Yes, the Leafs do need Stamkos

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.

GP G A Pts ATOI
79 23 23 46 14:56
82 51 44 95 20:33
82 45 46 91 20:12
82 60 37 97 22:01
48 29 28 57 22:01
37 25 15 40 20:15
82 43 29 72 19:22
28 11 9 20 19:40

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.

GP G A Pts
82 24 24 48
82 51 44 95
82 45 46 91
82 60 37 97
82 50 48 97
82 55 33 89
82 43 29 72
82 32 26 59

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

  • Gary Empey

    I agree. If Stamkos wants to come to Toronto, you can’t say no. The cap could continue to rise and 11 million for one player will be acceptable. Chicago’s situation is different as they have two guys occupying 21 million in cap. If they can lock Reilly in for 8 years this summer at Duncan Keith money, in 3 years he could look like a huge bargain. It’s all manageable.

  • Gary Empey

    Remember Vincent Lecavalier?

    An absolute beast at the start of his Tampa contract (go checkout his point totals and Top 10 goals). Kane and Toews brought in 2 cups before their contract. BIG difference there.

    I’m still terrified about locking up a dude to minimum $11MM for what I assume will be at least 8 years. And I think Stamkos is the bomb.

    • BarelyComments

      Correct me if I’m wrong but I believe as a free agent signing the max would be a 7 year contract, at the end of a max deal Stamos would still only be 32 years old, certainly an age where he’ll be on a decline but likely he will still be elite at that age, Lecavalier, is really a different story… His contract was way longer (signed before the current CBA) and he was also always a mediocre at best Skater which generally sets those type of players up for more major declines in their 30’s…

    • BarelyComments

      Lecavalier was 28 when he signed for 11 years. Stamkos will be 26 and he can only sign for 7 with Toronto, which means he will be 33 when his contract is over. The fact of the matter is you don’t win cups without the high paid superstars and Stamkos is one. If you want to be scared of the small chance that Stamkos ends up being washed up or peaking early even though he has one of the best work ethics in the league, then that’s up to you, but if it’s me I’m not passing on a superstar who you may have the chance to sign at absolutely no cost to your roster depth or prospect pool.

  • Gary Empey

    I don’t think that it’s fair to say that Marner and Nylander don’t posses the upside to reach Stamkos levels. Marner outscored Stamkos 126 in 63 games to 105 in 61 games. Just because someone was drafted higher doesn’t mean that they can’t reach the same potential. If Stamkos had been in a draft class with Eichel and McDavid he wouldn’t have been drafted first overall either.

    As for Nylander it is harder to compare since he never played in the same league as Stamkos except at the WJC where Nylander outscored Stamkos 10 to 6 albeit being one year older. Still with Nylander on a record breaking AHL pace we can say he probably has superstar potential.

    While it shouldn’t be expected for the both to reach Stamkos levels I would think that it is more likely than not that at least one of them will. Other than that I do still think the Leafs should definitely look into getting Stamkos if available.

    • Totally fair comment. I guess what I mean is that the chance is still slim for them to hit THAT level of output, as Stamkos has been a generational goal-scorer. Even when he himself was drafted, it probably wasn’t expected he’d be this dominant. I wasn’t saying it’s impossible, just pointing out this sort of talent at the NHL level is very rare.

  • silentbob

    Stamkos is still young enough to have a 7 year deal, but the NHL is getting younger and there are only certain players that have longevity in this league. My question would be, is this the right time to go after a top line free agent? or would it be better in a couple of years when(hopefully) Nylander and Marner are getting their full shot at the NHL.

    • Gary Empey

      Re-“My question would be, is this the right time to go after a top line free agent?”

      Players of Stamkos quality and especially his age are extremely rare to hit hit free agency.

  • silentbob

    The only “problem” with getting Stamkos is that effectively ends hte rebuild. You don’t spend 10-12+ million dollars a year to get the 2nd or 3rd best player in the league to be bad and draft high for another 2-3 years.

    By going after Stamkos you are also betting that Nylander and Marner and Kapanen and Rielly and Brown and Tkachuk (or some combo of them because unlikely all will be NHL players) WILL become high level NHL players and the core of a Cup Winning team. If they sign Stamkos and are wrong about that group, we’ll have another Sundin situation.

    Signing Stamkos should be viewed by Leaf fans as accelerating the rebuild, and the question is/should be, are we in a good position to accelerate it?

  • Gary Empey

    i think stamkos will be fine at the end of a max deal (7 years). at 32, he’ll still be elite and fast. he’s probably one of the most in shape hockey players in the game and takes his craft very seriously so whoever signs him will get a great player.

  • Gary Empey

    Clanky wrote:

    “While it shouldn’t be expected for the both to reach Stamkos levels I would think that it is more likely than not that at least one of them will. Other than that I do still think the Leafs should definitely look into getting Stamkos if available.”

    Think about that statement. You are saying that it is more likely than not that at least one of Nylander or Marner will be a “generational talent” likely to have a career that would put them in a select group of company of (ball park here no research and likely less players) 20 players that have ever done what Stamkos has done?????????

    I’m a huge fan of Marner and Nylander, but there’s just no way that’s a realistic expectation. Hell, I’d be happy if one of them turned out to be a true #1 center let alone a sure fire first ballot Hall of Famer