Steven Stamkos currently leads the NHL in goals with 48. In fact, it really isn't close right now as he is 10 markers ahead of Evgeni Malkin and 15 up on current league MVP Corey Perry. If Stamkos played on a powerhouse like the Detroit Red Wings or Vancouver Canucks, he would be a shoe-in for the Hart Trophy. However, his Tampa Bay Lightning find themselves on the outside of a playoff berth looking in.
But Stamkos' play can change that fate. Currently the Bolts sit four points out of a playoff berth and six points back of the Southeast Division lead. Despite their incredibly poor start, lack of solid goaltending and February fire sale, the Lightning are still in it. And the main reason? You guessed it: Stamkos.
Stamkos has carried his team's offense all season. One glance at his game log will show just point streak after point streak. Currently, he has five goals in four games and eight points in five tilts. Out of his 66 games played, he only failed to register a point in 15. The 22-year-old is arguably the most productive and consistent player in all of hockey right now.
More importantly, he is doing all of this damage on basically the only scoring line.
Team captain Vincent Lecavalier has been sidelined since February 18th with a fractured right hand leaving the troika of Stamkos, Teddy Purcell and Martin St. Louis as the only true scoring line. Over those eight games, Stamkos has played no less than 19 minutes. Furthermore, he's played 24-or-more minutes in his last three games as coach Guy Boucher rides his hot hand.
"We're offensive guys and counted on by our teammates," Stamkos explained to the Tampa Bay Times earlier in the week. "We want that pressure. We know that's what we have to do to win games."
At such a young age, he remains cool and collected. His play actually is reminiscent of last year's playoffs. Despite only scoring six goals and 13 points in 18 postseason games, he disproved numerous pundits who believed he couldn't further elevate his game. Although not an overly physical player, Stamkos remains strong on the puck and fully capable of adjusting his game to the surrounding competition.
It is due to those factors, and an overwhelming amount of skill, that makes Stamkos pretty much the complete package. If he can't find a way to win the Hart this season, a finalist nomination is certainly imminent at some point in his career. Nevertheless, the only thing keeping him out of a walk-away victory is the Lightning actually making the playoffs.
Last season, Corey Perry won the Hart after scoring 19 goals after March 1st, propelling the Anaheim Ducks into the postseason. Perry only finished with 50 markers, and did so on a well-rounded but underachieving team that featured a supporting cast of Bobby Ryan, Lubomir Visnovsky, Bobby Ryan, Teemu Selanne and Jonas Hiller. Not only is Stamkos on pace to score an overwhelming 60 notches but he will do so without a full year of St. Louis or Lecavalier. He would also do so without an above average starting goalie or essentially any secondary scoring.
If the precedent was set last season, and by all accounts it was, then Stamkos certainly deserves merit as a finalist regardless if his Lightning sneak into the postseason. But if it is the latter, you should expect the Markham, Ont., to take home the MVP.