The goal, his 19th of the season with the Lightning, came in his 965th career game, making him the 18th fastest to reach the hallowed mark. And in a sense, it is a mark that almost guarantees him being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame after he retires. There are only five retired players who have scored 500 or more who are not in the Hall: Keith Tkachuk (538), Pat Verbeek (522), Pierre Turgeon (515), Jeremy Roenick (513), and Peter Bondra (503).
Stamkos is playing in his 15th NHL season, all with Tampa Bay. Earlier this year he joined the 1,000-point club and, if he remains healthy the rest of the year, he will also hit 1,000 games as well.
Drafted 1st overall by Tampa in 2008, Stamkos joined the Lightning that fall at training camp and never looked back. He had had two sensational years in junior with the Sarnia Sting and as an NHL rookie he scored 23 goals. But more important, one of his teammates was Gary Roberts, who was playing in his final NHL season. Roberts was something of a miracle, his career seeming to come to an end in 1996 after a serious neck injury. But Roberts became a fitness and diet freak and extended his career another decade, and immediately after retiring he opened a gym in Toronto. After his rookie season, Stamkos started training with Roberts, and has been doing so ever since, developing tremendous muscle mass and endurance, and improving his shot immensely.
The training paid immediate dividends as Stamkos shot up to 51 goals in his second year, co-winning the Rocket Richard Trophy with Sidney Crosby. After a crazy start in 2010-11 in which he scored 19 goals in 19 games, Stamkos was linked to the “50 in 50” club, but his production dipped dramatically and he finished the year with “only” 45 goals. A year later, though, he led the league on his own, scoring 60 goals, but his progress stalled soon after, first because of the lockout, and then because of a broken leg in November 2013.
This was a double whammy as he missed much of the season and, more significantly, a chance to play for Canada at the 2014 Olympics, at which Canada won gold. He returned to the Lightning soon after, but team captain, linemate, and friend Martin St. Louis was traded to the Rangers at this time, and Stamkos was named captain. He has worn the “C” ever since.
The Lightning made their first deep run into the playoffs with Stamkos in the spring of 2015, but Chicago beat them in the Cup finals in six games. A year later, he suffered a torn meniscus that required months of recovery, but amid wild rumours coming out of Toronto he signed an eight-year contract with the Bolts in the summer of 2016. “Stammer” continued to score at a pace of about half a goal a game, among the all-time leaders, but team success finally came to him in 2020 when the Lightning won their first Stanley Cup. He had missed most of the playoffs because of surgery to a core muscle but returned in time to score in the Cup finals against Dallas.
This muted Cup win came in Edmonton, during the Covid-19 bubble and an empty arena, but a year later the Lightning repeated, beating Montreal in five games before frenzied fans for the first time. They went to a third straight finals last year, losing to Colorado in six games.
Along the way Stamkos has played international hockey for Canada whenever he’s been able. He played at the 2007 World U18 Men’s Championship in Finland, alongside Drew Doughty and Braden Holtby, and a year later he helped Canada win gold at the World Juniors. In 2009, he played on Canada’s silver-medal team at the senior World Championship, and he later played at two more Worlds, in 2010 and 2013. His career highlight in national colours came in 2016 when he helped Canada win the championship of the World Cup of Hockey in Toronto.