No matter who you ask in hockey, everyone knows who Steven Stamkos is. They’ll tell you the obvious things like how he’s the captain of the Tampa Bay Lightning, a two time Stanley Cup Champion and a player who just recently hit 1000 points and 500 goals. They’ll call him a star player in this league, so how does this make him an underrated player?
It’s important to start back in 2008 when Stamkos was selected first overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning after an amazing season with the Ontario Sting of the OHL, scoring 58 goals and 105 points in just 61 games. Everyone was expecting big things from him right out of the gate, but that unfortunately didn’t happen.
Stamkos struggled to start off his career. Barry Melrose wasn’t giving him the opportunities he deserved, a similar situation we’ve seen recently with Alexis Lafreniere of the New York Rangers. After a terrible start to the season, Melrose was fired and Rick Tocchet took over. This change in coaching was exactly what Stamkos needed as he was given more ice time, power play minutes, and opportunities to prove himself. In the end, Stamkos finished off his rookie season with a 23-23-46 stat line.
In both the 2009-10 and 2010-11 season, Stamkos proved his worth as he finished both seasons with over 40 goals and 90 points, with Stamkos hitting 50 goals in just his second season. The Lightning made the playoffs in the 2010-11 season where Stamkos would help lead the team to the conference finals with 13 points in 18 games, only to lose to the Boston Bruins who eventually won the Stanley Cup.
The 2011-12 season was a historic season, and one not many people seem to talk about anymore. This was the season where Stamkos hit 60 goals in the regular season, the first player to have done it since Alexander Ovechkin in the 2007-08 season. Since then, only one other player has been able to achieve 60 goals, and that player is superstar forward Auston Matthews.
The 2009, 2011 and 2012 drafts were huge ones for Stamkos and the Lightning during this time. These drafts included franchise defenseman Victor Hedman, top five forward Nikita Kucherov and Andrei Vasilevskiy, who’s seen as possibly being a top five goalie of all time when he retires. Each player plays a key role in the Lightning’s future, but it also means the spotlight isn’t on Stamkos anymore when injuries start to become an issue for Stamkos.
Before that however, the Lightning’s 2012-13 season ended short as the NHL went into a lockout, the Lightning only playing 48 games that season as Stamkos was bound to have a career year with 100+ points. The Lightning failed to make the playoffs that season, and became focused on the next season with key players in Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov looking to take that next step into their careers.
Stamkos was having yet another great season as he was on pace for almost 60 goals on the season. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t hit that marker as his season was put to a halt on November 11, 2013. In a game against the Boston Bruins, Stamkos was racing towards the Lightning net with Bruins defender Dougie Hamilton right next to him. Going almost full speed, Hamilton shoves Stamkos just right to cause him to fall over, resulting in Stamkos breaking his leg on the goal post. Stamkos was stretchered off the ice as the entirety of TD Garden applauded him and wished him nothing but the best. The support Bruins fans and fans around the league gave to Stamkos was nothing short of amazing. Stamkos was and always has been one of the most respected players in the league.
Stamkos would miss 45 games that season, only playing 37 games with 40 points on the season. This isn’t the worst part though, as not only did Stamkos miss his last chance to play in the Olympics (NHL players weren’t allowed by the league to play in 2018 and 2022), but he watched his mentor and friend in Martin St. Louis get traded to the New York Rangers due to tension built between him and Steve Yzerman, the general manager of the team at the time.
Stamkos was named captain once St. Louis left, and he helped propell the Lightning to their first playoff appearance since 2011 where they would lose to the Montreal Canadiens in four games. This same season, Tyler Johnson and Alex Killorn had career seasons, which also helped them make the playoffs even with Stamkos gone.
Stamkos would play the entirety of the next season, scoring 43 goals and 72 points, yet again leading the Lightning to the playoffs. The Lightning would defeat the Detroit Red Wings in seven games, got revenge on the Canadiens after defeating them in six games, and defeated their former captain Martin St. Louis and the New York Rangers in seven games. The Lightning would eventually lose in the Stanley Cup Final to the Chicago Blackhawks due to both the Blackhawks being a powerhouse and the Lightning still being a relatively young team when it came to star power.
The next season for Stamkos nearly became another trip to the finals, but the Lightning lost in game seven in the Eastern Conference Championship to the Pittsburgh Penguins without him in the lineup. Stamkos was ruled out of most of the playoffs with a blood clot in his arm which required surgery, a 1-3 month recovery. The season was one of the few where Stamkos would have less than a point per game, hitting 36 goals and 64 points.
The next season for Stamkos would also be a short one, as Stamkos would get sidelined for four months due to a lateral meniscus tear, leaving him with just 20 points in 17 games, and the Lightning would eventually miss the playoffs that same year. The injury was his second major injury during the 2016 year, a hard sight for many fans, and with that came a lot of talk of whether the Lightning should trade him. Thankfully, all these trade talks that happen every season are proven to be false at the end of the day.
The next two seasons were very successful for Stamkos, missing only four games and playing some of his best hockey. In the 2017-18 season, Stamkos had 27 goals and 86 points, showing that Stamkos started to become more of a playmaker rather than a goal scorer like a lot of players once they hit their late twenties, early thirties. The Lightning would make it to the Eastern Conference Final where they would lose to the Washington Capitals. Stamkos had 16 points in 17 games.
