

Either way, he has been one of the league’s most dominant offensive players since his second season in the league and he is still going strong for one of the league’s best teams, one that just so happens to have a chance to make history with a potential three-peat as Stanley Cup champions.

[Related: Lightning looking like team capable of three-peat]

Since the start of the 2009-10 season (Stamkos’ second season, where he really hit his stride as a player) there has been a very clear hierarchy of NHL goal scorers.

1. Alex Ovechkin

Big gap.

2. Steven Stamkos

Big gap.

3. Everybody else in the NHL.

During that time period Stamkos, who trails only Ovechkin in goals, has a 55-goal edge over every other player in the league. John Tavares and Patrick Kane, the third-and fourth-leading goal scorers during that stretch, have both played in 100 more regular season games.

In some ways he is a lot like this generation’s Mike Bossy: An elite offensive player and goal scorer that is among the all-time greats but simply had their career mostly overshadowed by two other generational players (Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux to Bossy; Sidney Crosby and Ovechkin to Stamkos).

(A fun trivia fact to go with that comparison is both players won exactly two goal scoring crowns in their careers, both coming in their second and fourth seasons respectively.)

As far as No. 1 overall picks go Stamkos has more than exceeded the hype and expectation in Tampa Bay. He became a superstar, a key foundation piece for a team that has been at or near the top of the NHL for his entire career, and he helped bring championships to the city, all while (to this point) playing entirely for the same team that picked him. Maybe not quite on the level of Crosby or Ovechkin, but definitely the next tier right below. He is still going strong. Appreciate it for what it has been, and what it still is.

Ovechkin, and Ovi Jr., take the ice at All-Star skills night

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SUNRISE, Fla. — When you’ve got the second-most goals in NHL history, you’re evidently permitted to bring a guest onto the ice for the All-Star Skills competition.

That’s why there were two No. 8 Washington jerseys out there Friday night.

Capitals star Alex Ovechkin took the ice with his Metropolitan Division teammates – and his oldest child, 4-year-old Sergei.

Sergei, named for Ovechkin’s late brother, was wearing an Ovi Jr. jersey. The kid has built a bit of a following in recent weeks, after scoring a goal at a Caps practice in December and playing a role in helping the Washington crowd celebrate his dad’s 800th goal.

It was Ovi Jr.’s first chance at being part of an All-Star weekend. His father hasn’t participated at All-Star since 2018, either because of COVID-19 or injuries. The last time his dad played in an All-Star event, Sergei hadn’t been born.

Alex Ovechkin has 812 goals. He only trails Wayne Gretzky’s 894 in NHL history.

And later in the night, Ovi Jr. got to center a line alongside his dad and Pittsburgh great Sidney Crosby. They each got an assist on a goal that Sergei scored – beating Roberto Luongo, the Florida great who came out of retirement for All-Star weekend.

Said Ovechkin after his son scored: “I think he’s really enjoying it.”

WELCOME HOME, LU

Luongo got to be part of one more All-Star competition.

In a building where a banner bearing his No. 1 jersey hangs – he’s the only former Panthers player to have that distinction – Luongo was a celebrity goaltender during the Breakaway Challenge during the Skills Competition on Friday night.

He stopped his lone shot in the breakaway, off the stick of Toronto’s Mitch Marner. On one hand, Marner is the Maple Leafs’ leading scorer this season. On the other hand, he was also wearing a white suit, sunglasses and a light blue T-shirt to keep with a “Miami Vice” theme.

Luongo was up to the challenge. Marner tried to beat him to the glove side, but Luongo got enough of it to make the save – then flopped forward to cover up the rebound, the smile clearly seen through his mask.

“You got too close,” Luongo told Marner.

Later, Luongo told ESPN during the telecast of the event that “this is my house. This is my home right here. The crease is my home.”

Luongo’s pads paid tribute to his career – the design paid tribute to his time both as a member of the Panthers and the Vancouver Canucks.

He also took part, and scored a goal, in a Florida alumni game on Wednesday night.

REMEMBERING JIMMY

Sergei Ovechkin – who knocked a shot into an open net during a stoppage of the skills events – wasn’t the only child who got a great view of the night.

Philadelphia forward Kevin Hayes has his 3-year-old nephew Beau with him for All-Star weekend. Beau’s father was Jimmy Hayes, Kevin Hayes’ brother.

Jimmy Hayes was 31 when he died in 2021 with fentanyl and cocaine in his system. He played for four NHL teams, including Florida.

Kevin Hayes is part of an All-Star weekend for the first time.

ANTHEM POISE

“The Star-Spangled Banner” was performed by the South Florida Gay Men’s Chorus, and group crushed it – never minding that the crowd, representing several different fan bases, was going to shout some term specific to their team at various points in the lyrics.

Florida fans shout along with “red” and “Knight,” one a nod to one of the team’s primary colors, the other for goaltender Spencer Knight. There also were some shouts from other fan bases; some St. Louis fans, for example, could be heard singing “home of the Blues” instead of “home of the brave” to close the song.

And “O Canada” performer Hannah Walpole had some shouting as she sang as well, particularly when she reached the “true North” portion of those lyrics – something typically heard at Winnipeg games.

SLAP SHOTS

Cale Makar, the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner from the Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche, was the first participant in the Fastest Skater event – the opening competition of the night. He fell coming around the second turn. … Tampa Bay’s Pat Maroon, one of the broadcasters on the event, reported that he was “freezing” by working at ice level. “I’m used to the gear,” said Maroon, who was in a blazer and open shirt Friday night. … A big hit for those used to the regular colors of FLA Live Arena – and basically all other hockey arenas – was the ocean-water-shade of blue used for the blue lines and the creases. The faceoff dots at the circles on either end of the ice aren’t the standard solid red this weekend, but depict an image of the sun instead.

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.