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As Steven Stamkos reaches major milestones, time to reflect on his greatness

Do 500 goals, 1,000 points and consecutive Stanley Cup seasons cement the Lightning captain’s place among the greats in the Hockey Hall of Fame?
Lightning center Steven Stamkos celebrates his goal with teammates during the third period of a game against the Sabres on Monday. The captain is one point from reaching 1,000 for his career.
Lightning center Steven Stamkos celebrates his goal with teammates during the third period of a game against the Sabres on Monday. The captain is one point from reaching 1,000 for his career. [ JOSHUA BESSEX | AP ]
Published Dec. 1, 2022

PHILADELPHIA — When Steven Stamkos notched his 500th career assist two weeks ago, he saw the irony in the fact that for a player often labeled as a shooter, he reached the assist milestone first.

This is becoming a season full of notable benchmarks for Stamkos. As the Lightning end their three-game road trip tonight against the Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center, Stamkos’ next point will be his 1,000th, making him just the 95th player in NHL history to pull off that feat.

He is just six goals from becoming the 47th player to reach 500, and given the run he’s been on of late — six goals in his last seven games — it shouldn’t be long until Stamkos gets that milestone. And they are more than pretty round numbers.

“One-thousand points, anytime you’ve you start hitting those century marks and beyond, not only does it mean you’ve been around for a while, but you’re probably among the elite of your era,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “Five hundred goals is another one. Those are lofty numbers. The next step is people talking about the Hockey Hall of Fame.

“The fact that Stammer is hitting both of those milestones in the same year is pretty remarkable, and his career is far from over. But I think it is time to look back at everything he’s accomplished as a player. And you throw in two Stanley Cups and it’s pretty impressive. It’s Hall of Fame stuff.”

Steven Stamkos is rewriting the Lightning record books and likely pulling together a Hall of Fame pedigree.
Steven Stamkos is rewriting the Lightning record books and likely pulling together a Hall of Fame pedigree. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Those benchmarks have become more meaningful in today’s game. Stamkos would become only the 10th active player to reach 1,000 points. But there are only two active players with the combination of 500 goals and 1,000 points, so Stamkos will be among elite company — the Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin and Penguins’ Sidney Crosby.

“There was a stretch there where it was happening a heck of a lot more easily than it is now,” said Lightning TV color analyst Brian Engblom, a former NHL defenseman through the late 1970s and ‘80s. “The game is just a different game now. So to be able to do it now when it happens so infrequently, you’ve got to keep doing it over and over and over again. You’ve got to keep getting at least 30 to 35 goals every year.”

Stamkos, a two-time winner of the Rocket Richard Trophy that is awarded annually to the league’s leading scorer, had his big goal-scoring years early in his career, tallying 51 in his second season in the league, then a career-high 60 two years later in 2011-12. Engblom said that he couldn’t name five players in the past 30 years who are better pure shooters than Stamkos.

But the testament to Stamkos’ success might be how he has evolved from a pure scorer into a playmaker. He has had his top three assist years over his past five seasons, including a career-high 64 last season. After becoming one of the most dangerous goal-scorers, and the focus of opponents’ attention, Stamkos adapted, and while continuing to score, he still has found ways to consistently put up points every season.

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And he did so while overcoming some serious injuries along the way, from the broken tibia in 2013 to the blood clot that required surgery in 2016 to the core muscle injuries that set back his season and kept him out of the Lightning’s Cup run in 2020 for all but one game.

Steven Stamkos' game has evolved in recent years, but that hasn't made him any less productive.
Steven Stamkos' game has evolved in recent years, but that hasn't made him any less productive. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

The 500-goal, 1,000-point milestone Stamkos is about to reach won’t guarantee a spot in the Hall of Fame, but of the 44 players to do both, 36 are in the Hall.

Among the remaining eight, three are still active: Ovechkin, Crosby and Jaromir Jagr, who is still playing for a Czech team he owns. Among the other five — a group that includes big names like Pierre Turgeon, Jeremy Roenick, Patrick Marleau (who isn’t eligible yet after retiring in 2021) and Keith Tkachuk — only Pat Verbeek has won a Cup.

“He’s got the resume for sure,” Engblom said of Stamkos. “You look at all the numbers and if guys are a numbers person, that’s where they’re going to start and go, ‘Yeah, OK, 500 (goals), 1,000 (points). Yeah, no doubt. A couple of Cups. He had a reputation. He’s a stand-up guy. He was special.’

“Yeah, he’s got it all.”

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