The NHL season is quickly approaching, and I thought about leaving this piece to join the others I’ll do for the season preview. But I like it so much, I figured I would jump the gun. Add to that, I don’t THINK anyone has wrote about this yet. Sure, they’ll write about the Stamkos contract situation in Tampa and how he is in the final year of his deal. But I haven’t seen anyone get into the trade aspect of it (though I’m sure a few have, so much media these days you can’t see/read it all).
I’m going to, because I strongly believe the Bolts should trade him.
Keep in mind, this is coming from a guy who feels like Stamkos, while being in a group with only Alex Ovechkin as the best snipers in the league, is overrated. He is still very young, so his trade value, especially should he sign an extension with the team he goes to, will be very high. So I’m going to look at this from the perspective of Jeff Vinik and Steve Yzerman. Don’t forget that in 2011, it took a while for a contract to get done between the 2 sides and there were whispers at that time that Stamkos and Yzerman weren’t seeing eye to eye. Vinik and Yzerman have to be the men who ask themselves “is Steve worth the contract he’ll get?” Well, let’s look.
How would the team look without him?
The Lightning are coming off a Cup final run in that Stamkos wasn’t their top performer. Tyler Johnson was the leading scorer, Victor Hedman was all world on D, Bishop was inconsistent but the good outweighed the bad. So where did that leave Stamkos? His own coach wasn’t playing him 20 minutes a night, and was putting him on the wing. Now putting him on the wing might not seem like a big deal, but wingers don’t win Cups.
Jon Cooper was 100% right in doing this. Stamkos game is that of a winger, not a center. I’ve been saying this for years. From what you hear around the league, and I’m not talking about Eklund’s trade rumors, but rather respected people like Elliotte Friedman and Darren Dreger were saying that Stamkos was pretty pissed about being put on the wing. WHAT?!
Did you want to be a D-man while you’re at it Steve? I know he seems like one of the best guys ever in interviews and he very well could be. I’m not intending to bash the person here, but that doesn’t sound like much of a team guy. He is far better suited for the wing, yet he wants to play the middle. And this apparently has caused a rift between Stamkos and Cooper.
So how would the team be without him? Well the PP would take a pretty good hit you have to think. 5 on 5, he gets all the tough matchups which is why Johnson’s line was able to cash in so much. So they would take a hit. But if Drouin steps up and becomes just kind of close to what his potential is, that’s 25 of the 43 goals, and more assists than Stamkos (Drouin only had 1 less last season in MUCH less of a role) which would mean that others are scoring more. And then naturally others with a little more opportunity would produce more as well.
Add to all this, if you trade Stamkos and you’re upgrading your squad defensively in some way, that’ll reduce the need for those 17 goals that are missing as well.
Worth the cap space?
This one ties in a lot with what I just wrote about, but basically no. Read again what I just wrote, they have guys coming either already on the team (Drouin) or in the system (Adam Erne) or who they could acquire should they move 1 of Bishop or Vasilevskiy down the road who can replace Stamkos scoring abilities.
And no doubt that he makes others better by his presence eating up those tough matchup minutes. But does he make them THAT much better? They have so much depth on that roster that I really don’t believe he does. And he’s never shown the ability to fight through that tough checking he sees during the playoffs and put up big numbers. Not that he won’t, that is normally something that doesn’t come for a player until he reaches his physical prime of 27-30. But as of now, he hasn’t.
He is going to command 10-12 million per season. Last I had heard reported or at least discussed was he would want more than Kane and Toews got (10.5 per). With all the talent the Lightning have, they’re going to be tight against the cap for years to come should they give Stamkos that kind of deal and try to squeeze everyone else in. Stamkos getting his monster deal, might mean Tyler Johnson can’t get his money and they have to let him walk, and Johnson is the better player right now. Similar on draws, but Johnson plays 200 feet, gets his nose dirty, etc.
This team already has one awful contract that they’re going to be stuck with in Ryan Callahan (5.8 mil cap hit for 5 more seasons), can you really afford to give Stamkos 3 mil or so more than what he is going to give you?
Does he put people in the seats?
There is no doubt, Stamkos is an attraction. That is rare in a sport like hockey where the star players maybe will play 1/3 of an actual game. NBA, LeBron is on the court for 40 of the 48 minutes. NFL, Tom Brady is on the field for over half the game a lot of the time. NHL, lets be honest about it. Nobody is coming to see goaltenders or D-men. It’s about the star forwards, the guys who put the puck in the net. So Stamkos is pretty unique in that sense.
