Call to the Hall: Tampa Bay Lightning

Welcome to LWOS Hockey’s summer series, Call to the Hall, where we take a look at the next great player from each NHL franchise to get called to the Hockey Hall of Fame. There are a few caveats, the player must be active, and must have played 300 games (or 150 for goaltenders) with the franchise.

 

Call to the Hall: Tampa Bay Lightning

Despite their appearance in the final last season and their Stanley Cup victory in 2004, the Lightning have more often than not been a pretty awful team since entering the league in 1992-93. It should therefore come as no surprise that the team is bereft of representation in the Hockey Hall of Fame, with only Dino Ciccarelli and Denis Savard (who both played just a season and a half for the Bolts) being inducted so far (although, to be fair, there is a legendary Hall-of-Famer running the team from the press box in the form of Steve Yzerman).

However, there are a trio of stars the franchise has produced that might add their names to that list. Former first overall pick Vincent Lecavalier was thought to be a generational talent when he was drafted, and while he never lived up to that tag, he does have a Stanley Cup, a Rocket Richard Trophy, and a good opportunity to hit the 1000-point plateau, despite his recent career downturn.

Long time teammate Brad Richards captured a Cup with Lecavalier in 2004, as well as the Conn Smythe Trophy as the league’s post-season MVP that year, in addition to another Cup this past year with the Chicago Blackhawks. He too is likely to top 1000 points, and he also has a Lady Byng Trophy on his shelf as well.

So both of those players have at least a fair chance of Hall of Fame consideration after they retire. However, Tampa Bay happens to have a player who is one of the top two snipers in the entire world, and he looks more likely to finish his career as a sure-fire first-ballot Hall-of-Famer.

Steven Stamkos

Stamkos had been lauded as a franchise player long before his draft year. He was taken first overall by the Lightning in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft after absolutely destroying the OHL while playing for the Sarnia Sting, scoring 58 goals and 105 points in just 61 games to be named to the CHL First All-Star Team.

So while the “Seen Stamkos?” campaign was in full swing in Florida, the Ontario-born center actually stumbled somewhat in his rookie season, posting a respectable 23 goals and 23 assists (in massively limited minutes on some nights), finishing 9th in the NHL Calder Trophy vote. Notably in his first season, he became the second-youngest player in NHL history to record a hattrick, a sign of what was to come as early as next season.

If there were any doubts about Stamkos’ offensive ability at the NHL level, they were completely wiped away never to return during his sophomore 2009-10 campaign. Stamkos exploded for 51 goals (more than his previous season’s point total) to win his first Rocket Richard Trophy (tied with Sidney Crosby) and added 44 assists to finish with 95 points, 5th in the NHL.

Thus began a run of three straight 90+ point seasons for Stamkos, in which he would finish no lower than 5th in league scoring and capture another Rocket Richard in 2012. His lockout-shortened season was impressive, with 29 goals and 57 points (both totals were 2nd in the NHL) in only 48 games (a career-high 1.19 points-per-game average), though a horrible leg injury the following season would derail his year, forcing him to miss what would have been a gold medal win at the 2014 Sochi Olympics (and likely yet another Rocket Richard, as he lead the league with 0.68 goals-per-game – 25 goals in just 37 games).

Which brings us of course to last year, a “down year” for Stamkos, in which he scored “only” 43 goals and 72 points – which were 2nd and 14th, respectively, in the NHL. Stamkos has gotten to the point that at only 25 years of age the standard is so high, even 43 goals is considered disappointing. In total Stamkos has scored 276 goals and 498 points in 492 games for a 1.01 points-per-game average and a 0.56 goals-per-game average with two Rocket Richard trophies and two NHL Second All-Star Team selection.

Like his NHL resume, his international resume isn’t very long, though it is impressive. He captured gold at the 2008 World Junior Championships and silver at the 2009 IIHF World Championships for Team Canada. In total, he’s scored 16 goals and 26 points in 22 senior-level international matches.

So the question isn’t so much whether Stamkos will make the Hall of Fame or not one day. His goals-per-game average is 9th in modern NHL history, just behind player such as Brett Hull, Pavel Bure and Alexander Ovechkin – in short, Stamkos has already established himself as one of the premier snipers in NHL history.

A more interesting question is whether Stamkos is already good enough to make the Hockey Hall of Fame. Here, Bure might be the closest comparable. Limited to just 702 NHL games before having to retire from injuries at the age of 31, Bure posted goals-per-game (0.62) and points-per-game (1.11) numbers just slightly above Stamkos.

Like Stamkos, Bure also won the Rocket Richard twice, though he would have captured three had the award been in existence in 1994 when Bure potted 60 goals.

In straight counting stats, Bure netted five 50-goal seasons (including back-to-back 60-goal years), compared to Stamkos, who has done it just twice (including 60 once).

So, to go back to the question of whether or not Stamkos is already worthy of induction, one has to consider that Bure was thought of a bubble player for the Hall and had to wait over a decade before he got the call. Taking the fact Bure comes out ahead in so many categories, from awards to stats, Stamkos isn’t quite there yet.

However, the major difference between the two is their durability, as Stamkos has played every game in five of his seven seasons (he missed just three in his rookie year, while 2013-14 was of course wiped out with that leg injury), a feat that Bure managed only twice in 12 years.

Should he continue down this path (and remember, he still has many prime offensive years remaining) nobody should be surprised when Stamkos adds a few more Rocket Richard trophies, or an Art Ross or Hart for that matter, to his trophy case. By the time he’s done 500 goals seems like a lock at this point (while 600+ might be more likely), as does the 1000-point plateau. Given the rise of the Lightning to become one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, at least one Stanley Cup championship doesn’t seem too far out of reach either.

It can be difficult to prognosticate sometimes, but Stamkos is as steady as they come, and it’s only a matter of time until one of the greatest snipers of his generation gets inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

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