If you can think back to 2011-12, you may remember the excitement surrounding Steven Stamkos’ chase for the 60-goal plateau. As he inched closer and closer, the feeling turned from not if, but when. Who would be the opponent? In what style would he score his 60th?
In Tampa Bay’s last game of the regular season, it finally happened. The answers to Lightning trivia for years to come took the form of a wrist shot blown past Winnipeg Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec. The ovation from the sell-out crowd at Winnipeg’s MTS Centre was sincere and a testament to what the young superstar had accomplished.
Stamkos’ next real shot at 60 came not in 2012-13 – the lockout-shortened season robbed him of going back-to-back – but in 2013-14. Paired up with his partner-in-crime, Martin St-Louis, Stamkos fired out of the gates, racking up 14 goals in 17 games. What happened next was the derailment of what could have been the first 70-goal NHL season since Teemu Selanne potted 76 in 1992-93.
We’ve all seen the clip. In a mid-November contest against the Boston Bruins, Stamkos slid into the Bruins net. His leg twisted and bent in a way it simply should not have. His tibia was broken, his season in jeopardy. Stamkos would miss the Olympics in Sochi.
Through strenuous rehab and an incredible amount of will, Stamkos, whose season was thought to be over after his injury, fought to get back. On March 6, he did just that, finishing his season strong with another 11 goals in 18 games. Extrapolated over 82 games, the pace would have been good enough for 55 goals, but there was a feeling he somehow, someway, would have outdone that.
During Stamkos’ 60-goal year, he shot out the lights. While the league average shooting percentage for a player usually hovers around the 8.5-9 percent mark, the Lightning captain was moving along at a 19.8 percent clip in 2011-12. Sounds unbelievable, right? Now imagine that last season, in a year where his potential was hindered by a broken leg, Stamkos was finding twine on over 20 percent of his shots on goal.
So, the question is, can he hit 60 again?
Over his career, Stamkos’ shooting percentage has hovered around the 17.5 mark. Now entering what many would consider the physical prime of his career, Stamkos has only seen his shooting percentage go up. And if you’re not a fan of shooting percentage, consider the old adage that in order to score, you need to shoot.
In his 60-goal campaign, Stamkos fired 303 shots on goal while shooting 19.8 percent. That’s somewhere in the range of 3.5 shots per game. This season – and, of course, it’s a small sample – the 24-year-old center has already unleashed 28 shots on goal, or 5.6 per game. Over the length of an entire year, this would add up to over 450 shots on goal for Stamkos.
Which begs the question, is 60 enough? Could we see Stamkos chase down 70?
For some perspective, in the last 70-goal season, Selanne’s, he put 387 pucks on goal and shot 19.6 percent. Stamkos’ shots-on-goal pace is well above what Selanne’s was – and Selanne had the benefit of an 84-game season.
While some may make the argument that Stamkos will be without his sidekick, St-Louis, who has since moved on to the New York Rangers, it’s worth considering that Stamkos will soon have rookie Jonathan Drouin nearby. One of junior hockey’s premier playmakers, Drouin gives Stamkos a set-up man on the power play and is a suitable replacement for St-Louis.
With five goals in five games already, Stamkos is off to a start better than he had in his 60-goal season. He’s got the shot, the speed, and a solid team around him. Barring injury, you can likely forget 60. It’s Stamkos’ time to eye 70.