Puckin' Around With Spector
by Lyle Richardson on 04/11/12 at 11:15 AM ET
Entering the 2008-09 season, the OK Hockey group, which then owned the Tampa Bay Lightning, launched a clever ad campaign to promote their rookie forward Steven Stamkos, whom they’d selected with the first overall pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.
Using the slogan, “Seen Stamkos?”, it was a smart marketing move from an otherwise inept bunch during their short, disastrous ownership of the Lightning.
Unfortunately, Stamkos struggled through the first half of his rookie season, and “Seen Stamkos?” became fodder for derision for the team’s critics, as well as fans who felt he was not only over-hyped, but overrated.
Four years later, however, it might be a good idea for NHL marketing to resurrect and update that campaign as a means of promoting Stamkos as one of the league’s top players.
His accomplishments in only four short NHL seasons are impressive. Three consecutive 90-plus point seasons. Two Richard trophies in three years as the league’s leading goal-scorer. And this season, becoming the first player in four years to reach the 60-goal plateau.
Stamkos is now unquestionably the Lightning’s franchise player, and at only 22, the best pure sniper in the league, drawing favorable comparisons to Hall of Famers Brett Hull and Mike Bossy.
Right now, he’s the kind of young exciting young superstar the league should be pushing to the forefront, even above Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin.
Not too long ago, Crosby and Ovechkin were considered this generation’s “Gretzky-Lemieux” rivalry, but given the uncertainty over Crosby’s future because of concussions, and Ovechkin’s puzzling offensive decline over the last two seasons, the NHL brain trust should seriously consider hitching its brand to other young superstars.
Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin would be the best candidate. He’s won two Art Ross trophies, the Conn Smythe as 2009 playoff MVP, seems a shoo-in this season for his first Hart Trophy as league MVP.
Unlike Stamkos, Malkin has played on a Stanley Cup champion, and has three 100-plus point seasons on his resume.
Despite his stellar numbers, however, Malkin continues to play in Crosby’s shadow. Even when Crosby was sidelined indefinitely, most of the focus was upon his status, rather than Malkin’s performance.
Stamkos, on the other hand, takes a back seat to no one in Tampa Bay.
He’s outshone one-time franchise player Vincent Lecavalier, and while he’s obviously benefited from playing alongside playmaker Martin St. Louis, Stamkos finished a full 23 points above St. Louis this season. That’s a significant improvement over the last time Stamkos led the Lightning in scoring, when the difference between them was only one point.
While Malkin is unquestionably a superior player, Stamkos pursuit of the sixty-goal mark generated considerably more attention, especially in the final month of the season, than Malkin’s pursuit of the NHL scoring title.
It could be argued that, because Stamkos plays for a Sun Belt team in a supposed “non-traditional” market, he might not be worthy of promotion as one of the NHL’s franchise players.
It wouldn’t be the first time such an argument has been made about an NHL superstar. During Ovechkin’s sophomore season, when the Washington Capitals were near the bottom of the league in both the standings and attendance, a New York hockey pundit suggested it would be better for Ovechkin, and for the NHL, if the talented Russian were playing in a market which would truly appreciate his skills. Like, say, New York.
Fast forward two seasons later, with Ovechkin then at the peak of his powers, winning his second Hart and Richard trophies, and the Capitals by then among the league’s elite teams and playing to full houses, there was no longer any suggestion he would be better off playing in a bigger, better market.
Undoubtedly there are some hockey scribes who believe the NHL and Stamkos, a Toronto native, would be better off if he were playing for the Maple Leafs in the league’s biggest, most profitable market.
But after becoming the first player to reach sixty goals since Ovechkin did it in 2008, Stamkos is becoming more well-known, not just among Tampa Bay hockey fans, but around the league.
Partly as a result of Stamkos’ strong play, the Lightning’s attendance is on the rise, from 21st overall in his rookie season of ‘08-‘09, to 13th this season. If he can help carry the Bolts back to elite status, it would forever silence talk of his being better appreciated, and better for the league, playing elsewhere.
It’s also been suggested Stamkos’ quiet personality wouldn’t make him a good choice as one of the faces of the NHL.
Boston Bruins legend Bobby Orr was never comfortable with the publicity he endured during his NHL career, but that never prevented the Bruins and the league from promoting him - justifiably - as not just the greatest player in the game at the time, but the greatest defenseman and arguably the greatest player of all time.
Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux were quiet, soft-spoken superstars throughout their early twenties, yet they were rightly promoted as the faces of their franchises, and of the league.
Crosby entered the NHL to considerable hype, playing him up as “The Next One”. In interviews, however, he’s mostly low-key, hardly the type of larger-than-life character one would expect for someone often called “the best player in the game today”.
Going back to his days as a Junior A star, Stamkos knew the publicity he would face when he joined the NHL, especially if he met or exceeded the lofty expectations of being a first overall draft pick. His quiet demeanour would make him no different than those aforementioned stars who came before him.
Of course, if Crosby can forever avoid another concussion, Ovechkin regains his once-sizzling offensive style, and Malkin finally fully emerges from Crosby’s shadow, the trio could overshadow Stamkos. but only to the point Gretzky, Lemieux and Mark Messier overshadowed Brett Hull during the latter’s heyday as the league’s deadliest sniper, and one of its most bankable superstars.
Stamkos is a genuine talent, the best goal-scorer in the NHL. Barring injury, he could provide the NHL with more 60-goal performances.
It’s time to give Stamkos his just due, not just as one of the NHL’s very best, but among the pantheon of its most marketable stars.
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About Puckin' Around With Spector
I’m Lyle Richardson. You might know me from my website, Spector’s Hockey, my thrice-weekly rumor column at THN.com, my weekly column at Eishockey News (if you read German), and my former gig as a contributing writer to Foxsports.com.
I’ll be writing a once-weekly blog here with my take on all things NHL. Who knows, I might actually find time to debunk a trade rumor or two.