Erik Erlendsson covers the Tampa Bay Lightning for The Tampa Tribune.
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Breaking down the Steven Stamkos saga leading up to July 1
Posted Jun 28, 2011 by Erik Erlendsson
Updated Jun 28, 2011 at 01:31 PM
After fielding what felt like a thousand questions surrounding Steven Stamkos yesterday and what is going on, I feel compelled to try and break things down as best I can and offer some perspective on the situation.
So I will do my best.
First, here’s the deal, as we all know Stamkos is not currently under contract for the 2011-12 season as he is coming out of his entry level contract. He does not have arbitration rights and, if not signed by July 1, is free to sign an offer sheet from any of the other teams in the league. Stamkos was given his needed qualifying offer on Monday, meaning Tampa Bay retains his rights. And, if Stamkos were to sign an offer sheet with another team, it means the Lightning have the right to match any potential offer sheet. Any team that is issuing on offer sheet must have possession of enough salary cap space to submit the offer sheet as well as the necessary first round picks, which must be their own, and for the salary it would take to offer Stamkos a contract, it means four first rounders.
Now, anything is possible in terms of whether or not all of that is going to transpire and whether or not a team is willing to submit an offer sheet. But here is my take.
First and foremost, I do not envision any scenario in which Stamkos, who leads the league in goals over the past two season with 96, is not back in a Lightning uniform next season, and for many seasons to come. Lightning general manager has said the team is willing to do whatever it takes to ensure that is the case, and that means matching any potential offer sheet a time might try to submit to Stamkos and his agent.
Now, it would behoove the Lightning to get Stamkos under contract before July 1, but that is not going to be easy. And here is why.
If you are the agent for Stamkos - and that job belongs to Don Meehan and Mark Guy - why would you want to sign before Friday? The job of an agent is to maximize a player’s earning potential, and if you believe an offer sheet is forthcoming, wouldn’t you want to see the price driven up for your client? That’s the agents job, so unless the Lightning are willing to come in the neighborhood of what an offer sheet might look like, why sign?
And if you are Steve Yzerman and you have an idea in mind of what Stamkos would ideally sign for to ensure you have salary cap space along with budget room, why blow that idea before you have to because, as of right now, the team is in the market for a goalie and potentially a top six forward come the summer, whether that’s via free agency or the trade route.
In a sense, this is sort of a game of chicken taking place between both sides - who is going to blink first. Now logical sense dictates that the Lightning have to be the first to blink because the players side holds the largest leverage - and that’s the card the agent is playing right now, and why not.
Make no mistake, this is a very important moment for Steve Yzerman and the Lightning. They can’t afford to have a 21-year-old super star leave the organization, he is quickly becoming a face of the league, let alone the organization. Stamkos is improving his game defensively, showed a fearless capacity to get to the net and go to the dirty areas of the ice, and not rely on his one-timer shot to score goals. In a sense, it’s a defining moment for Yzerman as a general manager.
But this is also a defining moment for Stamkos. Sure, he could find a max contract at around $12 million per year and be set for life collecting large paychecks, and he’d be well within his rights to do so, it’s a free market system. However, the question Stamkos has to himself is how much of a team’s salary cap/budget is he will to take up - and that’s any team, not just Tampa Bay - and still have a chance to win a Stanley Cup? Lightning head coach Guy Boucher used this term a lot during the playoffs, so I’ll borrow it from him - there is a difference between being a star and being a winner. A winner does whatever it takes to win. A star is somebody who puts up big offensive numbers, but often shies away when the chips are on the table. I believe Stamkos is a winner, and that was no more evident than when he took a puck to the face in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final against Boston and only missed a couple of shifts while having to get his nose cleaned and wiped of blood each time he came back to the bench after a shift.
If he wants to show that, he has to step up and become the voice of reason to find a more than fair value on his contract and yet still allow Tampa Bay to be a competitive team moving forward. Getting within one game of reaching the Stanley Cup Final should only fuel that bit of fire.
There has also been much talk of what other teams might be willing to entertain the thought of issuing an offer sheet to Stamkos. The two teams most frequently mentioned are the Leafs and the Flyers, and I just don’t see either do so. The Flyers are currently about $7 million under the salary cap with three restricted free agents under contract, and that is not nearly enough cap room to make on offer with a realistic shot of convincing Tampa Bay not to match the offer. Toronto has also been mentioned heavily, but I just don’t see Brian Burke doing so (regardless of how much good will he would receive for even just trying).
In fact, the only one team I would realistically be worried about entertaining an offer sheet to Stamkos would be the Florida Panthers. If I’m Florida, and I have all that space available just to get up to the salary floor, I would seriously entertain the thought just because even if you don’t believe you will get Stamkos, it could seriously hamper the salary structure of a division opponent (even after realignment)
Now having said all that, I don’t believe an offer sheet is going to come, even if Stamkos gets to July 1. And judging from plenty of conversations and readings from around the hockey world, I’m not convinced it will even be an issue. Yzerman continues to use the word optimistic whenever the subject of Stamkos is brought up in interviews.
So there it is, and it’s just my take on the situation.