But what draws fans a hell of a lot more than star snipers, is wins. A winning team will always out draw a star player. Even on the road, people are more inclined to go watch a great team than a great player. But even if Stamkos is still a huge draw on the road, why would you care if you’re Jeff Vinik? You only care about the St. Pete Times Fourm and whether or not fans are filling those seats. And without Stamkos, they will because the Lightning have a team built for the long haul right now.
There is more to the business side of this then just ticket sales. Some of it I wouldn’t even know about. But jersey sales for example. I thought coming into writing this that he would be in the top 5 of jersey sales. I couldn’t find the 2015 numbers, but in 2014 he was 16th, 1 spot behind Rick Nash. If that’s any indication, Stamkos doesn’t generate the money away from the rink for the Lightning that I would have assumed he did. But there is much more to that in which I would have no clue what he does or could bring in.
What does he bring back in a trade?
It sounds like I’m just crushing Stamkos, but I’m not meaning to at all. It is just in regards to what Tampa needs him for. And it’s clear by now that there really isn’t a big need for him in Tampa. So then what could they get for him? Well it really depends on if he’s willing to sign an extension or not, and I think everyone would agree that if Toronto were the trade partner, the Lightning could really clean up in a deal.
In division, so the ask would have to be greater, which I’m sure the Leafs would understand. The Leafs have been desperate for a franchise cornerstone since Mats Sundin left town. And if I’m the Leafs, I’m looking at Mike Babcock being the guy who could get through to Stamkos about being a 200 foot player. About knowing that distributing the puck more frequently will not only make his teammates better, but open up more shots for him as well.
Because if the Leafs get Stamkos, they aren’t going to want to have him on the wing. They are already LOADED on the wing. They need that franchise center.
So I won’t go into what the ask is because the ask is always ridiculous. But here is what I came up with, assuming that along with the deal comes a Stamkos contract extension.
Tampa gets: Morgan Rielly, Frederik Gauthier and a 2016 1st round pick.
Guarantee the response to that from a Toronto fan would be “we aren’t giving up Rielly to get him!!!” And I guarantee the response from a Tampa fan would be “we aren’t giving him up just for that!!!”
Boom, perfect deal. Just thinking about it to myself I wasn’t going to have Rielly originally. But the Leafs don’t have a lot to give that Tampa would crave. Marner probably wouldn’t be too tempting for the Lightning seeing how they have an overabundance of small skilled forwards as is. And I think the Leafs would view Marner as the better asset, although it is really close in my opinion (I think that highly of Rielly). Jake Gardiner isn’t worth a lot these days. He gets you something, but as much as I’ve talked down about Stamkos today he is still a premiere sniper in the league with potential to be more. So the centerpiece is Rielly which makes Tampa’s blueline pretty damn high end moving forward.
Gauthier gives the Lightning a potential elite 3rd line center down the road, and if you don’t think guys like that are vital then you must not know much about hockey. And a 1st in this upcoming draft from the Leafs would still be a lottery pick (which remember now means top 14, not top 5 like it used to). So that’s a really good haul for Tampa, and a price I believe the Leafs can live with to get their cornerstone.
If not a trade with the Leafs, who else makes sense? Nashville might make a ton of sense. They could part with Seth Jones in a deal, who should be in Tampa already. They also could part with a Kevin Fiala who much like Marner wouldn’t be ideal for the Lightning, but a pretty valuable piece if packaged with Jones.
The Preds did win last season, but aren’t near the level the Lightning are (a much weaker conference helps Tampa). Stamkos would add to the attendance there too I’m sure. But the question would be if Stamkos would sign long term. I don’t know, but I kind of don’t think so. Amazing place to live and play from what I understand, but it’s not much of a stage and Stamkos really gives you the impression with his personality that he enjoys the spotlight.
So to wrap this up, I can’t come up with much of an argument as to why the Lightning should re-sign the guy. Terrific hockey player. But at the end of the day (to quote Chris Pronger) I just don’t think the contract would be worth it for the Lightning, and the right trade makes them better than Stamkos does. You want to maintain a Cup contending team and a contract like that combined with the cap being in stalled for lack of a better term, it makes much more sense to trade the asset and build around guys like Hedman, Johnson, Drouin and others. I should add, I don’t think you do it unless you get a trade which makes it worth your while, but then again you don’t want that albatross of a contract that you can’t move in 2 or 3 years.
Having said all this, I don’t think the Lightning will end up moving him. It’s SUCH a tough thing to do, moving an elite player. But I really do think its the smart move all around.
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