Last week, TLN’s very own Ryan Fancey ruffled a couple feathers with his very point-of-fact assertion that Tampa Bay star Steven Stamkos will (probably) become a Toronto Maple Leaf when he becomes an unrestricted free agent next off season.
I wouldn’t say I’m willing to call it yet, but I do think that where there’s smoke, there’s quite often fire. Stamkos-to-the-Leafs has been telegraphed for years now, and I can’t imagine the 25-year old hasn’t seriously considered joining his home town team, with its new look front office, coaching staff, and prospect pool, just ahead Toronto’s centennial season in 2017.
It’s for all of those reasons as well that the Leafs would want Stamkos as much (and probably more) than he would want them.
On The Block?
In his triumphant return to hockey writing after summer vacation, Elliotte Friedman revealed that the Tampa Bay Lightning may have discussed the possibility of trading Stamkos before he hit free agency…
It’s crazy to think [Tampa Bay’s] future wouldn’t include Stamkos, since the moment they traded Martin St. Louis, the Lightning couldn’t move fast enough to take down the former captain’s mural outside the arena and replace it with the new leader.
However, approximately two weeks ago, a rumour made the rounds that there were trade talks involving Stamkos before the draft. (His no-move clause kicked-in days later.) The best intel I could gather is that it didn’t get close. Some sources indicate teams called Yzerman to ask. Others say the Lightning wanted to check the market in case they eventually had to do something.
Whether Tampa initiated these trade talks or not, it would make sense to test the market on Stamkos. After all, there are few things that can cripple an organization as quickly as letting a true star talent walk for nothing. Performing due diligence here is nothing new.
At the same time, it would be a no-brainer for the Leafs to inquire about Stamkos’s services and get a better understanding of what kind of package it would take to land him. But under absolutely no circumstances should Toronto actually try and trade for him.
Hang Up The Phone
Acquiring Stamkos in any way other than via free agency would make no sense whatsoever. He’s a great player – one of the best in the world, surely – but Toronto is not a deep enough organization to both trade for him and also surround him with an adequate supporting cast.
The Leafs top, non-roster assets right now are a trio of high-end prospects in Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Kasperi Kapanen, a pair of 2016 first round picks and a single 2017 first round pick.
It’s not unreasonable to think that half of them would need to go the other way in any Stamkos trade. And that’s not even including the necessary roster pieces, which could very well mean one (or two) of Morgan Rielly, Nazem Kadri or Jake Gardiner is heading to Tampa Bay as well.
Stamkos would solve many problems for the Leafs, but trading for him would set back (or completely destroy) a remarkable rebuilding effort so far. Not to mention, adding Stamkos to Toronto’s current barebones, skill-starved roster would just waste his abilities.
Get Out The Checkbook
Like I said earlier – I believe there’s a very real chance that Stamkos ends up in a Toronto Maple Leafs uniform by this time next year. But there are both good and bad ways to go about getting that done.
Be patient and wait until Stamkos hits the free agent market. You will need to pay an insane amount of money for him, certainly, but that will be true whether you trade for him before the deadline or not.
And if he doesn’t hit free agency, by either re-signing with Tampa Bay (which is still a strong possibility), or signing a new contract with whatever team acquires him (which I think is the least likely scenario), just accept that Stamkos was never meant to be.
Most importantly, if the Leafs don’t land Stamkos, they need to continue to trust the rebuild process. Adding him for nothing but dollars and term only helps accelerate the Leafs journey back to regular playoff and championship contention, but forcing a move could undo all of the hard work that has made Toronto one of the most impressive systems in the league.