The Whole Ice Belongs To Mark Stone
10:11 AM EDT on June 14, 2023
Mark Stone is a superstar. This hasn't always been easy to notice, for a couple of reasons. The first is that at least half his value is on the defensive end, doing stuff that doesn't show up on the scoresheet or in highlight reels. The puck pickpocketing. The thwarting or smothering of zone entries. All the wetwork that frees up linemates for more glorious, less demanding roles. What are you supposed to do against a righty shot who scores a point a game at one end, then skates the other way and does this? But again, this doesn't show up in the box scores the next morning; he has to be watched to be thoroughly enjoyed. Which is a notion that dovetails into the second reason he may have gone so under-appreciated for so long: He used to play in Ottawa.
A relatively late bloomer—the winger from Winnipeg was drafted 178th overall in 2010, and yo-yoed between the bigs and the AHL for a couple of years before his second-place Calder coming-out in 2014–15—Stone was a rock on some pretty terrible Senators teams, and a key piece of their improbable conference final run. But he wanted and deserved bigger things, and bigger money, than the rebuilding Sens were ever going to offer. So before the deadline in 2019, they shipped him to Las Vegas for only slightly more than a pittance. It was later revealed that Stone had, if not precisely forced anyone's hand, made clear his desired destination. That was a coup for the Golden Knights, and a sign; more useful than any sort of short-term standings success, and much rarer in the NHL, is to build a franchise that great players want to play for.
And Stone just kept doing what he does, now in gold, and four years and two back surgeries later became the first Golden Knight to ever raise the Stanley Cup. “It’s a moment I’ll never forget, and one I didn’t take lightly,” he said later. “I wanted to soak it all in. That’s the one time you want to be selfish in this game."
That honor was due to his captaincy, but he earned it otherwise. Stone was a monster in these playoffs, scoring 11 goals and adding 13 assists over the 22 games, and notching a cartoonish 31-7 takeaway-to-giveaway ratio. All the best of his complete game was on display in the opening goal of Game 5, a singlehanded, shorthanded tone-setter.
Stone would score his second as the third of four Vegas goals in a 10-minute stretch of offensive hockey as fine as any team has played this year, and the coronation was on with a period to go. But there was still some unfinished business. When Florida pulled their goalie with more than six minutes remaining, Knights players kept feeding and feeding Stone, who would fire the puck down the ice at the open goal, seeking his third and full-arena delirium. He didn't need too many shots at it.
There's plenty of shine to go around today, from Jonathan Marchessault's well-deserved Conn Smythe to Adin Hill's Cinderella story to the franchise's original six. But for my money, Stone is the backbone of this squad, for better and worse. He was the first star acquisition, before Pietrangelo, before Eichel, that showed the front office would refuse to be graded on an expansion curve or settle for anything short of a Cup, and that star players wanted to be here. He was also emblematic of that front office's salary-cap shenanigans, spending the second half of the season on injured reserve with a very real injury that he just so happened to be cleared from in time for the first game of the postseason; the cap forgiveness his LTIR stint offered allowed Vegas to land the invaluable services of Ivan Barbashev at the deadline. Rank cynicism and rampant optimism: probably familiar sentiments to a guy who went from the Ottawa Senators to the Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights.
And I'm glad he did! No player of Stone's skillset should be wasted or hidden away. Setting my own fan envy aside, Vegas proved the ideal place for Stone to show the world a thing or two about playing 200 feet. At this point the 31-year-old's just waiting for Patrice Bergeron to retire to start racking up Selkes. But no individual award could match what he became last night: a captain with his Cup.