It’s something we’ve been talking about for a few weeks now – is it possible that Steven Stamkos could become a Toronto Maple Leaf on July 1st, 2016? It would be a strong possibility for sure if Stamkos decided to walk away from the Tampa Bay Lightning, the team that drafted him and the only team he’s ever known, but that’s a big ‘if’. The Leafs have a star head coach, a boatload of cap room, and a stocked cupboard of up-and-coming talent – all things that would be very, very tempting to a potential free agent.
That said, players of Stamkos’s calibre rarely hit the open market. History dictates it’s unlikely he ever does, but The Globe and Mail’s James Mirtle seems pretty sure that Stamkos will end up leaving Florida for a fresh start somewhere else.
There’s a couple of interesting things here, so let’s unpack…
The Player-Coach Relationship is Not Good
At best, Stamkos simply disagrees with Lightning head coach Jon Cooper about being played on the wing instead of centre, a controversial switch during last year’s playoffs that is being attempted again this season.
At worst? Stamkos and the coach have an active dislike for one another. In fact, some say they rarely talk to one another – and that that’s not a unique situation in Tampa.
So many times before, we’ve seen a coach moved out before a star player. I mean, one is significantly more replaceable and the other is a star goddamn player. The issue here? Lightning GM Steve Yzerman just handed his head coach a multi-year contract extension just over a week ago.
If things are bad between Stamkos and Cooper now, it’s not going to be getting any better anytime soon.
I mean, very shortly after that happened, Stamkos fave’d on Twitter a link to a TSN story regarding the Leafs’ interest in bringing Stamkos home. An accident? Hahaha, yeah, ok.
Tampa Already Entertained Moving Stamkos
I mean, if re-signing a not-very-liked head coach doesn’t so it, how about the fact that your team has already discussed trading you? That’s gotta be constantly sitting at the back of your head.
It is widely believed that Yzerman already investigated trading Stamkos before the no-movement clause kicked in. Prior to the draft, the Lightning were in discussions with the Buffalo Sabres about a potential deal for the second-overall pick, which they eventually used to take Jack Eichel.
Depending on who you believe – and we’re dealing with a rumour mill gone absolutely wild right now – those discussions were either very preliminary or somewhat advanced.
Those who argue they were advanced say that it was Stamkos who nixed the deal, because one condition the Sabres put on the blockbuster trade was that they had to be able to sign him to an extension.
I’m not going to lie, swapping out Stamkos for Eichel would have been a pretty solid play by Yzerman. I’m not certain that Eichel will be as good a player was Stamkos one day, but he certainly looks like the real deal now and so rarely does a team ever get close to fair value when they unload star talent.
But hey, that’s not the point. If I’m Stamkos, I’m pissed that my GM not only thought about trading me already, but thought about trading me to Buffalo of all places. Talk about insult to injury.
Toronto Can and Will Pay Up
I’m already convinced that Stamkos is going to be in Toronto – I’d be very surprised if he wasn’t at this point. All it boils down to now is waiting out Stamkos’ contract and talking financials. If Tampa Bay doesn’t want to surround the face of their franchise with a coach who will mesh well with him, if they would rather a shiny new prospect, or if they’d rather just not pay him the record-breaking contract he will likely command… well, it looks like they’ll lose him for nothing.
That’s Toronto’s gain, because they will pay him what Tampa won’t. And if you don’t believe Stamkos is worth the money, like the Leafs certainly will, you’re a fool