By now, you’ve probably heard the rumours about Steven Stamkos joining the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2016. You should take these rumours with a sense of caution, but they raise an important question: what would the Leafs look like with Stamkos in the lineup?
Here’s last season reimagined with Stamkos at the helm.
November 9, 2013: the day the Toronto Maple Leafs’ season almost ended early.
It might’ve been close to Remembrance Day, but many Leafs fans would prefer to forget what happened to their beloved captain and three-time reigning Rocket Richard Trophy winner Steven Stamkos that day.
The play looked routine and harmless at the time. Stamkos made a quick charge to the Boston Bruins’ net, but he lost his footing at the last second. He slid violently into the right post and the rest is history: Stamkos broke his right tibia and would miss the next 46 games for the Leafs. He would also miss the Olympics where Team Canada hoped to take advantage of his special scoring touch.
In the absence of the world’s best hockey player, the Leafs stagnated in the standings. They went 21-17-8 during that stretch, watching their once comfortable playoff position slowly wither away as the Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets made ground on them.
Assistant captains Phil Kessel, Dion Phaneuf and Joffrey Lupul couldn’t keep the offence alive without Stamkos in the lineup, and when regular goaltender James Reimer started to falter, the team was forced to rely on the shaky Jonathan Bernier, which is hardly a recipe for success.
These weren’t ideal circumstances and some fans began to wonder if the Leafs would even make the playoffs. It was quite a turnaround for a team that found themselves sitting at the very top of the NHL standings for the past three seasons.
No one knew what Stamkos would offer upon his return and given his status as the team’s cornerstone player, it wasn’t clear if the Leafs should rush him back into action anyway. Fortunately, Stamkos has an unparalleled drive to win and no injury, no decision from management or the coaching staff will stop him. This is his team and he was going to lead them back to success.
Stamkos’ return was simply magical. Rejoining the lineup on March 6th to face the team who gave Toronto the draft pick that landed him, Stamkos burned the lowly Tampa Bay Lightning for two goals and one assist. There were no signs of rust in his game.
From there, Stamkos recorded 20 points (13 goals, 7 assists) over the remaining 18 games of the season. Everything else was routine after that: Toronto swept the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs, beat the Bruins in five games to move past the second round like it was a blind walk through the park, took four of six games against the New York Rangers for yet another Eastern Conference crown, and blew away the Los Angeles Kings across five one-sided games to claim their third Stanley Cup in four years.
Could the Leafs have done all this without Stamkos’ help? I doubt it.