Missing out on Stamkos closes a shortcut, but isn’t a roadblock

Photo Credit: Tom Szczerbowski/USA TODAY SPORTS

Before we get into this topic, let’s make a few things clear. Firstly, Steven Stamkos isn’t a traitor for choosing to stay with the Tampa Bay Lightning. He was under no obligation to sign in Toronto; ultimately, the choice was his, and he went with what he thought was best for him. Secondarily, this isn’t the time to go “oh, well, the Leafs were better off without him anyway”. Because that probably isn’t true either.

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We have to be honest with ourselves here. The Toronto Maple Leafs have two pocket cores on their roster, aged 25-27 (Jake Gardiner, Frederik Andersen, Nazem Kadri, and James van Riemsdyk) and 18-22 (Morgan Rielly, William Nylander, Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, and the logjam of secondary prospects below them). 

Signing a 26-year-old superstar centre was not counter-productive to the Leafs’ odd’s of success. Taking on the second best goal scorer of our generation would not have thrown off the roster composition of this team. It would not have ruined the Leafs in the long run. Hell, it may have helped; a competitive Leafs team drives HRR and, thus, the salary cap, and having Stamkos be the centre of attention would have likely helped keep down the cost of the big three prospects’ second contracts. 

Signing players just for intangibles is dumb, but signing a superstar who’s gone on multiple chases for the cup, has worn a C on their chest, and understands the scope of the Maple Leafs organization would have been a perfect fit.

Let’s not pretend that the Leafs didn’t really have interest or capacity. As long as Nathan Horton was on Long Term Injured Reserve to start the year, they had the cap space. Dion Phaneuf is an Ottawa Senator now; there was presumably room for Stamkos to attempt to step into a leadership role. The team obviously had interest; we know that Brendan Shanahan talked with Don Meehan at the draft, and we know that there was a meeting at the MLSE offices that involved the mayor and Canadian Tire’s CEO.

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We’re going to find out at some point where this took a turn back. Maybe Stamkos never intended on leaving and used tried to use Toronto as leverage, and panicked when it failed. Maybe the Leafs didn’t table up a strong enough offer, thinking that they had this in the bag. Maybe there was a stipulation both sides weren’t ever going to see eye to eye on. But let’s not pretend that adding an elite player in the same age pocket as half of your core without assets goes against a rebuilding plan.

That doesn’t mean that Toronto is screwed forever, though.

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Year Cap Hit Known Key Renewals / Harder to Replace Holes Left
2016/17 $60,744,084 Marincin, Corrado
2017/18 $40,070,832 Zaitsev, Bozak, Brown? Hyman?
2018/19 $19,750,000 Van Riemsdyk, Komarov, Nylander, Rychel? Soshnikov?
2019/20 $15,700,000 Gardiner, Marner, Matthews, Kapanen? Timashov?
2020/21 $15,700,000  
2021/22 $10,700,000 Andersen

Salaries not including Nathan Horton, who will likely be LTIR’d into eternity

Toronto are in a very good position to take advantage of what they have right now and carry it into the foreseeable future. A look at Toronto’s depth chart lists eleven forwards, seven defencemen, and three goalies under contract under the age of 24, and 22 additional players awaiting their ELC’s.

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Three of these players are considered to be top ten (if not top six) prospects in the world right now. Auston Matthews just went first overall with an extraordinary amount of well-deserved hype attached to him. William Nylander followed up his draft by chasing and smashing records for his age groups in the SHL and the AHL in his first two years. Mitch Marner is going to need a bigger trophy case

The other guys? Some will hit, some will miss. But with 43 swings at the proverbial baseball, they should be able to round a few bases and build up a supporting cast. Ideally, as Toronto establishes their core group, support prospects will be able to be plugged in and moved as they become too costly; think the Chicago Blackhawks model, with a goal of fewer Bryan Bickell endings.

There’s a very reasonable foundation in this organization; certainly, one with a higher chance of sustainable success than any other management group has gone to battle with throughout the Cap Era. They’ll only have more wiggle room to work with next year as well, with next to no significant contract concern and Brooks Laich, Milan Michalek, Colin Greening, Matt Hunwick, Jonathan Bernier, and Stephane Robidas coming off the books.

What probably changes the most this year is the immediate expectation. A team with Stamkos to go with the new rookies, upgraded goaltending and expectation of percentage readjustment is probably a safe bet to make the playoffs, despite being a dead-last team a year prior. Now, the team will most assuredly be better, but only in an absolute best case scenario will they be a team capable of doing some damage.

But hey, Rome wasn’t built in a day. If the Leafs are mediocre next year, they’re mediocre with a super young, mostly waiver and expansion-exempt core and a bunch of deadweight about to come off the books as the rest of the league panics about the Las Vegas draft. 

The road to success is a long one, and the Leafs recognize that and have given no reason to believe that they haven’t recognized that over the past year and change. The Leafs are just as capable of moving on without him, never put themselves in a position where they relied on him, never risked anything to get him, and from the looks of it, didn’t build the plan around him. Not even the worst of the Leafs regimes would’ve put all of their eggs into turning seven days of future conversation into a single seven-year deal; there’s no indication that’s the case here.

Where they go from here is probably only known in the confines of their war-room. But I doubt there’s a reason to panic. Let’s not go into denial and claim that he wouldn’t have helped things move along, but don’t forget that there’s a foundation in place worth keeping an eye on in the long-term.

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  • wallcrawler

    I agree. Was excited at the prospect of Stamkos so tough to turn coat now. But..

    It has only been just over a year since the earth was scorched and Babs is here for another 7. He said there would be pain, but at least we won Matthews. There are 30 teams to cheer for over the next decade and I like where this one is headed.

