Hockey Notes

They’re sold: Stamkos is as good as advertised

By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / November 28, 2010

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Seen Stamkos?

Even before they saw him play his first shift in a Tampa Bay sweater, the Lightning were head-over-hockey-sticks in love with Steven Stamkos. They trotted out that marketing slogan, clipped from the “Got milk?’’ ad campaign, and plastered it everywhere to rally the locals ’round the new best thing about to hit town.

Chalk one up under, “Got that right!’’

OK, so his ascent to stardom wasn’t instant, but considering the follies surrounding the club that made him the top pick in the 2008 draft, Stamkos has delivered the goods like no other prized North American prospect the last couple of decades other than Eric Lindros and Sidney Crosby.

Sure, Lindros was a much different player and considerably bigger. But the hype was very similar, although no one before or since could be compared exactly to the Lindros “package,’’ including his game and temperament and the made-in-Canada hyperbole and idolatry that he engendered. Lindros banged in 85 goals and 172 points his first two seasons with the Flyers. He was the real deal, his career cut short by equal dollops of attitude and injuries.

Crosby was also highly touted, almost in Lindros proportions, and delivered off the hop following his first overall selection in 2005. He broke 100 points each of his first two seasons and four of his first five. Unlike Lindros, he also got his name on a Stanley Cup (2009).

Stamkos, who will be in the Hub Thursday night with the Bolts, debuted during the short-lived and highly forgettable coaching tenure of Barry Melrose, who made public his opinion that Stamkos wasn’t ready for prime-time NHL hockey.

Melrose was soon gone, following a 5-7-4 start, and with Rick Tocchet in charge, Stamkos quickly emerged as a scoring savant. And by the looks of last season and this, he might turn into the No. 1 striker of his era.

Consider: Entering last night’s game against the Panthers, Stamkos has 21 goals in 23 games, a full-season pace of 75. Remember, it’s the same kid (he won’t turn 21 until Feb. 7) who tied Crosby last season for the league lead in goals (51). For those who might have lost track during the game’s dead-puck era (see: New Jersey Devils, 1990s), a 78-goal output would be the best in the NHL since Brett Hull hammered home a career-best 86 in 1990-91. Hull, by the way, was 25 when he first reached the 50-goal plateau.

Also, Stamkos was leading the league with 38 points, a pace, if maintained, that would bring him 141. Dial the Way-Back Machine again and you’ll find that would be the largest haul since Jaromir Jagr rang up 149 with the 1995-96 Penguins.

Stamkos’s take on all this? He says he’s humbled and it’s great to be mentioned with those names. Yep, straight from Chapter One of “The Book of Hockey Humility.’’ Not the stuff that has him headed for the lead segment in “Entertainment Tonight’’ or anything that will get him chased down by But in an era when eye-popping accomplishments often morph into the ludicrous, let’s enjoy where this show is going. It only seems right.


Former Bruin cut by Canucks

Ex-Bruin Peter Schaefer, who surprisingly won himself a spot on the Vancouver roster as a training camp walk-on, was waived last week and opted not to report to the Manitoba Moose (AHL).

Consider him retired again. For now. Probably.

The 33-year-old forward, according to agent Ross Gurney, has “ample opportunity’’ to play in Europe, where he previously played (brief tours in Finland and Italy prior to his short-lived Boston days). But keep in mind, Schaefer is still collecting buyout dough from the Bruins ($767,000 this season) and wife Julie is about to deliver the couple’s second child. Looks like it’s time for this one to go home (West Vancouver).

Schaefer signed a two-way deal in Vancouver, one that paid $600,000 with the varsity but a 1970s-like $105,000 in the minors. Even though $105,000 goes a long way in Winnipeg, Winnipeg was too far to go for Schaefer.

The killer for the Canucks is that they opted for Schaefer over the feistier and more productive Brendan Morrison (another September tryout), and Morrison left for a $725,000 deal with the Flames, for whom he has totals of 4-11—15 in 23 games, only 4 points off the team lead.

Alexander not so great
Overall, the Capitals don’t have much to complain about, even with the great Alexander Ovechkin’s noticeable dip in goal production as the NHL chugs along in the second quarter. Ovechkin, whose name translates to “good for 50 per season,’’ has but 10 goals in 24 games — a pace for 34 over 82 games. Remember, this is a guy who netted 269 goals in his 396 games prior to this season (an average of 55 per campaign). A very clever TV spot has Ovechkin’s severed head eerily cackling from its perch in the top of a gym locker. Creepy. And now we wonder, where did Ovie’s hands go?

Tender is trending better
New Lightning coach Guy Boucher remains in search of a true No. 1 goaltender — something they’ve sought since letting Nikolai Khabibulin walk (free agent) to Chicago immediately after he backed them to the Stanley Cup in ’04. Of late, the guy in goal has been ex-Star Mike Smith, who entered last night’s game an impressive 8-4-0 despite lackluster marks in goals-against average (3.36) and save percentage (.879). A recent pep talk from teammate Martin St. Louis, encouraging Smith to reconnect with his “swagger,’’ had Smith clicking off four impressive wins (Flyers, Sabres, Bruins, Rangers) in which he allowed only eight goals and turned back 92.5 percent of 107 shots. The Capitals, though, potted four against Smith Friday in a 6-0 whitewash of the Bolts.

