The future of Steven Stamkos hangs in the balance.
Stamkos’ present appears to be a bit cloudy, as well.
Through 53 games, one of the top goal scorers in the game is not producing at his usual level. With 21 goals, Stamkos is tied with teammate Nikita Kucherov for 13th in the league, behind the likes of Tyler Toffoli, Brad Marchand, Mike Hoffman and Matt Duchene while sitting 12 goals behind league leader Patrick Kane.
At a pace of 0.40 goals per game, Stamkos is on pace to finish with 33 goals, which would be his lowest full-season total since his rookie year. His goals per game would also be his lowest since 2008-09, when he finished with 23 goals, a rate of 0.29 per game.
While Stamkos can be a streaky scorer, prolonged slumps have not really been a problem since he came into the league. But this season, he has endured a 10-game drought — his longest stretch without a goal since his rookie season — and is in the middle of a stretch with one goal in his past 10 games.
Since a two-goal game at Colorado on Jan. 12, Stamkos has one goal and six assists while registering 20 shots on goal.
“I’m sure I’ve been through this before, it’s not easy to score and produce in this league,” Stamkos said. “We have a team that is set up so one guy is not getting all the points. We use our depth with the makeup with this team. Obviously, we have certain guys who want to step up when we are not winning, but when you are winning you just try to do things to help us win.”
When Stamkos scores, the Lightning have a better chance to win. This season, when he scores Tampa Bay is 11-4-1.
That makes the droughts a cause for concern.
Last season, he had one seven-game scoring drought, but other than that, he never went more than three games without a goal as he went on to score 43, the second-most in the league.
For somebody looking to hit a big payday on his next contract — either with the Lightning or another team — it needs to be determined whether this is an anomaly or a trend.
Part of his struggles could be attributed to being a new position, after he spent most of the early season at center before moving mostly to right wing since early January.
“I’m the leader of this team, and you do what is asked of you, what is felt to be best for the team,” Stamkos said. “That’s my attitude.”
But there have also been times where he has not been put into position to score goals. In a game against Detroit on Feb. 3, his line did not take an offensive-zone faceoff at even strength. The next game, against Pittsburgh, his line took 40 percent of its faceoffs in the offensive zone, while against Toronto on Jan. 27 it was also at 40 percent.
For the season, however, Stamkos is fourth on the Lightning among forwards with 53.3 percent offensive-zone starts.
Even if he doesn’t show it, the lack of production has to be weighing on his mind.
“I’m sure it does, he’s a goal scorer,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said after Tuesday’s loss in Montreal. “This has happened to him before, and Stammer can get streaky. He’s struggling to put the puck in the net now, but look at his 10 games prior to that, he was filling the net. We haven’t really needed his goals because other guys have been scoring, but when we struggle scoring in 48 hours (in consecutive losses at Ottawa and Montreal), that’s magnified a little bit.”
And Stamkos knows his status will be in the spotlight.
“You want the production, but we are a team that is pretty deep offensively, so it’s not necessarily one guy scoring all the goals for you, we have a lot of depth that is used in a lot of different situations,” Stamkos said. “Obviously I want to produce more and help the team win.”