Unlikely Lightning Making Case For Hart Trophy

The NHL’s leading scorer is just two goals away from 60 and cannot be ignored in MVP talks.

Ed Millerby Ed Miller

In a league where just over half of the 30 teams make the postseason, it’s rare that a player from a non-playoff team wins the Hart Trophy, which is awarded to the league’s most valuable player.  But it might be tough for the league to ignore the season Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning is having.

Come June 20 when the NHL awards are handed out, Stamkos could be sitting pretty.

With three games remaining in the schedule, the Lightning have been mathematically eliminated from postseason play, leaving Tampa Bay fans with their eye on Stamkos’ goal total.  He needs just two more goals to hit 60, which would make him the first player to reach the mark since Alexander Ovechkin had 65 at the end of the 2007-08 campaign.

The 22-year-old is on his way to claiming his second Rocket Richard Trophy as the league’s leading goal-scorer and at 58 goals, he has 10 more than the next closest player, Pittsburgh Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin.  After such a dominant display throughout the season, Stamkos’ success has outweighed the Lightning’s struggles – a team that was hoping to take the next big step towards the Stanley Cup after an impressive playoff run last season.  It is the third straight year he has scored at least 50 goals in a season.

For how good he has been at scoring goals, Stamkos has been rather lackluster in the assists department, with 37.  This might hurt his chances, especially considering Malkin is the only player to tally over 100 points so far this season. With captain Sidney Crosby in and out of the lineup – battling concussion symptoms – Malkin carried the Penguins to a playoff berth and for awhile had Pittsburgh challenging the New York Rangers for the top seed in the Eastern Conference.  No one in the league has played as well as Malkin did during the month of December.

Though Stamkos appears to be a darkhorse for the award, we expect him to at least be named one of the three finalists.  The only other players besides Malkin that have had as much an impact for their team this season would be Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and Philadelphia Flyers forward Claude Giroux, though he has had a quiet end to the season.  It shouldn’t take the 60 plateau to put him on that final ballot but it certainly wouldn’t hurt, considering he would be the third player since the 1995-96 season –when both Jaromir Jagr and Mario Lemieux of the Penguins did it – to accomplish the feat.

That number of goals was even more impressive when we found out that the Lightning scored 224 goals this season – the eighth most in the NHL.  If our math is correct, that means that Stamkos accounts for almost 26 percent of his teams scoring.  And many of those goals weren’t softies, as they often came at critical moments throughout the season.  His 12 game-winning goals and five overtime winners aren’t just first in the league but a new NHL record for a single season.

It’s certainly impressive – given his age – that he is already producing eye-popping numbers.  He isn’t even in his prime, and as scary as it sounds, he can only get better.  Though he has an outside shot of winning the Hart this season, we expect him to earn at least a few of the trophies before he is nearing the end of his career.