Steve Yzerman was Brendan Shanahan’s captain for 9 seasons. So perhaps it’s safe to say that they have a pretty good understanding of each other. Could this be enough of a foundation for one of the biggest trade in recent NHL history?
Why trade? You ask. Everyone knows that Stamkos grew up in Markham, Ontario, and has been a Leafs fan ever since. He spends his off-season in the Toronto area, and with UFA status pending by the end of this season, the Leafs should just wait until summer to sign him, why waste any other assets to get him, right?
Unfortunately, the chance of any Canadian-born superstar to return and play for their hometown during their prime is very low, so low that it’s…actually zero, as shown here from Spector’s Hockey. Lyle Richardson further explained why they often choose not to return home in this interesting read.
The basic idea is that (a) players can enjoy anonymity in most American markets, (b) weather, warmer climates down south, (c) financial reasons – lower state and federal taxes in the United States.
But still, facts are facts. We haven’t had any generational superstars returning home to play for a Canadian team, by free choice that is. Wayne Gretzky didn’t “return” to Vancouver when he had the chance, Mario Lemieux didn’t leave Pittsburgh for the great north during his prime, Sidney Crosby re-signed with the same Pens way before he became an UFA. Steve Yzerman, Joe Sakic, Patrick Roy…the list goes on and on. Why would we expect anything different from Steven Stamkos?
The recent rumors and whispering about Stamkos possibly considering signing with the Leafs next season is nothing more that bargaining tactics. Basic PR, to get the most from the Lightning management, Team Stamkos is merely bluffing.
The perennial Rocket Richard Award winner might be playing with fire when “rumors” leaked about him not happy playing the wing instead of his natural center position. There is of course some truth to this, as it is very understandable that Stamkos wants to play center, because elite centers are worth much more than elite wingers.
But is that enough of a reason to switch teams? Is that enough of a reason to move from a Cup Contending team to a rebuilding team? Probably not.
However, now that the news is out there, can Yzerman and Shanahan see a fit there?!
Both GM probably know Stamkos’ desire to re-sign with the Lightning. But the going rate for his next contract is close to the Toews/Kane level, which is about US$10.5M per season for a maximum of 8 years. With Callahan and Filppula signed long-term north of $5M each, Tyler Johnson due for a huge raise the season after next, and Kucherov, Drouin, Killorn and Vasilevskiy’s contract extension coming up soon, is signing one player to US$10.5M really worth it?
Even if he’s Steven Stamkos?
Stamkos has played seven seasons in the NHL. Five of those were full 82-games or close (08-09 79GP). The other two season were cut short by injuries, playing 48 and 37 games respectively. When healthy, Steven is extremely effective, never going under 0.5 goal per game except for his rookie season. He’s scored more than 40 goals in a season four times, 50 or more once and 60 goals in 2011-2012 season.
That’s pretty impressive productivity. But if you look closer at the numbers, you find something interesting.
(1) Stamkos is a Scoring-Center. Only once in his entire NHL career did he finished a season with assists more than goals. (2) During the years when Stamkos was scoring 90 or more points per season, his team only made the post-season once, and their run ended at the conference final. But last season, despite playing a full 82 games, his production actually dropped to a mere 72 points; but instead, the more-balanced Lightning team was only two wins away from winning it all.
The calculation can be pretty simple for Yzerman. If an elite center is worth that much more than a winger, AND the Lightning is deep-enough as a team to not use Stamkos as their center, what does that tell you?
It basically tells you that the Lightning is going to over-pay Stamkos, if they re-sign him as a centerman, but not use him in that position. As a scoring-center, not a play-maker, one can understand why Jon Cooper uses him as a winger, but it doesn’t make sense financially for the team.
How about Toronto? Are the Leafs better fit to use Steven Stamkos? Absolutely.
The situation with the Maple Leafs is unique. Rarely do you see any professional sport franchise with such a large fan-base and strong financials to be so lacking in on-ice product. Years of poor management has depleted the Original Six team of any elite talent.
Both Shanahan and Lamoriello have high hopes, and as the center of the hockey universe, the Leafs need a face for their franchise. They are willing and very capable of over-paying to get that, a mistake that Brian Burke made when he acquired Phil Kessel.
The Leafs are weak down the middle. Tyler Bozak is a very reliable 2nd C at best, and Nazim Kadri is not proven and not your prototypical 1st line centerman. Even newly acquired prospects Mitch Marner or William Nylander are not natural centermen.
Now imagine Stamkos being their face of the francise. A 25-yr old elite center captaining Canada’s team in the hockey heartland. This is just too good to pass up.
What about cost? An elite player close to UFA status usually gets you 1 x top-end prospect, 1 to 2 roster players and 1 to 2 high picks.
<To Tampa Bay> Nylander + Kadri + Gardiner + 2016 1st + 2017 2nd
<To Toronto> Stamkos + Carle + 2017 2nd
This should get the job done.
Tampa receives a top six centerman in Kadri, as a back-up player in case Johnson or Filppula gets injured. Nazim has a one year contract at 4.1M, if he plays well, they can re-sign him, if not, he’s a restricted free agent trade-bait.
Nylander is that high-end prospect with excellent offensive upside. With the Lightning he can return to play on the wing, and should be ready to crack their line-up in one to two season. Top 6 potential is very much guaranteed.
Jake Gardiner, 24, is another former first-rounder. He has superb skating ability, and exceptional offensive potential. The knock on him is he is still prone to defensive mistakes, a common trait among young defensemen. At $4M per season, he’s signed for 4 more years, this should carry him into his prime. With Matthew Carle, 30, going back the other way, the entire deal frees up Tampa Bay a total of $5.5M and a bad contract.
With the extra cap-space, Yzerman should be able to re-sign most of their pending RFA stars. The goals from Stamkos will be replaced by Johnson and Kucherov, since they still have further upside. The team should still be a contending team, but much more prepared for the future.
The Leafs win this trade, because they get the best player. However it will prove to be costly, as their rebuilding process takes a step backward. The 2017 2nd-round pick will be a much lower pick, because the Lightning should stay atop the league for years to come.
The loss of Kadri is affordable, since he has never really proven his elite abilities even on a weak Leafs squad. Nylander is where the pain is felt, but he’s still a prospect at this point, and the Leafs will just have to find other ways to make up for this loss.
Carle is still very serviceable, and the Leafs can afford his salary and the cap hit. Having a veteran on the blue-line can make their rebuilding process less painful.
This has the making of a win-win-win situation.
Lightning solves their impending cap problem, while avoids Stamkos walking without compensation. Maple Leafs get their franchise centerman, and the billion dollars of marketing revenue associated with it. Stamkos gets to “return home” and becomes the first elite superstar to play for his hometown team, and of course that all important $10.5M contact extension.