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91 Days of Stamkos: Day 86, Stamkos versus who?

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Does Steven Stamkos have a true rival in this league?

2012 Molson Canadian NHL All-Star Skills Competition

A few 91 days of 91 ago, reader t.cann112 posted a comment with a suggestion to tackle a topic that I hadn’t thought about:

Who is Stamkos’ biggest enemy? Who are his biggest rivals on the ice? Brad Marchand makes sense, but every team hates Marchand. Does he have any kind of “Sid-Ovie” rivalry?

Sidney Crosby has Alex Ovechkin. Auston Matthews will have Connor McDavid AND Patrick Laine. Gordie Howe had Maurice Richard. Even Rob Ray had Tie Domi.

I’ve been mulling this over for the last few days, trying to remember if anyone in the NHL has been set up as his rival. I even consulted Google, searching for “Stamkos’ rival” or “Stamkos’ enemy” and while the suggested links have led to some interesting reading (we still love you Stanley Cup of Chowder) not a single one of them has suggested an actual rival for Stamkos.

That’s not unexpected. Stamkos genuinely seems like a nice guy (there are a lot more links for “Stamkos nice guy” than “Stamkos rival”) who, while being competitive, doesn’t really go out of his way to upset other players and teams. Sure, he might throw a piece of equipment into the stands every once in awhile, but who wouldn’t want to do that to Brandon Prust?

There is also the fact that Stamkos had no natural rival in his draft class. The 2008 NHL draft was so defense-heavy that Stamkos was the only forward taken in the top five picks so there was no controversy as to who would have been better. [ESPN claims it was Drew Doughty. - Acha]

It would probably help if the Lightning had another team as a true rival. Right now the only adversary the Lightning have as a team is based on location more than anything else. Is there anyone on the Panthers that would consider themselves a rival of Stamkos? As ferocious as the battle for the Governor's Cup has been, no one has really emerged as a true one-on-one competitor for the Lightning captain.

There is something that is starting to brew with Detroit, based on some recent playoff history and the fact that Red Wing legend, Steve Yzerman, is Tampa’s GM. But although I’m sure Stamkos isn’t a fan of Gustav Nyquist at this point in his life, it would be a stretch to call him a rival. Maybe one day “D-Boss” will start something, but as of right now, NBC isn’t building any promo packages around the two of them.

That is another issue. Despite being one of the more talented players in the league, Stamkos doesn’t get much of a push from the NHL or NBC. Those two have put all of their eggs into the Sid vs. Ovie. Even a media-driven rivalry for Stamkos would be better than nothing.

One name that could fit that narrative was suggested by t.cann112 - John Tavares. While the animosity level might be zero, statistically and career wise they are quite similar. Despite being drafted one year after Stamkos, Tavares has played in just about the same amount of games (one less as of this post) and the numbers bear out a similarity.

Stamkos has the edge in goals while Tavares takes the assist category. Stamkos’ defensive numbers are a little bit better, but that could also be because he’s been surrounded by better players throughout the length of his career.

Their career trajectories are similar as well. Both are Toronto-area kids (Stamkos from Markham and Tavares from Mississauga) that were taken first overall by woebegone franchises. Both have lost a season and Olympic medal due to injuries (Stamkos broke his leg before Sochi and Tavares blew up his knee in Sochi).

They have both also led those formally bad teams to better fortunes of late, but have yet to win the Stanley Cup for their respective teams. Since they are both from Toronto, they’ve also had to deal with the media telling them they should abandon the franchises that drafted and developed them and return home to help the Leafs end their Cup drought. Stamkos refused to take the bait while Tavares has a year to decided what he’s going to do.

Despite the similarities, there isn’t even a small hint of dislike between the two, unless Stamkos holds an unspoken grudge for Tavares taking his number on a Toronto summer team when they were kids. If Stamkos had been able to play in last season’s second-round matchup, maybe they could have developed a little bit of the disgruntledness that a good rivalry needs.

Perhaps Stamkos is too laid back to have a true rival. Or, maybe he does hold a tremendous amount of hatred for one player and is just too media savvy to reveal who it is (my money's on Tyler Bozak). Does it matter? Does he need to have a rival to elevate his game?