The 2018-19 season was a historic one for the Lightning, both in good and bad ways. The good? The Lightning tied the NHL record for most wins in a season with 62, and showed that they were one of the best teams built in modern day history. The bad? The Lightning’s season finished in embarrassing fashion, losing in the first round by a sweep to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Stamkos finished the season with 45 goals and 98 points, one of the best seasons of his entire career, but didn’t do so well in the postseason, finishing with just two points in four games.
The 2019-20 season is most famous for being shortened by the pandemic, the first season to finish short since the 2012-13 season. Stamkos would finish that season early due to a hernia surgery. Stamkos finished the season with 29 goals and 66 points in 57 games, a great season if not for injury. Stamkos would play only three minutes during the Lightning’s cup run, but he still scored one of the most memorable goals in Stanley Cup Playoff history, one that helped lead the Lightning to a 4-2 series win in the finals against the Dallas Stars.
The injuries didn’t stop though in the 2020-21 season. Stamkos would only last 38 games in the 56 game season due to a knee injury that took him out until the playoffs. At that time, Nikita Kucherov was already out of the lineup for the entire regular season, so losing Stamkos should have hurt even more. Surprisingly, it didn’t hurt them too bad, and the Lightning would win another Stanley Cup with Stamkos and Kucherov back in the lineup for the entirety of the playoffs. Stamkos finished the season with 17 goals and 34 points in 38 games, and had 18 points in 23 playoff games.
Just this last season, the injuries didn’t keep him out of the lineup, as Stamkos at one point was the only core forward to be in the lineup with Kucherov and Brayden Point both put on LTIR. Stamkos would miss only one game, which he only missed due to the birth of his second child. Stamkos had a career year last season with 42 goals and 106 points, which was his first 100 point season in his career. The Lightning would make it to their third straight Stanley Cup Final, where they would lose in six games to the beast known as the Colorado Avalanche. Stamkos finished the playoffs with 19 points in 23 games.
So far this season, Stamkos has been playing well, putting up 23 goals and 54 points in 45 games, which means we could see another 100 point season for Stamkos soon enough. Stamkos hit three major milestones this season already, hitting 500 goals, 500 assists, and 1000 points. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get the 500-500-1000 stat line we all were hoping for, but seeing Stamkos hit such elite milestones after all these injuries is impressive.
In the entirety of his career, Stamkos has missed 154 regular season games due to injury (not counting lockdowns), almost two seasons worth of games. If we were to add on the shortened seasons, he would have missed approximately 236 games, or nearly three seasons worth of games. Because of these injuries, Stamkos was mainly seen as an LTIR bench warmer for a good chunk of his career, and was even seen as a trade chip for many years, and even as recently as the 2021 offseason.
In 967 regular season games, Stamkos has 504 goals, 522 assists, and 1026 points, impressive totals for a player who’d dealt with the injuries he’s dealt with for so long in his career. Stamkos has two Maurice Richard Trophies and two Stanley Cups, but somehow has never won the Hart Trophy despite him making a great case for it most seasons where he’s healthy. In the 2011-12 season, Stamkos was second place in Hart Trophy voting, with Evgeni Malkin beating him out.
The fact that Stamkos has to be called underrated is insane, especially when you look at his numbers. Numerous people call him one of the best captains in NHL history as he can make his team play their best hockey even when he’s out with injury, the best example being the 2020 playoffs. Yet despite all this and fans around the league loving Stamkos, we never hear people talk about him the way people talk about players like Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, and even less talked about players on the younger side like Cole Caufield and Jack Hughes, who haven’t succeeded in their early career like Stamkos has.
I think there are three main reasons why Stamkos is so underrated despite him being a superstar and top 100 player of all time, whether people want to acknowledge that or not. First off, he’s surrounded by immense talent on each end of the ice, with Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point being mentioned a lot when it comes to the Lightning’s deep roster, and Victor Hedman on the backend, and the best defenseman in Lightning history. Then there’s Andrei Vasilevskiy, who’s been seen as the best goaltender in the league for many years now, and all the focus tends to go on him and the other three players mentioned.
Second, the injuries add up and over so many years, it gets hard to think of a player as something other than an easily injured player, which we’ve seen recently with Kucherov and even Crosby at points, yet he still shows why he’s a top five player of all time. Once a player is seen as always injured, it gets hard for fans to see just how good that player actually is.
Lastly, awards. Stamkos hasn’t won awards like Ovechkin has, yet Stamkos played a very similar style and was even seen as a player who could beat out Ovechkin before injuries haunted him. With no hardware except for the Stanley Cups and two Rocket Richard Trophies, people ignore how good he is because they look at the Hart Trophy, which helps people see players like Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews as elite talents.
Steven Stamkos holds multiple records in Lightning franchise history, including most goals in a single season (60), most points in Lightning history (1026), most goals in Lightning history (504), and is second in most assists in Lightning history (522), only behind Martin St. Louis (588). Despite all this however, we never see Stamkos get the praise he deserves, but that’s unfortunately what happens when you’re on arguably the best built team in modern NHL history.
While Stamkos is seen as underrated to many fans, he isn’t to Lightning fans. After hitting 500 goals on January 18, 2023 against the Vancouver Canucks, the Lightning will be holding a pregame ceremony for the Lightning captain on January 24, 2023 to honor Stamkos’ milestone and his incredible career thus far. Make sure to get tickets before they sell out (if they haven’t already)!