The time has come. The time is now.
After all, Steven Stamkos is not a kid anymore. He's 28. He has been in the
NHL 10 years.
Let that sink in for a moment.
He has had more than enough time.
No more talking about potential and next year and someday.
The time has come for Stamkos to deliver a Stanley Cup to Tampa Bay.
Is it unfair to pin the Lightning's championship hopes squarely on the shoulders of one man? Absolutely. It's incredibly unfair.
Can one man win a Stanley Cup by himself? Of course not. Winning a Stanley Cup is extraordinarily hard, and it takes a whole lot of skill and just as much luck. Even Wayne Gretzky couldn't do it by himself.
"It's never a one-man show," Stamkos said.
But this is how winners are defined. This is how legacies are made. This is how careers are judged.
This is how the business works.
This is Stamkos' team. Sooner or later, it's up to him to lead it down the path to hockey's holy grail.
That's why the Lightning drafted him first overall. That's why he wears the captain's "C" on his sweater. That's why his face is plastered all over town, including on the side of the building where the Lightning plays.
And that's why the Lightning went all in and handed him an eight-year contract worth $68 million in 2016.
Stamkos is the face of the team. And the heart of the team. And the soul. And the guts. He's everything.
Now it's time for him to deliver.
"It's such a hard thing to win," Stamkos said of the Cup. "When you start counting the number of years — and this is Year 10 for me now — it's crazy how fast it goes. And you just have to cherish and really appreciate every opportunity. And you don't want to waste that opportunity, especially when you have the group that we have now."
Stamkos has had a brilliant career, no question. He has done just about everything the Lightning has asked of him since making him the first overall pick in the 2008 draft.
He's a superstar who can score as well as anyone in the game. His patented one-timer from the faceoff circle is perhaps the greatest the sport has seen.
He's a wonderful ambassador for the Lightning franchise, never embarrassing himself or his team on or off the ice.
He plays with passion and class. In his 713 career games, including playoffs, you could never once question his effort, hunger or commitment. Not once.
Away from the game, he lives his life with grace and decency.
He's a great teammate and an inspirational leader. He's polite to fans. He's more than cooperative with media that demand his time practically every day.
He came to town as a hockey-playing teenager from Ontario and has evolved into a community leader and true-blue Floridian. As he hosted this year's All-Star Game, he could not have represented the team or the area any better, and Tampa Bay could not have been more proud.
Put it this way: Steven Stamkos is a good man in every way.
Stamkos' career has been full of highs, such as his incredible 60-goal season, and sprinkled with lows, such as the time he snapped his right leg on a goal post in Boston chasing a puck.
Stamkos has done it all and seen it all. Well, except for one thing.
He hasn't won a Stanley Cup — a fact he is fully aware of.
"Sure, you start to wonder is this going to be the year because it does fly by so quick and you just want to take advantage of the opportunities when you have a team put together like this," Stamkos said.
Though it's not his fault necessarily, you can't help but decipher Stamkos' role in the Lightning's near misses.
Three years ago in the Stanley Cup final, Stamkos had no goals and just one assist in six games as the offensively challenged Lightning lost to the Blackhawks. Could a goal or two from No. 91 have made a difference?
Two years ago, Stamkos missed all but one game of the playoffs because of a blood clot as Tampa Bay lost in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final to the Penguins. The clot certainly was out of his control, but still, what might have happened if he could have played?
Then again, the Lightning gets to neither spot had it not been for Stamkos.
Now he goes into this postseason with a wonky leg. Undoubtably, he will give everything his body allows.
This won't be Stamkos' last chance to win a Stanley Cup in Tampa Bay. The Lightning's nucleus is young, and Stamkos seems to have a lot left in his tank.
But you can't keep saying that. Eventually, you have to win a Cup. The Lightning's window to win one with Stamkos gets a little smaller with each passing year. Someday it's going to shut.
So it's now up to Stamkos. It's time for him to deliver the fairy-tale ending Tampa Bay has been waiting for since the day he arrived.
The time is now.