For the Tampa Bay Lightning, the past few weeks have been pretty stormy. The team watched as their captain and leading scorer, Martin St. Louis, demanded a trade in temper-tantrum form after GM Steve Yzerman didn’t give him an initial spot on the Canadian Olympic team’s roster. Now a member of the New York Rangers, St. Louis got out of dodge in a hurry, leaving the Lightning a captain-less ship.
That vacancy wasn’t open for long. Last night, the uber-talented Steven Stamkos made his return to the ice after being out four months thanks to a nasty broken leg. He did so as the new captain of the Lightning.
For a team getting back up off the mat after losing their top scorer in dramatic fashion, this was definitely a step in the right direction.
At surface level, it looks like an obvious call. Stamkos is the team’s most talented player, with 23 points in only 18 games played this year. Why not make him captain? The Washington Capitals did it with Alexander Ovechkin, despite the fact that his overall leadership qualities are questioned by more than a few. But, when you think about it, there’s more to this move than you may initially see.
Remember, just a few months back, Stamkos suffered an injury that wasn’t exactly something you wanted to re-watch again and again. Initial reaction was that a return this season was iffy at best. However, Stamkos took to rehab like there was no tomorrow, to the point that he was walking without crutches or a boot just weeks after having pins inserted in his leg. Sure, a lot of his drive to get back to action had to do with trying to be ready for the Olympics. Still though, when the announcement came back in February that he just wasn’t healed enough to make the trip to Sochi, he could’ve very easily scaled back the rehab efforts.
He didn’t, though. He kept plugging away to get back to the ice, which finally came to fruition last night. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who watched his injury in November and thought, “Yeah, he’ll be back by March.” In the end, isn’t someone who busts their behind like his life depends on it in order to come back and help the team somebody you want as your captain?
It’s not the first time he’s shaken off a bad injury to try and get back to the ice as quick as possible, either. Remember, he took a slap shot to the face in Game 7 of the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals, only to return a few minutes later looking like he just had his nose glued back on. It didn’t matter, though, as continued to play through what had to be excruciating pain.
Bottom line; toughness is definitely a quality you want in a captain. The aforementioned examples should be enough to prove Stamkos is willing to endure almost anything to try and help his team. What else can you ask from your team’s leader?
At age 24, Stamkos is definitely one of the youngest captains in the league, but it’s doubtful he’ll find this overwhelming despite his youth. He’s been in the league since 2008, so he’s actually more seasoned than his age would indicate. And heck, the Colorado Avalanche gave Gabriel Landeskog captaincy, and he’s only 21.
In the end, filling St. Louis’ shoes as team captain wasn’t going to be an easy feat for anyone. But, if you’re looking for the most-qualified candidate on the team, it’s Stamkos by a landslide, and it’s apparent the Lightning realized this.