I think the last time I wrote a headline like the one above, it was to pass along news that Mike Babcock wouldn’t be hired by the Leafs. How embarrassing. [To be fair, how often is McKenzie off the mark like that?]
Anyway, this time around I’m quite confident this piece is going to stand up. The idea of Steven Stamkos being a pre-deadline acquisition by the Leafs is all but dead. Maybe it was never alive.
This isn’t big news. As much as the speculation around Stamkos to Toronto has been rampant and constantly growing, fans have generally been in the camp that pursuing him ahead of the upcoming free agency period is essentially a waste. I mean, why give up assets in the form of players/prospects/picks if you (supposedly) have the inside track on signing him this summer anyway?
But keep in mind there are some benefits to making a move like this and trying to get the jump on 29 other clubs, obviously. And it’s been done in the past, most notably by the Leafs’ current general manager. In fact, it would help both sides a little.
This bidding war that’s potentially coming on July 1st will likely be the biggest in the history of NHL free agency, and if the Leafs can get to work on a contract earlier and be able to offer an additional year and perhaps save some cap space, that’s obviously a major consideration. It’s probably in Stamkos’ best interest to net as much term as possible too, so negotiating as a “re-signing” with the Leafs would make sense.
But it’s beyond a long shot.
Erik Erlendsson, who’s been following ‘Stammergeddon’ closely in Tampa, recently speculated on which teams might be on the other side of the phone if Yzerman wants to make a move, and the Leafs are on that list. But as he notes, even more so than the other teams mentioned, they’d be unlikely to work something out.
It’s just difficult to imagine the Leafs having too much of a sense of urgency here, and to make things even more mismatched, the Lightning have somewhat surged in the standings. Armed with a no-movement clause, there’s basically no chance Stamkos gives up another Cup run – perhaps his last in Tampa – to go to Toronto and hang out in the league basement for the remainder of the schedule.
And that’s what makes this situation so much different than Kovalchuk’s in 2010, or more recently, even that of lesser-name pending FAs to be moved at the deadline, like Vanek or Petry. Stamkos has all the control here. Even if Yzerman feels backed into a corner and in need of making a deal like Don Waddell did with Kovalchuk a few years back, he likely won’t even be able to. It’s not really going to be up to him.
A few months back, I wrote about how the Kovalchuk deal might be a good bar to set for speculating on a trade for Stamkos. Like we mentioned, Lamoriello has the experience to pull something like this off. But as this season has unfolded, it’s probably not realistic to think this could happen.
Like the rest of the league, the Leafs and their fans will just have to wait.