Average Joe
Ovechkin is hardly alone in the superstars-slow-to-get-going category. Witness Joe Thornton. Jumbo Joe, forever loath to shoot the puck, stood a tepid 1-4—5 in the eight games following his two-game suspension for whacking Blues forward David Perron across the head. The ex-Bruin franchise center entered last night’s game with but six goals for the season and only one since Oct. 27. All in all, another of those less-than-engaged stretches for the now-31-year-old, whose career inconsistency (especially in the postseason) ultimately could keep him out of the Hall of Fame. Until final review, his work-in-progress career remains far more Pierre Turgeon than, say, Bryan Trottier or even Peter Stastny.

College champion
Newton-based College Hockey Inc., directed by former NHL Players Association boss Paul Kelly, keeps up the drumbeat for the US college game (soon to add a Division 1 club now that Penn State has committed to going game on). “Play it smart — play college hockey’’ is CHI’s new slogan, one that Kelly is taking directly to kids and parents during symposiums in the US and Canada. According to CHI, every year 2,600 players fill rosters for both NCAA Division 1 clubs and major junior teams in Canada, and only about 8 percent of them — 200 in number — will make it to the NHL. “Education should never take a back seat to hockey,’’ is one of Kelly’s common refrains. Tough to argue. Junior clubs typically offer an education component, too, but the pro-like emphasis (the common aphrodisiac for many players) makes it very difficult to crack the books and stay on course for an undergraduate degree.

Leaf peeping
The Bruins will spend Saturday night in Toronto, where ex- Black-and-Golder Phil Kessel has been shivering cold (12 games, 3-2—5) since his Oct. 28 visit to the Hub of Hockey. But he has been getting chances, averaging slightly more than three shots on net per night in the last month. Toronto’s top line lately has Clarke MacArthur frantically leafing through his Russian-to-English dictionary, working with Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin. Note to USSR-o-philes: Yes, Grabovski was born in Potsdam, which was then in East Germany, but as a tot moved with his family back to Minsk.

‘For sale’ signs in Buffalo?
Getting vibes once again that Sabres owner Tom Golisano is poking around for a prospective buyer for his Lake Erie stick carriers. Over the summer, Golisano had the locals all aflutter when he noted on local talk radio, “Nothing is written in concrete, but at this point I would say I’m probably going to be the owner of the Buffalo Sabres in five years, maybe 10 years.’’ The name that comes up in all NHL club sales talk is RIMM guru/hockey lover Jim Balsillie, who made himself no friends among NHL owners when he tried to pirate the Phoenix Coyotes away to Toronto’s outer suburbs. But the key name to keep in mind if this heats up: Terry Pegula. He’s the guy who forked over the $88 million gift for Penn State to build a rink and fund scholarships for Division 1 hockey. Pegula’s wife, Kim, is from suburban Buffalo, a good sign for the locals. No one ever wants to leave the Buff.

Just say nyet
A bit surprised, even chagrined, to learn Friday, per, that 48-year-old Chris Chelios has had contact with Vityaz about playing in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League. Oh my. How soon before we hear that the Old Man in the “C’’ is contemplating a passport switcheroo and a run with Team Russia in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi? Vityaz already has ex-NHLers Chris Simon and Danny Markov on the payroll. And the team’s general manager is none other than Alexei Zhamnov, last seen in the NHL limping into a Brinks truck on Causeway Street after his 24-game tour de farce with the 2005-06 Bruins.

Loose pucks
Every time NESN cameras close in for a tight shot on the mustachioed Patrice Bergeron, I swear it’s Inspector Jacques Clouseau. Wonder if the Bruins have Cato tucked away in the refrigerator at the Wilmington practice facility? . . . For all the criticism here of the ancillary entertainment/shenanigans and deafening music at TD Garden during Bruins games, we offer a five-star bravo for the club’s consistent support of US veterans. Nothing like the stoic gaze of a wounded soldier on the center-ice megaboard to bring everyone in the house an ounce or two of humility. Various sources report the total number of homeless vets, men and women, to be as many as 200,000, the equivalent of nearly a dozen sellouts on Causeway Street. Disgraceful how we treat our former freedom defenders . . . Tampa was one of the clubs rumored over the summer to be sniffing around when Boston GM Peter Chiarelli gave agent Bill Zito the green light to seek a new home for Tim Thomas. Such a Thomas-St. Louis reunion of former UVM Catamounts likely would have seen the Bolts try to move winger Ryan Malone to the Hub. Not much financial wiggle room there. Thomas carries a cap number of $5 million through 2012-13, while Malone has a $4.5 million hit through 2013-14. Entering last night’s game, he had totaled but 52 goals in his two-plus seasons in Tampa . . . Perhaps as early as this week, the NHLPA will name Donald Fehr, former head of the Major League Baseball Players Association, the new leader of its band of boneheads (we say that with affection, of course). New York Post columnist Larry Brooks noted last Sunday that the PA has its dander up over Colin Campbell’s string of e-mails made public in a Canadian court case three years earlier; the e-mails included Campbell, the NHL’s director of discipline, referring to Marc Savard as a “little fake artist.’’ This is an example of why the PA and the league together should find a better way of meting out supplementary discipline and mitigating bias. The door is open. Let’s see if Fehr can avoid jamming his toe under it while leading his band of left-footed freres . . . OK, admittedly, I’m one of those Bristol Palin had in mind when she mentioned how winning “Dancing With The Stars’’ would have allowed her to flash a “big middle finger’’ at her family’s legion of detractors. But I bet I’m the only one who took her for a Jay Miller dance-a-like as she hoofed it so elegantly from one week to the next.

Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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