The Steven Stamkos situation in Tampa is starting to get more and more interesting, and with hockey season slowly getting under way in the form of rookie tournaments and training camps, we’ll see if he can get locked up with the Lightning soon.
As you’re likely aware, Stamkos and his hometown Leafs have been linked for quite a while in the NHL rumor circles, and it seems every week we’re likely to get more gas on that fire.
Over at TLN we’ve been covering this closely since, you know, it’s nice when there are rumblings of one of the best goal-scorers of the last two decades joining your favourite club. But should things get to the point where Stamkos could actually leave the Lightning, how the Leafs go about getting him could be the center of a lot of debate. Of course I’m talking about making a trade to get ahead of the pack.
Just this week, Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet talked about Stamkos and where things might go with the Lightning, and perhaps most interestingly, floated the idea of Tampa fielding calls on the star. I mean, it would make perfect sense – if Yzerman feels he can’t hold on to him, he may as well recoup as much as he can before he leaves town.
But this isn’t anything new, general managers shed pending free agents all the time at the trade deadline to avoid losing them for nothing. What is different, however, is the magnitude of something like this when it comes to a player like Stamkos. Perhaps the best comparable situation would be that of Ilya Kovalchuk shipping out of Atlanta in 2010, which just so happened to involve the Leafs’ current general manager, Lou Lamoriello.
Kovalchuk, or at least the 2009-10 version of him, represents a fair comparison to Stamkos for a few reasons. First off, at the time of the trade that sent him to New Jersey from the Thrashers, his numbers were along the league’s best. We’re talking about two clearly elite talents here. Not only that, their age as pending UFAs is basically the same – Stamkos will be 26 when/if he gets to July 1st next summer, while Kovalchuk had just turned 27 in the offseason of 2010. Elite players right in their prime years.
So what does this all have to do with the Leafs? Well, if they choose to go a route to snag Stamkos ahead of him entering free agency, Lamoriello would have to do somewhat of a repeat of the Kovalchuk deal. Some will argue (understandably) that the Leafs shouldn’t venture there, given they could just get Stamkos a few months later for nothing. But if they did, what would we expect it to cost?
When Don Waddell sent Kovalchuk to the Devils at the 2010 deadline, here’s what he fetched in return from ol’ Loophole Lou:
- Nicklas Bergfors (still essentially a “prospect”, but was drafted 23rd overall in 2005)
- Johnny Oduya (in his fourth year as a Devil/NHLer, 28-years-old at time of the trade)
- Patrice Cormier (secondary prospect, drafted 54th overall in 2008)
- 1st round draft pick in 2010 (turned out to be 24th overall)
At first blush this seems like a solid haul, but it really isn’t, nor should it be. Bergfors looked to be on his way to becoming a decent NHL player but he was five years removed from his draft and Jersey likely had a good read on his ceiling. Oduya is a nice piece, and he’s become a solid blue-liner, but he isn’t a key building block by any means. Then we have Cormier, who was a second rounder projecting to a decent third-line center at best. The only piece to really get burned with was the first-round pick, which ended up being late given the Devils finished second in the conference that season. So yeah, not a whole lot of damage done from Jersey’s side, and given they could have lost Kovalchuk that summer, there never should have been anyway. The same will likely go for Stamkos, if things get to that point.
If we try to project this sort of trade package to the Leafs in their potential attempt at Stamkos, things get interesting. It’ll never be as simple as this, but let’s have some fun with it. We have four pieces to fill in if we’re following a similar structure to what Waddell put together five years ago, so here go.
Finding an equivalent to Bergfors is tricky because he was a bit of a longterm project and had nearly arrived as a legit NHL player. I’m going to sub in Kasperi Kapanen here given their similar draft slots, but in terms of value it’s tough to call since Kapanen’s ceiling is so untapped compared to that of Bergfors at the time. This feels like an overpay in this slot, but I suppose we’ll have to go with it.
Next we have Oduya, an established defenceman albeit well into his prime years at the time. Here I’m going to make up for my overpay with Kapanen and throw in Martin Marincin, who should be a legit depth defenceman for most teams, but at such a young age, who knows.
The next two pieces are too easy. We can toss in Frederik Gauthier for Cormier because they’re essentially the exact same player from the same junior team with similar underwhelming junior totals. The first round pick is obviously the Penguins’ pick they shipped over for Phil Kessel.
We finally end up with a trade package for Stamkos that looks something like this from the Leafs’ end: Kasperi Kapanen, Martin Marincin, Frederik Gauthier, and a late first-round pick in 2016.
Admittedly this is all very HFBoards-ish, but the main thing I wanted to point out is just how a deal like this could work. This is just a quick exercise to show the type of value we might expect going the other way if things ever get to that point. Plenty of folks feel the Leafs going down the trade avenue to get an early shot at locking up Stamkos can’t be worth it, and I can totally see the reasoning there. But at the same time, a lot of people may be assuming Toronto would have to part with a major piece like Marner, Nylander, or Rielly in such a deal. Given the contract uncertainties, that doesn’t appear to be a requirement, even when dealing with such a star player. As the Kovalchuk deal showed, at least it hasn’t been in the recent past.