When the Dead Puck Era ended and the new-look, no-obstruction NHL began in the aftermath of the league’s lost season, the point totals posted by players seemed to signal a new beginning. In 2005-06, seven players scored 100 or more points, and seven players again hit the 100-point mark the following campaign. In the years since, though, the 100-point plateau has become an exceedingly rare achievement.
In fact, by the time the 2010-11 season rolled around, hitting 100 points seemed nearly impossible. That season, Daniel Sedin was the only player to do so, with 104 points, and in the six seasons that have followed, only four players have been able to reach the mark – Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane and Connor McDavid, who was the lone player to hit 100 points last season. And because of the difficulty in hitting 100 points in a campaign, and doing so with any consistency, Joe Thornton’s scoring title from the first post-lockout campaign has been able to stand as the high-water mark for the era.
That season, which also happened to come during Thornton’s move from the Boston Bruins to the San Jose Sharks, ‘Jumbo Joe’ was near unstoppable. He flew out of the gate in Boston with nine goals and 33 points in his first 23 contests and, once in San Jose, his point pace picked up, as he finished the campaign with a whopping 92 points in his final 58 games en route to a 125-point season, the Art Ross Trophy and the Hart Trophy. Thornton’s mark has neared on untouchable, too, and that’s especially the case in recent years. Not since 2009-10 has a player come within striking distance, and even then Henrik Sedin’s 112 points were still more than a dozen off the mark.
However, there’s the distinct feeling that this could be the year Thornton’s post-lockout point record falls, because it seems that instead of slowing down, Lightning star Steven Stamkos is only getting stronger with each passing game. Case in point, Thursday night in Tampa Bay, Stamkos absolutely dazzled the Dallas Stars. Early in the second period, Stamkos scored a power play goal for his ninth of the campaign and followed it up with his 10th before the evening was out, finishing the outing with four points in less than 17 minutes of work and boosting his season total to 35 points.
For most players, that’s a full season’s output, but for Stamkos, that’s where he stands after just 19 games, less than one-quarter of the campaign. It’s the second-most points any player has accumulated in his team’s first 19 games in the post-lockout era, tied with Daniel Alfredsson’s 2005-06 output and one point back of Peter Forsberg’s that same year, and some simple math on Stamkos’ scoring pace would seem to indicate that Thornton’s record for this era is in trouble. In fact, if Stamkos were to keep this up all season, he would register 43 goals and 151 points, a total that would blow Thornton’s out of the water.
The trouble with suggesting as much, though, is that early-season point paces have to be taken with a fist-sized grain of salt because a big game here or there has a tendency to skew the numbers. You need look no further than the fact that there are presently more than a dozen players on pace to score more than 40 goals this season. There’s an ice rink’s chance in you-know-where that even half of those players actually musters 40 markers, though. So, when it comes to Stamkos’ point pace, you can rest assured that there will be some sort of dip in scoring.
The biggest question in Stamkos’ pursuit of Thornton’s mark, however, is the degree to which his scoring pace declines. And, while this is admittedly far, far, far from a perfect science, there are a few ways to look at what we could see from Stamkos the rest of the way. The first of which is simply finding a middle ground between his past and present rates.
Prior to this season, Stamkos has scored 582 points in 586 games, a rate of 0.99 per game, and a simple average between that and his current, otherworldly 1.84 points per game would give Stamkos a scoring pace of 1.42 points per outing. Over the course of the entire season — and it should be noted here that Stamkos has only played one full campaign in the past four seasons — such a points-per-game pace would result in a 116-point year for Stamkos. That would bring Stamkos oh-so-close to the record, closer than any player has come since Crosby’s 120-point campaign in 2006-07, but still nearly 10 points shy.
Another way to slice it is to assume that Stamkos doesn’t gradually slow to an average of the two rates but in fact scores at his previous rate the rest of the way. As one could surmise, that would leave Stamkos even further back of Thornton’s mark, as 0.99 points per game over the remaining 63 contests works out to 62 additional points, 97 on the season and a final rate of 1.18 points per game.
The most bleak outlook, however, would suggest that Stamkos doesn’t end this season anywhere near Thornton. You’ll recall the earlier mention of his current 19-game total being the second-best in the post-lockout era, but Stamkos also holds fourth spot on that list, as well, starting the 2010-11 season with 34 points in 19 games. When that season concluded, though, Stamkos had come back down to earth, finishing with 91 points in 82 games. It wasn’t even enough for Stamkos to even capture the Art Ross Trophy in 2010-11 — he finished 13 points behind Daniel Sedin. Thus, with that season in mind, there’s an argument to be made he could even fall out of the scoring lead as the season progresses.
If there is one thing working in Stamkos’ favor, though, it’s that he’s on a team with such great offensive punch. The Lightning, through their first 19 games, are scoring at a rate of four goals per game, a feat which only six other teams have managed through the same stretch in the post-lockout era. It’s worth mentioning that Thornton’s Sharks didn’t score at such a rate, either, managing 3.5 goals per game after his arrival. If the Lightning can continue to score in bunches, Stamkos will undoubtedly continue to rack up the points, and Tampa Bay’s overall punch — be it through Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Victor Hedman or others — could be the one thing that keeps Stamkos’ name dotted across scoresheets.
So, can Stamkos catch Thornton and surpass his post-lockout total? It’s surely possible. Whether it’s probable, though, is another story altogether. But regardless of where Stamkos finishes the season, there’s no denying that his early-season run has been one of the best we’ve seen in the post-lockout NHL.
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