TAMPA — Steven Stamkos and John Tavares go way back — so far back that Stamkos’ dad once coached the two future No. 1 picks in Toronto youth hockey and ordered his son to take a different number when the two kids both wanted No. 19, which is how Stamkos started wearing No. 91.
Stamkos knows Tavares well enough to know that the Islanders captain is hardly bothered by playing out the final season of his contract, as Stamkos did during the 2015-16 season.
“You can see by the numbers he has that his focus is there,” Stamkos told Newsday on Saturday. “I know what kind of person Johnny is so I never had any worries about that.”
Stamkos’ contract season offered some guidance for Tavares on what to do and what not to do. Of the latter, Stamkos’ accidental favoriting of a tweet suggesting he sign with the Leafs during that fraught season is probably best avoided.
Stamkos entertained other offers during the contact window prior to July 1, 2016, but ultimately signed an eight-year deal worth an average of $8.5 million per season that June 29 to stay in Tampa. He entered Saturday’s game with Tavares’ Islanders leading the NHL with 35 points.
“If I had to do it all over again, would I? That’s a good question,” Stamkos said. “But you get to a point in your career where you’ve earned the right to make that choice and that’s where I was and that’s where John is now.”
Tavares went five games without a point earlier this season, which prompted plenty more chatter about the contract situation. Now that he is tied for second in the league with 13 goals the talk has quieted down, but nothing has changed for him.
“Before the season there’s plenty of questions and talk about it, but I always knew once the season started there would be a lot more to focus on,” Tavares said. “To worry about that stuff isn’t fair to the organization or the guys in this room.”
Stamkos admitted his own thoughts drifted from time to time when the subject came up two seasons ago.
“When you’re being asked about it every day, sure, it’s going to be in the back of your mind sometimes,” he said. “But you remind yourself what you need to focus on, what you’re trying to accomplish with your team.”
Stamkos’ Lightning got to the Eastern Conference final that season, mostly without him after he suffered a blood clot late in the regular season.
CHIMERA: ‘EMBARRASSING’ TO BE STUCK ON ZERO
Jason Chimera is the only regular Islanders forward still without a goal and the 38-year-old, who scored 20 each of the last two seasons, definitely isn’t putting any spin on how that looks.
“It’s a little embarrassing for me,” he said. “You see that zero next to your name and it’s embarrassing. I’ve gotten some more chances the last few games, so hopefully one gets in there somehow and it starts to snowball.”
Chimera is the new fourth-line left wing with Nikolay Kulemin (shoulder surgery) likely done for the season, so perhaps playing alongside Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck will invigorate Chimera. He had been on the amorphous third line, which routinely gets the fewest five-on-five minutes and doesn’t have much of a role — it’s been a hindrance for Anthony Beauvillier as well to find a comfort zone playing there.
Doug Weight said Chimera’s best game of the season was on Thursday, his first with Cizikas and Clutterbuck.
“I don’t see those guys as fourth-liners,” Chimera said. “They have a really defined role and it fits with my style of play so hopefully it will work.”
Among the fathers, cousins, fathers-in-law and mentors along on this weekend’s road trip are two grandfathers: Mark Connelly, Anders Lee’s grandfather, came along for the whirlwind weekend along with a pretty famous grandfather: Bill Christian, Brock Nelson’s grandfather and a gold-medal winning hockey player from the 1960 U.S. Olympic team.
Bill’s son, Dave, was on the 1980 Miracle on Ice team and is Nelson’s uncle.