Saturday, November 27, 2010

Chasing the Great One

From the mid-90s to the lockout in 2004-2005, it wasn’t uncommon for the NHL’s leading goal scorer to score less than 50. It was a little embarrassing. That’s one reason it was so exhilarating when Alex Ovechkin scored 65 goals in 2007-2008. It’s also why everyone is getting so excited about Steven Stamkos this season.

As of Saturday, Stamkos was leading the NHL in goals with 21. What makes this impressive is that he’s scored these 21 goals in only 23 games, putting him on pace for an obscene 74 goals. But what’s more exciting is that this pace means he has a chance to score 50 goals in 50 games.

Scoring 50 goals in 50 games is a rare feat that has only been accomplished by five players in the history of the NHL – Maurice Richard, Mike Bossy, Wayne Gretzky (who amazingly broke 50 goals three times in 39, 42, and 49 games respectively), Mario Lemieux, and Brett Hull. Technically, Alexander Mogilny, Jari Kurri, and Cam Neely have scored 50 goals in their first 50 games, but the NHL only officially recognizes those players that score 50 goals in their team’s first 50 games.

If Stamkos is able to join this elite group of players it will be the first time a player has done so since Brett Hull accomplished the feat in 1991-1992 when he scored 70 goals to lead the league by a wide margin.

23 games into the season is possibly premature to start a 50-in-50 discussion, especially considering the pressure will mount exponentially as long as Stamkos continues his torrid pace. However, there are many factors that work in Stamkos’ favour beside his tremendous skill.

First, Stamkos plays in Tampa Bay, which means the amount of media attention that follows his chase will be far less than it would be if he played in Montreal or Toronto. He’s likely to receive the most attention while on the road and should only receive an inordinate amount of attention at home from reporters following the visiting team. This means that Stamkos can focus his attention solely on doing what he does best – score goals.

On-ice, Stamkos is especially dangerous on the power-play, which will certainly help his chase considering the Lightning have drawn the third most amount of penalties in the league. He’s carved out a nice residence at the top of the face-off dot and regularly fires quick lasers reminiscent of Brett Hull. He leads the league with 10 power-play goals, which is the same amount that Alex Ovechkin scored all of last season. Plus, the Lightning have enough offensive fire-power that teams can’t solely focus on Stamkos. If they do, they risk allowing Martin St. Louis or Ryan Malone an easy scoring chance.

This is another factor that favours Stamkos – his teammates are excellent. Stamkos’ primary winger is St. Louis, one of the best set-up men in the league. St. Louis is creative enough to get the puck to Stamkos even when harassed by multiple defenders. The other winger on this line is Steve Downie, who is willing to go to the dirty areas of the ice to retrieve the puck and get it to his more talented linemates.

In order to join the exclusive 50-in-50 club, Stamkos will need some luck. He’ll have to score some empty net goals along the way and will need help from his teammates on any off-nights. Also, he’ll obviously need to stay healthy because even missing one or two games jeopardizes his chances.

Wayne Gretzky has already stated that Stamkos is good enough and is surrounded with enough talent in Tampa Bay to accomplish this impressive feat. He also mentioned that Stamkos has the insatiable drive that separates good players from great players. With a ringing endorsement from the Great One, it seems that Stamkos has all the tools to become the best goal scorer in the NHL and 50 goals in 50 games would prove that.


Ted Rigby said...

Wamkos looks like the most likely to pull this off of any player in recent years. Crosby and Ovi are arguably better players overall, but as a pure sharp-shooter, Stamkos has been dominant this season.

I take some issue with you deeming his Tampa Bay teammates as "excellent players", but I'll let it slide.

Matt Horner said...

I watch the Toronto Maple Leafs consistently. It doesn't take much to look excellent in comparison.

Bo Bon said...

He's no Lindros

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