Seen Stamkos?!? Well his banker will soon and he will have a lot of work to do.
First off, if you play the odds, the Tampa Bay Lightning still have the best chance to sign him. Familiarity, success, and tax benefits all factor in to make Tampa the favorite. Also, while most view Steve Yzerman as a shrewd hockey man, he was also a supserstar offensive force in the NHL. During that time, he started out playing for a bad Red Wings team that had not won for a long stretch. There were times in the early 90’s that people were questioning him much more than Stamkos, though not concerning injuries, but leadership and his ability to take the Wings to a Cup. So Yzerman has some unique insight into the mindset of the player and the locker room. He has continued to work toward signing Stamkos and I believe that even during the 5 day talking period prior to July 1, Tampa still has a good chance to retain him. Does anyone think that Stamkos and his agent will hear anything they don’t already know about the potential suitors?
Having said all that, Stamkos may be intent on playing the open market and perhaps on leaving no matter what Tampa has to say. From the Lightning side of things, they have a very good team and other players to resign, so $10+ million of cap space will come in handy to them to retain their own talent and go shopping to fill other needs.
If Stamkos does listen to offers from outside, there are 4 teams that consistently come up in all reports, but there must be more that cannot pass up the chance to at least place a bid.
In alphabetical order: Buffalo, Detroit, Montreal, and Toronto are the 4 that are mentioned everywhere.
While there are many factors involved in such a big transaction, I still cannot see how Buffalo and Toronto make sense for all involved. That Stamkos will still be a fairly young man even after the 7 year UFA deal that he could strike makes it less risky than other, older UFAs of the past. However, there is still so much development left for the Sabres and Maple Leafs that both player and team are giving up a lot to force the marriage. Stamkos gives up a couple years where he definitely will not be competing for the Stanley Cup and maybe not even the playoffs. The teams give up a huge amount of cap space and flexibility to build their team and take advantage of situations like the expansion draft, that usually produces a lot of side deals at bargain prices.
Detroit and Montreal make more sense than Buffalo and Toronto, but do they make more sense than Tampa Bay? Not in my book. Detroit has many good pieces and a tradition of winning, plus they are close to Stamkos’ Ontario roots. Stamkos could ensure that Detroit is a playoff team every year, but they still need more pieces to be legitimate Cup contenders. Montreal has a superstar goalie and defenseman, but has been short of offensive forwards for quite some time. With a healthy Price, Subban, and Stamkos leading the charge the Habs would have to be considered lethal playoff foes. Montreal is also fairly close to Ontario, if that is a factor.
That leads to the dark horse candidates. Any number of teams could come out of the woodwork, even those without much cap space could find a team needing to get to the salary floor and move out a big contract. Take LA for example, Lucic is as good as gone, so if they found a taker for Gaborik and jumped into the bidding they would be a very attractive spot. Anaheim is clearly unhappy with how they have played in recent playoffs and have very marketable players in Getzlaf and Perry to move to make room. Colorado has a decision on MacKinnon and there were many rumors of Duchene being moved. Similarly for the above 4 teams, both to strengthen their pitch and to improve their squads they may want to make a deal to set the scene. For example, if Buffalo could swing their number 8 pick for an established top-2 D-man at the draft that would make a Stamkos signing be much more sensible.
Despite the forgone conclusion that Steven Stramkos will get huge dollars for long term with some team on or before July 1, is he worth it?
His last 2 years since the broken leg have not been his best. He is still very young, but has he lost step? Some have suggested that Ovechkin appeared to be at a crossroads around the same time in his career. However Alex did not have to deal with injuries like Stamkos has sustained. So the question becomes, if you sign him are you getting a 30 goal scorer or a 50 goal scorer? Pretty big question to have to ask. Then even if you think he will regain his scoring touch to elite levels, in the NHL today, if the rules keep getting left by the wayside and offense continues to plummet, are you best off spending that much cap space to get those goals or spreading that around to a team of smooth skating defensive players to shut things down? The upside of him being a young UFA is the potential of the next 7 years. The downside is that the contact is so huge, filling in around him becomes that much harder.
The entry draft should begin an action packed period for the NHL that will likely see a lot of movement. Based on differing priorities I think there should be a number of ‘hockey deals’ along with salary cap motivated moves. Stamkos will sign somewhere and it will have repercussions in many NHL cities. It will be an exciting week or so to come!