Here is the real deep dirt on Steven Stamkos. The bold-faced truth about the Lightning captain. As he has missed this postseason, the rumors persist and the frustration builds. Now, get ready because here it comes.
In his twelve seasons with the Lightning, prior to this postseason, Stamkos missed exactly one playoff season-2016. Yes, you read it right. Many of the Tampa faithful are downright angry about Stamkos being out “yet again” as the team competes in the NHL playoffs. Through the round robin games and as the team completed its first round series against Columbus. The cries from Tampa are loud. Where’s Stamkos? Why are “we” paying him if he’s always hurt when it matters?
In his dozen years wearing the Lightning sweater, Stamkos is only missing his SECOND postseason year. That is the truth. So, despite incorrect perceptions with a number of Lightning fans, Stamkos had missed one playoff year before the current playoffs. Though truth be told, Stammer came back for one game that 2016 postseason year. He played in Game 7 of the 2016 Eastern Conference Finals against the Pittsburgh Penguins. One playoff year missed. That was it until this season.
What Stamkos Means
The team lost 2-1 in that Game 7. The Penguins went on to win the Cup. That was the year that Stamkos was diagnosed on April 2nd with thoracic outlet syndrome. The diagnosis required immediate surgery which took place on April 4th. Through will and determination, Stamkos came back to play in the Conference Finals on May 26th. These details are to address those that think Stammer is soft in addition to being injury prone.
Not enough of an example of Stamkos’ toughness for you? How about him taking a Johnny Boychuk slapshot to the face? Game 7 in the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals against Boston. His nose appeared to explode with that shot. Yet after a few missed shifts, Stamkos came back will full face cage in the 1-0 loss to the Bruins. And that was well before he was making $8.5 million dollars a season. So, one playoff year missed out of the six postseason the team has qualified for since the team drafted Stamkos. Breaking it down further, before the current postseason, of the 15 playoff series in the Stamkos era, he’s played at least one game in 13 of those series.
Believe me, I understand the perception permeates with many of the fans however unfounded. Maybe it’s because some fans remember the broken leg in Boston in November of 2013. In that season, Stamkos came back to play in March and played in the postseason. Unfortunately, that was the year the team was swept by the underdog, Montreal Canadiens. Perhaps the vocal slice of fans that appeared to have turned against the team captain remember the torn meniscus in 2017. The team failed to make the playoffs that year so there were no postseason games for him to miss.
Fanning the Stamkos Flames
Recently, a Tampa radio personality tweeted out that Stamkos left the Toronto bubble. Fan grumblings got louder. As of today, no confirmation from the team has been made. Rumor hasn’t been confirmed but a portion of fans are going off on the captain. This social media moaning against Stamkos also want to take the “C” off his sweater. This angers me the most. I’m outraged because I comprehend the word- linchpin. A person or thing vital to an enterprise or organization. Person – Check. Vital to the organization – Check. If this doesn’t describe Stamkos, then I no longer understand words.
I call Stamkos the linchpin, knowing that Nikita Kucherov is in the same stratosphere as an NHL player as Stamkos. So are Victor Hedman, Brayden Point and Andrei Vasilevskiy for that matter. Every one of them, including Stamkos is an elite NHL player and we are fortunate to see them all every game. But none of these other players are the linchpin. That belongs to Stamkos. Of the current Lightning roster, his was the first big deal as a potential free agent in 2016 negotiated by the team. He gave the franchise (and us fans) the hometown discount. Many NHL watchers had him penciled in Toronto for the rest of his career.
As the leader of this team, Stamkos could do nothing else. Team captain since 2014, Stamkos knew some of his younger up-and-coming teammates were heading to his level of elite play. As the leader of this team, he took substantially less money to remain a Lightning. Like dominoes, teammates saw what Stamkos did in remaining in Tampa. They followed suit. Hedman signed a team and town friendly deal. Then Vasilevskiy signed his bridge deal. Then Kucherov and Point followed the lead of their linchpin.
Where Does this Leave Us?
Perhaps this run of success was entirely predictable and I’m over inflating the importance of Stamkos. The organization has the best owner in the league, perhaps the best in any professional sports league. They also had arguably one of the better General Managers in Steve Yzerman. There was also an up and coming Assistant GM by the name of Julien Brisebois, who is the current GM. . Together the past and present GM identified, then locked up their linchpin. This allowed Yzerman and Brisebois to lock up those other above mentioned dominoes.
I think where this cross section of fans banging on Stamkos comes from is frustration. They see this is a great team, and when the organization asked if we were “All In” a few years ago, we complied. Amalie Arena has 236 consecutive sellouts. By the way, that streak goes back to the same year (2014) that Stamkos was made captain. The fan base clearly feels their share of ownership of the team. They get disappointed when they lose and revel in the wins. Just keep in mind what the linchpin did.
When Stamko signed that contract, he sent a message to all his present and future teammates. He’s All In. Stamkos told the world he was all in to bring a Cup to his adopted hometown. Hedman took note and said he’s all in too with his long tern deal. Then Vasilevskiy, then Kucherov and finally Point. I too am frustrated at the absence of Stamkos in these playoffs. My optimistic side believes we’ll see him lace them up in these playoffs . My logical and rational side knows this team, while very good now, is much better with their linchpin.
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