Yes, yes, I've "Seen Stamkos".
I've seen him get handed a raw deal with expectations through the roof at the beginning of his NHL career. I've actually had the courage to suggest, publicly, he might not make the team. Of course, that was before I knew how bad Camp Mullet would be orchestrated and how poorly Barry Melrose would manage the team; well before the public pissing match between he and owner Len Barrie after his dismissal from the Lightning.
I've also brought up the fact previously that if the Lightning were in more stable circumstances, Stamkos would still be in juniors. Though I also pointed out:
That is not pissing on Steven Stamkos or his game. This is not an attempt to undermine the kid or his future. The point is that, in a different scenario or situation, Steven would not be in the NHL this season or not pressed in the way he has been.
Note that last bit -- pressed. Expectations...
So let me be one to rejoice in the fact Steven Stamkos has turned it around this season as the Lightning have faded. They've played better hockey, but the expectations that were so high before the season vanished. And when expectations vanished, it seemed like a load came off of Steve's shoulders.
...which brings me to the comparisons between Stamkos and team captain Vincent Lecavalier that have popped up the last several weeks as Steven has approached and passed Vinny's rookie season point and goal totals from 1998-1999. More after the jump.
Really, it's a needless point I make here, but I feel it's stupid to judge Stamkos next to Lecavalier with regards to rookie production. We all know it's not going to be the ultimate sign which is the better player (though it's almost made out to be that way). There is an underlying truth that just does not seem to be stated at all: The fact that 1998-99 and 2008-09 were vastly different teams with vastly different management styles.
There's a checklist of players that Stamkos has been fortunate enough to be surrounded with during his first season of play: Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, Jeff Halpern, Ryan Malone, Vaclav Prospal, Mark Recchi... guys who have won the Cup as well as other trophies and accolades. They've been vital cogs in the league for a while. The fact that Stamkos has had these players to learn from has helped his case immensely.
By contrast, Vincent in 1998? He had Wendel Clark, Chris Gratton, Darcy Tucker, Stephane Richer... A venerable who's who of also-rans and never-were's and yet-to-be's rounded out the roster while then-head coach Jacques Demers delieberately tried to protect Vinny from the vaulted expectations and bright lights of the NHL after then-owner Art Williams had dumped the "Michael Jordan of Hockey" title foolishly on the young star's lap. Vinny was projected to be a savior for the franchise that was down on it's luck and the joke of the league.
I know expectations had been huge at the start for Steven (the Seen Stamkos marketing campaign by the team - full of flash-mob marketing tactics and the web site) and he has performed in the end as well as could be expected in realistic terms. He's going to be great and is showing us that now.
I just see the Lightning of yesterday as a vastly different team than the Lightning of today (even if both teams were/are cellar dwellers). One was not expected to compete in any realistic fashion from the start, while the other was unrealistically supposed to be better than anything, <em>ever</em>. With that knowledge of expectations on the entire roster compared to expectations on one single player - I can't understand the comparisons between Vinny and Steven and their rookie-year production.