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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 Mar. 15, 2019

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.

Related: RELATED: Meet Steven Stamkos' new peers

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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  1. Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Alex Killorn (17) celebrate after he beats Arizona Coyotes goaltender Adin Hill (31) to score the first goal of the game during first period action at Amalie Arena on Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020 in Tampa. [DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    The Lightning forward has hovered just below 20 goals for years and finally reached the mark on Friday.
  2. Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) leads the celebration as players contratulate right wing Nikita Kucherov (86) after he beat Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick (32) to tie the game 3-3 in the final moments during third period action at Amalie Arena on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020 in Tampa. The Lightning went on to win 4 to 3 in the shootout.  [DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    Tampa Bay went from sixth place in the Atlantic Division to second behind a 10-game win streak.
  3. Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck (37) gets beaten by a shot from Tampa Bay Lightning's Nikita Kucherov (86) as Lightning's Steven Stamkos (91) looks on during first-period NHL hockey game action in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Friday, Jan. 17, 2020. [JOHN WOODS  |  AP]
    Tampa Bay pours on the goals with seven total, including two from Nikita Kucherov.
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    Tampa Bay also reassigned Alex Volkov to AHL Syracuse as Pat Maroon returned to the lineup.
  5. Minnesota Wild's Zach Parise (11) tries to control the puck the puck against Tampa Bay Lightning's Jan Rutta (44) during the first period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020, in St. Paul, Minn. [HANNAH FOSLIEN  |  AP]
    Tampa Bay falls off a recent trend of strong defense and lets Minnesota dictate the game.
  6. Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper watches from the bench as his team plays against the Minnesota Wild during the second period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020, in St. Paul, Minn. [HANNAH FOSLIEN  |  AP]
    Even if the play is erased by an earlier offsides, the penalty still must be served.
  7. Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh (27) in the tunnel before heading out to the ice for warms ups before taking on the New York Rangers at Amalie Arena on Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019 in Tampa.  [DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
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  8. Canada's Geneviève Lacasse (31) blocks a shot by United States' Kendall Coyne Schofield (26) during the third period of a rivalry series women's hockey game in Hartford, Conn., Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer) [MICHAEL DWYER  |  AP]
    Teams representing the United States and Canada will play a 3-on-3 scrimmage as part of the festivities in St. Louis next week.
  9. TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 14: (Editor's Note: Image was digitally altered)  The Tampa Bay Lightning host the Los Angeles Kings fathers, brothers and mentors during the Kings' annual team trip at Amalie Arena on January 14, 2020 in Tampa. (Photo by Casey Brooke Lawson/NHLI via Getty Images) [CASEY BROOKE LAWSON  |  NHLI via Getty Images]
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  10. Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Alexander Volkov (92) before Tuesday's game against the Los Angeles Kings. [CHRIS O'MEARA  |  AP]
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