There is a chance, and probably a good one, that Tampa Bay wants to extend Steven Stamkos into the distant future - after all, few teams win Cups, let alone get to the final, without difference-makers - and that Stamkos wants to re-sign in Tampa, and that they'll work out a deal, and la-dee-dah, the Bolts can sort out who has to go and who can stay to make it all work under the salary cap.
There's also a chance that Steven Stamkos has an agent - Don Meehan, maybe you’ve heard of him - who can barely fathom what the now-25-year-old team captain, who trails only Alex Ovechkin in the “best goal-scorers on earth” category, could fetch on the open market in a year.
Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane just signed deals worth $10.5 million per season for eight years each, and were bidding solely against themselves. What would a desperate team throw Stamkos? Given the slightly shorter term (max length for a new team to sign him would be seven years), that he’s a tiny pinch younger, and the bidding war, would he get $11 million? (Yes, easy.) $11.5 million? (I think so.) $12 million? (Who knows? Let’s go to UFA and find out!)
It’s an interesting situation all around because there’s also a chance that Lightning GM Steve Yzerman, who’s proven himself savvy at unloading bad contract money for good over his short tenure, is not all that fussed on one player eating up more than 15% of his salary cap at a time when some other big names are just two years away from big raises - Victor Hedman, Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, and Nikita Kucherov among them. Laid next to the deals for Ryan Callahan ($5.8 million per year through 2020), Matt Carle ($5.5M through 2018), Jason Garrison ($4.6M through 2018), and Anton Stralman ($4.5M through 2019), and you start to think … boy, there’s only so much money to go around.
You have to think that if either side was certain they wanted to continue on - Tampa doling out the bucks and sorting it out later, Stamkos locking down and not exploring his options - this is not that hard a deal to get done, is it? Whether you quibble from $10.5M to $11.5M, term is a no-doubter, then it’s simply a matter of having a quick haggle over the particulars - let’s arbitrarily call it $11.15M per for eight years, a no-move, maybe figure out what’s paid in bonuses and what’s paid in base salary - and we’re done here.
Now Stamkos can focus on winning the Cup, Yzerman can focus on making the money work, and LOOK OUT FOR TAMPA, etc., etc.
But they haven’t. The story so far is similar to how it went with Mike Babcock in Detroit. They were “in no rush” in the offseason to get a deal done, then he “didn’t want to discuss a contract in-season,” then he was “out the door buh-bye gone.”
We’ve had our first Stamkos story - he’s in no rush, not on any particular timeline, the agent needs to talk to Steven before he can talk to Steve (so … just do that then, right?), and here we are.
If Stamkos doesn’t sign this summer, and doesn’t look like he’s going to lock something down in-season - meaning he wants to go to UFA - Steve Yzerman is going to have a real pickle on his hands.
On the one hand, Stamkos is abso-effing-lutely irreplaceable, and Tampa Bay is abso-effing-lutely going to be a Stanley Cup contender next season, if not a favorite. The Atlantic doesn’t look all that impressive, meaning the Lightning could have a President’s Trophy-type season next year, if health allows.
BUT, you cannot let Stamkos walk for nothing in pursuit of that elusive Stanley Cup. You just can’t. You need too many things to break right for it to pan out. On the one hand, I hear “Flags Fly Forever” (get that ring and you can justify anything), and it may be hard to find a trade partner who’s both a contender and has room for his salary, but man. You just can’t lose a diamond-level asset like him for squat and be left empty-handed as he signs with someone, maybe a rival.
So the big thing for Tampa, then, is to find out just how serious Stamkos is about re-upping, and if they start to get the hunch he wants to explore his options, they need to trade him as soon as possible to max out their suitors and return. That could include a player that could help today, prospects, and valuable draft picks (which is how you keep the cycle going, ala Detroit). It doesn’t mean they couldn’t still make a push this year, and they wouldn’t end up with their worst-case nightmare scenario.
The safe bet is still that Tampa gets it done, then figures it out from there. Yzerman knows what it takes to win, knows you need those difference-makers, and knows moving the face of the franchise out of town would be wildly unpopular with the fans and players.
But the more I think about it, the more sense I can make of Stamkos wearing a new jersey before too long. And these days, team management seems more about logic than sentimentality.