Along this insane journey to writing at least one article about Steven Stamkos every day for 91 consecutive days, our staff has provided you with unique insights and stories about the captain that you probably didn’t know. This is not going to be that kind of article.
This is an article that will tell you something you already know. Steven Stamkos is ridiculously good at playing hockey. But even though I’ve watched nearly every game of his career, I sometimes forget just HOW good he really is. So I did what I normally do when I want to understand something, I looked at some numbers and made some pictures to help me tell the story.
The most unique attribute that Stamkos has as a hockey player is his shot. Stamkos’ shot is one of the biggest singular weapons in the history of the NHL. That might sound like hyperbole. It isn’t. And I’m going to prove it. To start, here is a simple chart from Hockey Reference that shows the top 100 shooters in NHL history.
Top 100 Shooters
If you scroll through this list, you’ll notice a trend. Very few of the players on the list played in the era of modern goaltending. In fact, I would only count two of the players in the top 100 as true modern-era players: Alex Tanguay (22nd) and Steven Stamkos (57th). With all due respect to Tanguay, no one would mistake him for the same caliber of player as Stamkos. So already, we have some evidence that Stamkos has one of the best shots in the history of the league.
Pure shooting percentage is interesting but it doesn’t tell much of a story. Next, let’s look at shooting percentage and goals scored to get more context. The rest of this article will focus purely on the last ten seasons because that’s where we have better access to more robust data. Data for the following charts comes from corsica.hockey and is 5v5 adjusted for score, venue, and zone starts.
Steven Stamkos’ placement on these charts is comical. Each chart contains all forwards who have played at least 2,000 5v5 minutes since the 2007-2008 season. The chart on the left shows his shooting percentage and his raw goal counts. There, he appears to be one of the best offensive players in the league. For context, the dot just to the below right of him is Sidney Crosby. And the dot that is farthest right is Alex Ovechkin.
The chart on the right controls for TOI by looking at goals scored per 60 minutes instead of just raw goals. Here, Stamkos looks even more absurd. He scores goals at an incredible rate and shoots an absurd percentage. Based on that chart, he looks like the most dangerous pure goal scorer of the last ten years. And considering the degree to which goaltending has changed in the last 20 years, I’m comfortable saying he has one of the best shots in the history in the league.
Having established that Stamkos is one of the best pure shooters in the history of the NHL, let’s look at some additional numbers that I think are fun. The following chart shows shot numbers for every line he’s ever been on with more than a hundred minutes TOI at 5v5.
I’ve labeled some of the best lines Stamkos has played on as well as some of the more notable ones. Interestingly, the line that he started on at the beginning of this year with Nikita Kucherov and Vladislav Namestnikov is the best of his career in terms of shot share. Namestnikucheramkos was great last spring and early in this season.
Given how great that line has been, let’s look see how some of Stamkos’ numbers from earlier this season compare to his career. First, we’ll look at primary scoring.
This graph shows just how much Stamkos benefited from playing with Kucherov and Namestnikov. He was scoring goals at the third-highest rate of his career and earning primary assists at by far the highest rate of his career. Stamkos has always been primarily a goal scorer but playing with Kucherov and Namestnikov seems to open up even more of his passing game and make him a more well-rounded scorer. If he had scored at that pace for a full 82 games, it would have been be the best season of his career. That might be unlikely to happen given that this is a small sample prior to his injury, but the initial results are exceptionally encouraging.
The next chart shows how much better (or worse) the Lightning have performed with Stamkos on the ice than when he isn’t in terms of shot share and expected goal share.
The numbers here are even more dramatic. The Lightning this season were about 8% better in terms of both shot and expected goal share with him on the ice than with him on the bench. That’s the most drastic impact he’s made at any point in his career and is another indication of just how well he and his two linemates were playing.
With the Lightning still clinging to playoff hopes, the spectre of Stamkos returning for a playoff run has captured national media attention. And if that happens, one wonders if head coach Jon Cooper would go back to the Stamkos/Kucherov/Namestnikov line that was so successful in the beginning of the season.
Even if the Bolts miss the playoffs, the dominance of that line should be an encouraging sign for next season. Stamkos seemed to be operating at less than optimal levels playing primarily with Alex Killorn and Ryan Callahan over the previous two seasons. Playing with more skilled forwards like Kucherov and Namestnikov complimented his skill set and had him performing at his absolute best.
Whenever Stamkos returns, I hope he has two skilled wingers on either side of him so that we get to watch the Lightning take full advantage of his generationally great shooting talent.