Hello, all! This is my maiden voyage in Hooked on Hockey Magazine. Hope you all enjoy popping my article cherry.
Well, it’s about time. The trade of Martin St. Louis by the Lightning to the Rangers meant that not only the last player to hoist the Stanley Cup in Tampa Bay has left the area, but also the dawn of a new age for the team. On the heels of his recovery from a terrible leg injury, Steven Stamkos, representing the future of the franchise, has been finally solemnized as the mainstay for the bolts. I am of the opinion that the best player need not necessarily be the captain (Alex Ovechkin, anyone?), but if they personify the spirit of the team itself (if you refer to the Capitals never winning anything but acting like they own the place, I suppose Ovi works), as well as showing leadership on and off the ice.
That last criterion is a big one in my opinion, and a good reason for Steven Stamkos being awarded the C. The struggle to return from injury just prior to the Olympics is very reflective of the uphill struggle facing the Tampa Bay Lightning. At the time of writing this article, the Lightning sits first in the wild card, fourth in the Atlantic, with a 4 point lead over Columbus and Detroit. Considering they are placed in a division absolutely dominated by the Boston Bruins, with a resurgent Toronto Maple Leafs looking to build on the success of the previous season, added on to the state of affairs in the Lightning itself, a changing of the guard may just be the just remedy.
Despite having the highest scorer in the league last year (Martin St. Louis with 60 points (17G 43A), and Steven Stamkos with 57 points (29G 28A)), the Lightning finished 14th in the East, and 28th overall. This is not due to a shortcoming in their leadership –as Martin St. Louis point total indicates that he could clearly lead by example— but as a sign that the team lacked overall depth. Last year’s struggles are almost mirrored in Steven Stamkos’ struggle with injury.
The determination of the team to not be a shoe-in for a lottery pick this year is mirrored in the personal struggles that Steven Stamkos faced on his road to recovery; though the timeline is slightly different, Stamkos personifies the team perfectly: case in point, after having won the Rocket Richard trophy in 2012, the Lightning faced a dreadful season in 2013. This year, the lightning roared out of the gate, going 16-9-1 in the first two months of the season, coming close to matching their win total in the truncated 2013 season (18 wins). It sounds like the Lightning’s team history, having struggled with mediocrity after winning their Stanley Cup in 2003-04, making the playoffs only twice in the following 5 seasons.
Stamkos found himself a goal to strive towards when he was selected to the Olympic team despite his injury, putting forth a superhuman effort to recover. This echoes the 2010-11 Stanley Cup Playoff run the Lightning had as a dark horse team, upsetting both the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals, before bowing out to eventual Stanley Cup Champions, Boston Bruins in 7 games on the conference final: a valiant effort, but in the end, not quite enough.
Poised to make the playoffs after a 2-year absence since the 2010-11 season, the Lightning, as well as captain Stamkos, are looking healthier than ever. Stamkos should finish this season strong, leading his team to a solid, respectable first or second round playoff exit, only to give it all in training camp prior to facing his first full season as captain. As history seems to point out, this may just be a very successful affair for Stamkos and the Lightning.