November 19, 2010
"Sometimes, things are better left un-talked about. There's no reason to set any bars. Just go play." -- Tampa Bay Lightning winger Marty St. Louis, on the offensive season his teammate Steven Stamkos(notes) is having.
Stamkos doesn't think about it. His teammates claim they don't think about it. The rest of us can't help but wonder about it: Are we witnessing the NHL record book being edited by Steven Stamkos this season?
He had a hat trick and two assists in that 8-7 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers; a Roller Hockey International game masquerading as an NHL regular season contest. That gave him 19 goals in 19 games, and the debate begins:
Over a third of the way there, can Steven Stamkos become the first player to score 50 goals in his team's first 50 regular-season games, uninterrupted by injury, that the NHL has seen in 18 years?
The NHL has seen players score 50 goals in their team's first 50 games eight times, from five different players:
1944-45: Maurice Richard, Montreal Canadiens (50 in 50)
1980-81: Mike Bossy, New York Islanders (50 in 50)
1981-82: Wayne Gretzky, Edmonton Oilers (50 in 39)
1983-84: Wayne Gretzky, Edmonton Oilers (50 in 42)
1984-85: Wayne Gretzky, Edmonton Oilers (50 in 49)
1988-89: Mario Lemieux, Pittsburgh Penguins (50 in 46)
1990-91: Brett Hull, St. Louis Blues (50 in 49)
1991-92: Brett Hull, St. Louis Blues (50 in 50)
Stamkos' goal-scoring pace this season is something we haven't witnessed in recent memory. It's better than Alex Ovechkin(notes) last year and in his 65-goal season. It's better than Pavel Bure in his back-to-back 59-goal seasons for the Florida Panthers. In 2001-02, Jarome Iginla(notes) had 19 goals in 21 games for the Calgary Flames, ending up with 30 in 50.
Last season, Stamkos scored 14 in his first 19 and 26 in 50. He didn't score a goal between Nov. 30 and Dec. 13; the fact that the Canadian Olympic team selections were being finalized might have contributed to those jitters.
Can Stamkos go 50-in-50? Consider:
His health. He played 82 games last season and 79 games as a rookie, with a healthy scratch or two during that tumultuous year. He's a durable player who doesn't put himself in many situations that lead to injuries. Plus, as he told us in an interview this month, his off-season training with Gary Roberts(notes) has made him stronger and continues to keep him physically and nutritionally fit.
The talent that surrounds him. Just look at the box score last night: Martin St. Louis(notes) assisted on all three goals, and Stamkos' two assists were on goals for which St. Louis also received an assist. The Lightning have several strong offensive options, and that's without Simon Gagne(notes) and Vinny Lecavalier in the lineup. But if St. Louis is the Oates to Stamkos' Hull, this could get interesting. Speaking of which ...
The power-play prowess. When Hull scored 50 goals in his team's first 50 games in 1990-91, he finished with 86 on the year and scored 29 on the power play. Stamkos plays the same kind of sniper role on the Lightning power play, and has 10 of his 19 goals with the man advantage. He's lethal when given room to shoot.
Can Stamkos stay healthy and go 50-in-50? It's a distinct possibility. But even if he doesn't, we're witnessing an extraordinary offensive season from what is right now -- and due respect to Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin of the Washington Capitals -- the most exciting player in the NHL.