Following a remarkable 60-goal season in which he also finished second in league scoring with 97 points, Steven Stamkos left few, if any, questions unanswered about his overall game.
Except this one, of course:
Should a player on a non-playoff team be considered a worthy candidate for the Hart Trophy?
The three finalists for the award, which is annually voted on by members of the media, were announced on Friday, thus kicking off a debate as to what exactly should be the qualifications for a player to be adjudged most valuable to his team.
Steve Yzerman even admitted last month that the question is worth examining, and pondered if a player’s individual accomplishments should carry more weight than the shortcomings of the overall team.
As far as on-ice achievements go, Stamkos certainly had plenty.
He became the first NHL player since Alex Ovechkin in 2007-08 to score at least 60 goals in a single season, and in doing so, was just the 20th player in NHL history to hit the mark. He was also the first center to record 60 goals in one campaign since Mario Lemieux in 1995-96.
If that is considered elite company, pause for a second and think that only six other players in addition to Stamkos have recorded two 50-goal seasons before turning 23 years old, including Ovechkin, Lemieux, Pavel Bure, Mike Bossy, Wayne Gretzky and Joe Nieuwendyk.
Lemieux, in fact, in 1987-88, was the last player to be awarded the Hart while playing for a team that did not qualify for the postseason, with only three others having done it prior to that.
But as Yzerman echoed, what happens when you remove that player from the equation?
How does he stack up? Stamkos scored 10 more goals this season than the league's next best goal-scorer and fellow Hart finalist, Evgeni Malkin.
Perhaps doing just that is the most accurate way to gauge a player’s impact on his club.
Of the Lightning’s 232 goals scored on the season, Stamkos scored a league-best 60 of them, accounting for nearly 26 percent of the team’s scoring. The Bolts also finished the season ranked ninth in the 30-team league in goals for, but would have ended up 29th with just 172 without Stamkos’ contributions.
Also remove Stamkos’ league-leading 12 game-winning goals, including an NHL-record five in overtime, and the Lightning likely would have been out of the playoff picture much sooner than the middle of March. Mind you, Stamkos performed during a season in which his team lost 321 man-games to injury and in which it traded a top six forward, making what he accomplished seem to take on extra significance.
During a season in which the Lightning struggled in goal, and with personnel undergoing a large mid-season makeover on the blueline, the Bolts’ offense proved to be a bright spot, and one that was spearheaded by Stamkos.
He revealed his evolution as a player by recording a league-best 48 even-strength goals and scoring from a number of different areas on the ice, while also becoming more of an improved defensive player. When it seemed like the playoffs wouldn’t be in the Lightning’s plans this spring, the team, sparked by Stamkos’ push for 60 goals, went on to post a 21-13-4 record in its final 38 games to finish strong down the stretch.
Ultimately, whether or not Stamkos brings home additional hardware to go along with this season’s Rocket Richard Trophy, he certainly has made a strong case for himself that is worthy of serious consideration.