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Burns: Steven Stamkos looks to create lasting legacy in Tampa Bay

by Bryan Burns / Tampa Bay Lightning

An oft-debated topic among sports fans, particularly during the offseason doldrums, centers around the Mt. Rushmore of a particular team or area.

The premise is simple: Who are the most iconic figures in a team/city/region’s history? Like Mt. Rushmore, the list is narrowed to the top four, creating some interesting arguments.

Certainly, a Mt. Rushmore of iconic Tampa Bay sports figures would draw plenty of candidates to choose from.

The Buccaneers’ Lee Roy Selmon is a given. So too is Hall of Fame linebacker and current Storm president Derrick Brooks. Cases could be made for Warren Sapp, Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott too.

From the Rays, Evan Longoria would likely be the top pick. Maybe Wade Boggs, who didn’t play a ton with the Rays but remains a resident of the area and has been a long-time assistant coach at Wharton High School, would get a look too.

Former Lightning greats Vincent Lecavalier, Marty St. Louis and Dave Andreychuk have to be considered. And although he never played in Tampa, Phil Esposito would be on the short list too. He only brought hockey to the city (and, like Andreychuk, has a statue outside Amalie Arena).

Thinking outside the box a bit, people like Tom McEwen, Joe Maddon, Jon Gruden, Tony Dungy, Hulk Hogan or even Tim Marcum deserve mention.

But where does Steven Stamkos fall into the conversation? The current Lightning captain would probably top the list of active Tampa Bay players to consider.

After re-signing for another eight seasons with the Lightning before reaching the July 1 free agency deadline and ensuring he’ll remain a Bolt for the majority of his career and maybe its entirety, Stamkos has a chance to leave a lasting legacy not just on the Lightning but the entire Tampa Bay sports scene.

By the time he finally calls it quits, provided he’s able to hoist a Stanley Cup or two during his career, Stamkos could very well be remembered as the most iconic figure in Tampa Bay sports history, in much the same way Lightning GM Steve Yzerman is revered in Detroit for his remarkable career with the Red Wings.

Stamkos was back in Tampa on Thursday for a routine three-month checkup from his late-season surgery and made his way over to Amalie Arena for a few minutes. I caught up with the captain for a few minutes and broached this idea to him.

Stamkos wasn’t ready, understandably, to discuss legacy questions quite yet, but he did have a sense of the impact his remaining with the Lightning could have on the Tampa Bay sports landscape.

“I don’t think you really think about that too much but it definitely plays a little part in realizing how great the city of Tampa is, the organization is here in Tampa,” Stamkos said. “I think when you look at what Victor Hedman and I have done in wanting to stay here and win and be here as long as possible, I think it is kind of cool when it’s all said and done if you could say you played with one organization your whole career.”

Stamkos said keeping the bulk of a team that advanced to the Eastern Conference Final each of the last two seasons and the Stanley Cup Final just two years ago intact has him pumped to get started with the upcoming season.

“We realize the chance that we have here, and it’s exciting,” Stamkos said. “It’s something that motivates you. We want to obviously keep this core together as much as possible and go on runs for the next six, seven, eight years. We’ve given ourselves a chance with signing these contracts, and we’ll see how it plays out…We’re right on the edge (of winning a Stanley Cup). We’ve proven that we can win in the playoffs, and we can overcome adversity and obstacles thrown in our way. I’m looking forward to keeping as many of those guys together as possible and continuing to have a lot of success.”

Stamkos normally takes a month or so off following the season to decompress from the grind of another year. But after missing the final five games of the regular season and all but the last of the Bolts’ playoff games, Stamkos’ break was just three weeks. He’s now into the early stages of his offseason workout regimen.

“I’ve been kind of slowly getting back into it, so it’s been good,” he said. “The body feels good and the mind’s refreshed, so that’s a good thing.”

Stamkos said his inclusion on Team Canada for the World Cup of Hockey has also necessitated an earlier-than-normal offseason schedule.

“It’ll be exciting to see all the guys we have down there and excited to play against them,” Stamkos said. “It’s obviously a little different when you do have the World Cup, training kind of gets kicked into high gear pretty quick. It’s been exciting. I’ll probably head home in the next couple days and just focus on that and get ready for that camp, which kind of leads into our camp here in Tampa.”

The Lightning have 12 players on World Cup rosters, tied with Chicago for most in the NHL, although Ryan Callahan won’t participate after having offseason hip surgery. Bolts head coach Jon Cooper is an assistant coach for Team North America. When the Bolts go through NHL training camp, half the roster will already be in mid-season form.

“You know you’re going to be feeling good to start the season because you’ve gone through a high-caliber, high-paced tournament like that,” Stamkos said. “I think with the amount of guys that we have participating in that tournament, hopefully it helps our team get off to a good start.”

The Lightning are already off to a good start this offseason after re-signing Stamkos and Hedman and ensuring the bulk of the roster can remain intact.

And Stamkos is off to a good start securing his legacy in Tampa Bay after committing to the Lightning for many more years to come.

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