MONTREAL — The All-Star Game in Tampa on Jan. 28 now has its unofficial host:
Lightning captain Steven Stamkos.
Stamkos, 27, was named captain of the Atlantic Division’s team Wednesday as voted by fans. The face of the Lightning franchise will likely be a face of the star-studded event, which includes a skills competition Jan. 27 and the four division teams playing a 3-on-3 tournament Jan. 28 at Amalie Arena.
And this is no ceremonial title. Stamkos has earned it, delivering an impressive bounce-back season after missing most of last year with a torn lateral meniscus in his right knee. Stamkos entered Wednesday tied for third in the NHL in points with 49, including 17 goals.
"I didn’t really know what to expect at the beginning of the year, to be honest," he said. "That injury last year, and the accumulation of all the tough-luck injuries I’ve had to deal with, it puts a toll on your body, for sure, on your mind. But you can fall back on the preparation you put into it.
"I’ve been able to be put in position where I play with some really good teammates. The power play has been really good; that helps as well. It’s just been all-around the best-case scenario so far (this season)."
The other captains: the Oilers’ Connor McDavid (Pacific), the Predators’ P.K. Subban (Central) and the Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin (Metropolitan).
Stamkos should be joined by other Lightning representatives at the game. Jon Cooper should be the Atlantic’s coach. Each team’s coach will be the coach of the team with the highest points percentage (points earned divided by total possible points) in each division at the season’s halfway point. Nikita Kucherov, the league’s leading scorer, is a lock, as should be goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, the league wins leader (26). Defenseman Victor Hedman also has a shot.
ICYMI, our latest #tblightning podcast as team hits midpoint of season. Talking Tyler Johnson's recent hot streak, Ryan Callahan's pending return, as well as TB All-Star participants.. Look ahead at deadline and answer your questions https://t.co/SXa07UrVZO— Joe Smith (@TBTimes_JSmith) January 3, 2018
Hitting the Vegas jackpot
Former Lightning wing Jonathan Marchessault is finally cashing in, signing a six-year, $30 million deal with Vegas. He earned it.
Marchessault, an undrafted and undersized forward, spent parts of the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons with the Lightning and was well-loved. Tampa Bay wanted to re-sign him in July 2016, offering him a similar two-year, one-way deal as to what the Panthers were offering him, but Marchessault saw a better chance to play a top-six role in Florida. "It wasn’t about money," he told the Tampa Bay Times then.
Marchessault went on to score 30 goals last season before stunningly being left unprotected by the Panthers in June’s expansion draft. The Lightning, like Columbus and Florida, are among the many teams that lament letting Marchessault get away. But betting a lot of Tampa Bay players are happy for "Marchy," too.
• It’s fitting that D Mikhail Sergachev’s 40th game this season come Thursday against his former team, the Canadiens. Once Sergachev plays in No. 40, Montreal retains the conditional second-round draft pick it got along with Jonathan Drouin in the June trade (Tampa Bay keeps its sixth-rounder). Keeping Sergachev in the NHL is a no-brainer now, but who knew it’d be that easy of a call last summer.
• Five Lightning prospects will be part of Thursday’s World Junior Championship semifinal between Canada and the Czech Republic (8 p.m., NHL Network).
What they’re saying
To me when you cross-check the goalie, you deserve a good beating."
— Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock, on approving of Toronto D Roman Polak going after Lightning C Vladislav Namestnikov for pushing G Frederik Andersen in Tuesday’s game.