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Why Steven Stamkos' 700th point makes us wonder what could have been

The Tampa Bay Lightning star was robbed of some of the best seasons of his career thanks to a lockout-shortened season and a pair of unfortunate injuries, and his 700th point should have come a long time ago.

There were any number of ways Steven Stamkos could have registered his 700th point. Seemingly ever the set-up man these days, he could have put one on a platter for Nikita Kucherov. Stamkos could have picked up a quiet secondary assist on a Yanni Gourde marker. Or maybe Stamkos could have slapped home a loose puck, banged in a rebound, wristed one past a keeper or slipped a puck into an empty net.

Instead, Stamkos hit point No. 700 in vintage Stamkos fashion.

On a Lightning power play midway through the second period of Tampa Bay’s tilt with the New York Rangers on Monday, Stamkos was in his office, off to the left of goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, perched at the top of the circle, ready to blast away. And when Brayden Point made a quick pass back to Victor Hedman, and Hedman a one-touch pass in Stamkos’ direction, the Bolts’ captain scored what was in some ways a carbon copy of so many goals he’s scored throughout his career: he unloaded a one-timer that found twine behind Lundqvist before the Rangers netminder had a chance to really set and make the save. The twist on this tally, though, was that Stamkos managed to fire the puck while falling, which meant before he celebrated his 700th point, he had to pick himself up off the ice.

Maybe there’s something fitting in that, too, because Stamkos has had his share of stumbles and falls on his way to the 700-point plateau, with injuries robbing him of some quality time during the very prime of his career. It’s true that were it not for those injuries, Stamkos would have hit the 700-point milestone a whole lot sooner. In fact, if we take into account one injury in particular and the lockout-shortened campaign that cost he and his NHL compatriots roughly half of a normal, 82-game season, Stamkos was robbed of what very well could have been two of the highest scoring campaigns of his career.

Let’s begin with the 2012-13 campaign, the abridged season that was the result of the NHL and NHLPA’s battle over a new collective bargaining agreement. Heading into that season, Stamkos was coming off of a spectacular season in which he scored 60 goals and flirted with the 100-point plateau, falling just three points short by season's end. The goal and point totals were career-bests for Stamkos, who finished second in Hart Trophy voting and skated away with the Rocket Richard. But then the lockout struck.

The time missed to start the season didn't seem to bother Stamkos, though. Over the course of the shortened season, he was actually slightly more prolific — his 1.19 points per game rate was one-hundredth of a point better than the 2011-12 campaign — despite a decrease in his goal-scoring rate. The result of the 48-game season was a commendable 29-goal, 57-point output. However, over the course of a full campaign, Stamkos' scoring rate would have worked out to a 49-goal, 98-point season. It’s not a perfect science by any means, but if we assume he maintained his scoring rate, that’s a loss of 41 additional points that could have been added to his 700-point total.

The lockout-shortened season pales in comparison to the fate that befell Stamkos in 2013-14, though. Primed to again battle for the Rocket Richard and maybe chase down a scoring title, Stamkos flew out of the gate. Through his first 16 games, he had a league-best 14 goals, chart-topping 23 points and looked primed for a featured role on the 2014 Canadian Olympic team. But disaster struck during a mid-November contest against the Boston Bruins. Stamkos suffered a broken tibia in his right leg after a collision with the net, and he wound up on the sidelines through to early March. Amazingly, by the time the season was over, Stamkos finished the season with a brilliant 25-goal, 40-point performance despite missing all but 37 games.

Again, it’s not a perfect science, but consider what Stamkos would have been able to accomplish had he not suffered that injury. Olympics aside, his end-of-year production, based on his scoring pace, was equivalent to a 56-goal, 89-point season. A healthy Stamkos would have then managed an additional 49 points, and if we account for the time lost to the lockout, as well, that’s an additional 90 points added to Stamkos’ total.

Incredibly, though, Stamkos’ loss of 79 games across the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons is almost equalled by the 2016-17 campaign, a season that was almost entirely wiped out for the Lightning star due to a knee injury in mid-November 2016. In his 17th game of the campaign, a game in which he had already scored, Stamkos saw just two minutes of ice time against the Detroit Red Wings before his season came to an end. A right knee injury, the result of a somewhat innocuous play along the boards, put him on the shelf. At the time he fell injured, his nine goals and 20 points saw him tied for sixth and third, respectively, in the NHL, and it appeared he was primed to again challenge for a scoring title.

Using the same parameters — his end-of-season pace extrapolated over a full 82-game campaign — Stamkos would have finished the 2016-17 campaign with 43 goals and 97 points. That’s a whopping 34 more goals and 77 more points than his injury-limited campaign allowed. Added to the time he missed due to the lockout and tibia injury, Stamkos’ potential point total has been trimmed by 167 points. And even if we factor in a few shorter-term bumps and bruises along the way, too, and remove the lockout from the equation entirely, it’s hard to argue that a healthy Stamkos wouldn’t be at least 100 points further along.

And that’s the real shame here. In a sense, Stamkos — not to mention fans who would have undoubtedly loved watching him consistently throw his hat in the ring for the Art Ross Trophy — was robbed of some of the very-best years of his career.

Stamkos will undoubtedly reach greater heights by the time his career is over. The five seasons remaining on his contract, not to mention the fact he’ll be 34 when his deal with the Lightning expires, gives him ample time to climb the list of all-time scorers, and he seems a likely candidate for the 1,000-point plateau. He might even reach it before his current deal expires given he'd need only to average roughly 50 points per season, assuming another lockout doesn't wipe out or reduce another campaign. But like a number of other remarkably talented scorers — including modern superstars such as Sidney Crosby — we’ll always be left to wonder what could have been had Stamkos been healthy through his entire prime and where he would have landed if the injury bug (and a lockout) hadn’t limited his time.

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