When told he was being selected as the preseason favorite to win the 2015 Hart Trophy, Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos had nothing to say, and not because he was left speechless by an honor that comes with words and hype rather than hardware and bonus money.
Getting chosen as a preseason favorite for anything means about as much to Stamkos as the watermelons, Legos, wedding cake and plates he destroyed with his powerful slap shot during his most recent commercial shoot for Bauer.
That's to say it's altogether meaningless to him, with one exception:
"I hope I can," Stamkos said of winning the Hart Trophy.
Stamkos said he was playing the best hockey of his career last season when he broke his right fibula on Nov. 11 against the Boston Bruins. He had 14 goals and nine assists in 16 games before the injury. He was scoring and killing penalties, and the Lightning were winning.
He had 11 goals and six assists in 20 games after returning from the injury, when he played on the wing and admittedly was hesitant out of fear his leg wouldn't hold up to contact.
With his surgically repaired right leg healed (he has one screw and a 16-inch titanium rod in his leg, but said neither bothers him), Stamkos is ready to return to being an elite player when the Lightning open the regular season Oct. 9 against the Florida Panthers at Amalie Arena.
He was on a 55-goal pace last season when you prorate his production (25 goals in 37 games) over an 82-game season. He was on approximately a 50-goal pace (49.54 to be exact) in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, when he scored 29 goals in 48 games.
Stamkos was a finalist for the Hart Trophy in 2012, when he became the 20th player in NHL history to score at least 60 goals in a season. The Lightning were not a playoff team that season. They should be this season.
Center - TBL
GOALS: 25 | ASST: 15 | PTS: 40
SOG: 124 | +/-: 9
"Fifty has always been the magic number in hockey," Stamkos said. "Obviously getting to 60 was pretty amazing. I would love to get there again, but I do realize that is pretty tough."
Stamkos won't win the Hart Trophy on goals alone. He said he feels he has developed into a mature, 200-foot player who will help the Lightning in all areas, including faceoffs and on the penalty kill.
He won 49.2 percent of his faceoffs last season, including 55.1 percent on the power play and 56.7 percent in the offensive zone, according to Faceoffs.net. Stamkos averaged 1:07 of shorthanded ice time per game before his injury.
"Obviously I know you're not going to be the best player every night, but that's the mindset I have coming in," Stamkos said. "At the end of the year if that equals a Hart Trophy-caliber season, that's icing on the cake."
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins -- Crosby won the Hart Trophy for the second time in his career last season, when he led the NHL with 104 points and 68 assists. He should have another big season in Pittsburgh, but there are some minor bits of uncertainty because of a new coach, a wrist injury that bothered him all summer, a new injury that derailed him early in training camp, and more time missed because of a death in the family. He might need time to get on track.
Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks -- It would be fitting for Toews to finally go to the NHL Awards as a finalist for the Hart Trophy. The Blackhawks center does everything well, but he's never finished higher than fourth in the voting, as he did in the 2012-13 season. Toews has won the Selke Trophy (2012-13) and was a finalist for it last season. He'll be seen as more than a defensive center this season, but he won't score enough to top Stamkos.
ALSO IN THE MIX: Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings; Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks; Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens