As we get close to turning over a new year, it’s again time to check in on how the whole Stamkos situation is shaking out in Tampa. In short, it now looks like we’re starting to get near “I can’t believe this still isn’t done” territory, and with 83 days until the trade deadline, you can only assume this thing is going to get magnified at a new level in the coming weeks.
But while the chances of Stamkos’ departure seem to be increasing, it’s bringing with it the debate among Leafs fans about whether cracking the vault for him is actually the best idea.
The assumption to date has been that when/if Stamkos gets to free agency, the price tag to land him is going to be up somewhere beyond the clouds where Jonathan Toews’ contract hangs out. Toews and his teammate Kane have matching 10.5-million dollar cap hits for eight years, and are earning north of 13-million per season in the front end of their deals.
We don’t really care about real salary here, just the cap hits, and that’s where Stamkos is going to command at the very, very least 11-million dollars annually. There’s no way around it. And I suppose that’s where folks get scared – they don’t want to load so many eggs in one basket when the Leafs have so much building to do.
I sort of understand the concern, but I feel it’s painfully misplaced.
Toronto has been burned time and time again by poor contracts handed out by the worst management groups, perhaps more than any other club in the league. It makes sense to be cautious. But this isn’t a “useful player who can probably chip in (x) amount of offence”, or even just a “big name” potential free agent.
This is Steven Stamkos.
This is the star player who everyone believes can be had in free agency but never actually gets there. This is a SIXTY goal scorer. The closest comparable I can even think of is Kovalchuk in 2010.
Now, to be fair, you can see that Stamkos’ totals over the last year are feeding into this debate as well. I mean, he only scored 43 last year and isn’t off to his best start this season. But this reminds me of the struggles Ovechkin went through a few years back when he was about the same age, and the similarities even stretch as far as the questions about coaching, which in Stamkos’ case has been more newsworthy recently. Ovechkin seems to have turned out alright.
Looking at Stamkos’ full body of work, it’s worth noting that his average ice-time has been down a bit under Cooper. In the years where he really filled the net, Stamkos clipped along at more than 22 minutes a night, but over the last year and a half he’s been at 19:40 and below. That’s probably added to his frustrations, and fueled the speculated rift between him and the coach.
As you can see, Stamkos has always been a killer on the scoresheet, but by his standards, he’s definitely coming in a little low recently. That could be both due to Cooper’s usage of him with his reduced ice-time, and the departure of Marty St. Louis a couple seasons back. He also missed major time that year with a leg injury.
Since he’s played through a lockout year and a major injury, maybe we should take a look at his career and scale his totals up to 82-game seasons in order to really punch home how dominant he’s been as a goal-scorer.
What this works out to, even including the slow start to this year, and his rookie campaign, is a rate of 45 goals and 36 assists per season on average. Pluck out that rookie season and it goes to 48 goals and 38 assists for 86 points. A generational scorer.
When it comes to the Leafs, they haven’t had this caliber of player in a lot of our lifetimes, period. And to look at prospects like Marner and Nylander and say “We’re good now, no Stamkos needed” is foolish and perhaps even unfair to them. While I have little doubt both will be very good NHL players, they’re 4th and 8th overall picks, respectively, and the chances of them hitting this type of production we’ve talked about above are slim. We shouldn’t expect it of them.
And with other players on the Leafs’ current roster such as Kadri and van Riemsdyk – good scorers in their own right – well, you don’t let these type of guys stop you from getting a player like Stamkos. You make the room for someone like this.
If heaven forbid the Leafs find themselves with a wealth of good forwards and need to ship some out for help elsewhere down the road, then so be it. You make that move when it comes about, but you don’t let the idea of it prevent you from signing Stamkos. It’s ridiculous.
Going back to the Blackhawks, here’s a team that’s established elite, albeit expensive, talent at the top of their roster…and it’s worked well for them. Their system of building around guys like Hossa, Kane, Toews, etc. with young talent they’ve continued to churn out through the draft has made them essentially a dynasty, and they’re paying out some major cap hits to keep it going. But that’s the cost of being great. The Leafs need to finally pay to get that all world player if they’re lucky enough to have that opportunity. From there, it’s up to Hockey Ops to continue to put emphasis on good drafting and development and fill in those gaps over and over. But if anyone is capable of that, it should be this monster of a front office they’ve been building.
For a team that hasn’t made any noise in this league in over a decade, it’s laughable to think the Leafs are already in too good of a place to add Stamkos.
Numbers pulled from Hockey-Reference.com