Congratulations to Steven Stamkos. The captain has achieved something no player has ever done while wearing a Tampa Bay Lightning uniform - scored 400 goals. While he is the seventh player with 400 career goals to play for the Lightning, none of the others hit the mark while playing for the organization.
Almost like clockwork Stamkos notches historical goals. Throughout his career, every three years he knocked out a round number. It was 2010 when he broke the 100 goal mark against Carolina. In 2013 he recorded his 200th goal against Philadelphia, and in 2016 it was number 300 against Pittsburgh.
For the first time in his career he hit a monumental goal that no one in the organization had ever reached before. Previously he had shared those notable markers with Marty St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier. Both of those players left the organization without hitting 400.
This shouldn’t be the last milestone Stamkos hits for the Lightning. Unlike the other six players who’ve played for the Lightning that had 400 goals on their resume, Stamkos still should have a large chunk of his career ahead of him. Gary Roberts, Mark Recchi, Dino Ciccerelli and Dave Andreychuk had all already achieved the goal mark before playing with the Lightning and were at the tail end of their career.
Quick note - the Lightning almost had the chance to plan a 400 goal celebration back in 2000, but they traded Stephane Richer when he was at 399, granted the bulk of those goals were with Montreal and New Jersey (he scored 28 with the Bolts) but the 2000 Lightning would have found any reason to celebrate. Five games after being traded to Saint Louis, Richer was finally able to hit the mark.
Lecavalier scored 383 goals as a member of the Lightning, a franchise record that Stamkos surpassed last season. Had he not been bought out after the 2013-14 season, he would have easily reached the mark for the Lightning. Instead, he had to celebrate in a Philadelphia Flyers uniform.
As with most milestones that Stamkos achieves in his Lightning career, there is always the thought of “what could have been”. If it wasn’t for a couple of major injuries and a lockout, Stamkos could conceivably have played 144 more games. If he had scored at his career rate of .52 goals per game that’s another 75 goals on his resume. Considering two of the years he was shorted games were during the prime of his career, he could have scored at an even higher rate.
That shouldn’t take away from his accomplishments and in fact, it should add to the legend he’s building. He’s come back from two significant injuries and not missed a stride. Not only that, he has established himself as the greatest goal scorer in franchise history. Through ownership changes, lean years, and great ones, all he does is score goals. For his entire career (going on 12 seasons!), you could count on two things - Phil Esposito ranting about the officials and Steven Stamkos scoring one-timers from the left circle.
It’s rare that you get to watch the greatest player in an organization’s history play, but that’s what we’re seeing right now. Make no mistake about it, Steven Stamkos is the best player to ever put on the Lightning uniform. He may not be your favorite, but the stats will show that he did things in the blue and white that no one else did. By the time his contract ends after the 2023-24 season, his name should be atop all of the relevant stats for the Lightning. He’s already in the top three of the big ones goals (first), games played (third), assists (third), and points (third).
In an era where every number one pick is hyped as a franchise savior, it’s nice when one actually lives up to or exceeds the build-up. Stamkos was billed as a generational prospect, maybe not to the extent of Sidney Crosby before him or Connor McDavid after him, but one that a franchise could build around. The Lightning went all in marketing him before he was even drafted and it’s paid off handsomely. He’s developed from a hot shot phenom, scoring 60 goals when he was barely old enough to drink a beer legally in Tampa, to the captain of one of the most stable franchises in the NHL.
His status among Lightning players is secure, but where does he rank amongst his contemporaries outside of the Tampa Bay area? Simply put, he’s one of the elite players in the game. While he might not get the national press of a Crosby, McDavid, or Ovechkin, he hold his own with them on the ice.
In NHL history, 97 other players have achieved at least 400 goals (Joe Thornton was the most recent player, having finally gotten to the mark last November). By scoring the goal before February 7th, he joins an even more select group of 18 players who have done it before their 30th birthday, and that’s with missing almost a season and a half worth of games in his prime.
There are now nine active players with 400 goals (yes Marion Hossa and Ilya Kovalchuk are technically “active”). That number should increase to ten soon as Evgeni Malkin is sitting on 393. After that it could be awhile as Corey Perry is sitting at 374, but he isn’t scoring at the rate he was earlier in his career.
As Geo pointed out this summer, Stamkos is the best shooter of this generation. He’s also one of the best goal scorers of this era (yes those are different things). Out of active players, he is currently ninth in goals and if he picks up his scoring as the year progresses, will probably leapfrog Marion Gaborik and Joe Thornton. The only active player with 400 goals that scores them at a greater pace is Alex Ovechkin (.61 goals per game vs. .52 gpg for Stamkos).
With four-and-three-quarters seasons left to play under his current contract there is almost no doubt that some time around 2022 we’ll be writing about Stamkos being the only player to score his 500th goal in a Lightning sweater. His goal-scoring abilities should age well. Brett Hull was launching one-timers from a similar spot through his late-30s. Ovechkin is still firing away and connecting at 35 years old.
With continued good health and another contract, it’s not unreasonable to think he could join Dave Andreychuk as the only players in team history to score their 600th goal in a Lightning jersey.