Steven Stamkos’ Lightning goal record will be a signpost along a greater journey

John Romano: He’ll own the franchise career goal record at age 29. But it’s more about the memories Stamkos has made than the numbers.
At age 29, Steven Stamkos is the career goal leader for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Is the best yet to come? DIRK SHADD | Times
At age 29, Steven Stamkos is the career goal leader for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Is the best yet to come? DIRK SHADD | Times
Published March 15

TAMPA — The record will soon be his. The pleasure has been all ours.

Any day now, the Lightning will have a new all-time leader in goals scored. And when the moment arrives, Steven Stamkos will officially claim what we already knew in our hearts.

He is the bedrock, he is the conscience, he is the embodiment of what this franchise has become. Cool, efficient and ever responsible.

This record is about goals, yes. The new number will be 384, if you want to be exact. And if it matters to you, Stamkos will get there around 300 games faster than it took Vincent Lecavalier to reach 383.

But this is not about the numbers recorded on a page. It’s about the memories and moments shared along the way. It’s about a teenager from Ontario who came to represent the best of Tampa Bay.

There have been others, of course. A Lee Roy Selmon or a Derrick Brooks. A Lecavalier or a Martin St. Louis. Even Evan Longoria, who is still playing near another bay on another coast.

Those are the names you still see stenciled on the backs of jerseys around town. They are the players who spent a decade or more of their careers here and will forever be defined by those days and nights.

But in Stammer’s case, there is more to come. Presumably, much, much more.

That’s what will make this record more special than it might seem. It will not be a ceremonial end to a tenure well-spent. It’s merely a signpost along a greater journey.

Stamkos is 29. He is still within the prime of his career, and his play on the ice reflects that. He won’t be wheezing and sputtering when he reaches this record. It will arrive on his 36th goal of the season. He has been on the cusp of the league’s top 10 goal scorers for much of the past few months.

That, as much as anything, says all that you need to know about Stamkos. Scoring 36 goals in 2018-19 is, in some ways, as impressive as the 60 goals he scored in 2011-12.

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Back then, we knew what he was. Stamkos was a scoring prodigy from the time he was 10 years old. It’s what he’s grown into that has become much more fascinating.

He is a captain today, a valued conduit between coach Jon Cooper and the rest of the team. He has become more of an end-to-end player. He has become effective on faceoffs. He has become a better playmaker. More than anything, he has persevered when, at times, a less proud athlete might have looked for sympathy and excuses.

Or have you already forgotten the devastating knee injury. And, before, that, the broken leg. And, before all of that, the nutty days of owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie.

Stamkos has seemingly grown up right before our eyes. Always accountable, always measured, always present. These days his locker is situated in the center of the room, as if nothing is going to happen without his knowledge or consent.

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And, unlike some of those lean, early years, Stamkos is no longer the only reason to tune in to the Lightning. Brayden Point has more goals, Nikita Kucherov has more points, and Andrei Vasilevskiy is the budding superstar. Stamkos is far from a complimentary player, but he’s grown comfortable sharing the spotlight.

So if you take nothing more out of the record he has been chasing all of these years, keep this in mind:

You had the chance to see it all, from promise to fulfillment. And the best, potentially, is still to come.

Stamkos hasn’t played as many games here as Lecavalier. He hasn’t played as many years here as St. Louis. He also hasn’t yet won a Stanley Cup, an oversight he seems hellbent on correcting this summer.

But those are thoughts and aspirations to consider down the road. For now, we should take a moment to appreciate a player who has lived up to most expectations, and exceeded some others.

Breaking the franchise record for goals? That’s just the start of the conversation.

Contact John Romano at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes

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