  • Newleafs

    Looks like the Leafs were somewhat interested but I think the fact he resigned shows how much they were willing to pay. The Leafs have gotten much smarter with their contracts since the crazy antics of previous management.

    Stamkos was looking to see how much he could get. When the window to talk opened he decided to resign. The salary didn’t change from the amount that was rumored months ago. Pretty telling.

    I preferred the Leafs to not sign him because when Matthews will be in his peak years Stankos wasn’t going to be in his. That’s the bottom line. And the bottom line of the cap hit when that happened didn’t make much sense either to me.

  • Masma

    Leafs never had a chance . you think that all Ontario born players want to play in the center of the Universe but they actually don’t. ofc they all say they do , what are they suppose to say when the Toronto media shove cameras and microphones in their face asking them : How would you feel playing for your favorite team when you were a little boy ? ….. guess what ladies and gents they are not little boys any more and they know better to go play in a place were they can barely breath , where the media chews players and spits them out if they don’t walk the way you like. gratz! on Matthews he looks like a solid player

    • FlareKnight

      Of course they had a chance, you can be ridiculous but that doesn’t change anything.

      This isn’t a Toronto thing, it is an everywhere thing. People hate being in Toronto…..that’s why they couldn’t get rid of Mats Sundin or why Kessel signed a big extension to stay.

      People like being where they are if they have reason to. Stamkos not leaving Tampa isn’t a slight to Toronto, Buffalo, Detroit, or anywhere. It means he liked being in Tampa Bay. He tested the waters before deciding that yeah he wants to stay where he has spent 8 years of his life.

      But sure, be a troll. Have fun with that.

  • Masma

    Just pointing out no matter how the MEDIA plays it not every great Ontario born player wants to go to the leafs. not trolling , I think the leafs are on the right track. but forget the thinking that they will come just because you are the leafs and it was home , they will come when they can win , and that’s by drafting good players and then they might come

  • Top Shelf

    Okay folks, I’m throwing this out there. Stamkos’ first negotiations biggest issue was about term. He wanted a shorter term to hit UFA sooner. He then made it all the way to the negotiating period, despite how many times I was told he’d be re-signed on July 1, 2015. Then he met with the Leafs. He also didn’t hold a meeting with the Red Wings. As of right now, we have no reports of any meetings with any teams other than the Leafs. He also signed the same contract he was offered in January. Every report had a list of serious contenders, and the only teams never left off were the Leafs and Lightning. My guess is he was less than wowed by the presentation, maybe they made the mistake the Lakers did and focused more on money than on the game. Maybe he just didn’t buy their appraisals of their own system and depth, and was bothered that they didn’t plan on going after other big names. Maybe he wanted a guarantee of centre ice or the captaincy, or something. It’s hard to know. But it’s basically impossible to come to a conclusion other than that he had interest in the Leafs, and felt like he could do better as a hockey player in Tampa. I’m upset, and basically giving up on hockey because of this (knowing someone close to Stamkos who told me he was probably coming is the only reason I started watching again a few months into the year after the Kessel deal, so this is leftover Mad), but the Leafs did what they could, and Stamkos did what made sense for him. Can’t fault either. I wish it worked out. I’m way more mad at the Leafs for letting guys like Simmons drive a narrative on Phil and then seeing them succumb to the tank-build. I hate both of those things, but could’ve forgiven it for Stamkos. But neither party in this situation did the wrong thing, other than maybe Steve Yzerman who came damn close to losing his two best forwards defending a coach who, by the way, now apparently Kucherov also hates? He’s a great tactician, but he’s bad at realizing he’s more replaceable than the players.

  • Masma

    Just curious, but does Staal make sense as a consolation prize?
    I know it doesn’t really fit the Shanaplan, but if he were to come on at 6.5-7 AAV for 2-4 yeats to shelter the young guns a bit, are we interested?

  • MiniMaestro

    We may never know, and maybe it’s wishful thinking, but I hope Stamkos moved away from signing in Toronto because they weren’t going to to guarantee the things he wanted, like Captaincy, First Line Centre, etc. I have a feeling Babcock isn’t one to just give things away for the name on your back, you have to earn them, and continue to earn them every day. I know Lou thinks that way as he states it regularly. If that’s the case then I am glad, because I would want to be in an organization that demanded results no matter how talented or how much money you make.
    Looking forward to a new season and hopefully making some progress. Maybe a little slower than we hoped, but forward nonetheless

  • BollockingHell

    Stamkos not signing with the leafs was the last straw. I could only stomach Matthews so long as Stamkos was the captain and Marner the superstar in waiting. But without Stamkos I can’t cheer for the Leafs anymore I need to cheer for a Canadian team and the Leafs aren’t it.

    So then I thought what team could I cheer for instead and I thought I know Edmonton, they have McDavid and Eberle and RNH and Hall. Then I checked tsn and found out Edmonton traded Hall for a crappy defensemen.

    There are no more Canadian teams. To cheer for hockey one must be a traitor to one’s country just like Stamkos!!!!

    • Top Shelf

      Just out of curiosity, why are you so against Matthews? Is it because he’s an American or just tired of hearing how great he’s supposed to be, or other?

  • wallcrawler

    I’m not sure if the Leafs even offered Stamkos any money. Maybe they told him no?
    I’ve never seen where they actually needed him and I’ve said this all along. Why try and speed up the rebuild when the Shanaplan calls for pain? Too many times Leaf GM’s tried taking shortcuts and too many times the fans were burned.
    I’m sure in his heart he’ll always be a Leaf, just in reality it can’t be, at least not at this point in time. If after his current contract expires in 8 years time and he and the leafs feel he can contribute well maybe then, just not now.
    So instead of hoping some mystical warrior to come along and lead us to the Holy Grail of hockey, let’s just sit back deal with the pain of the kids getting their feet wet with a whole season and enjoy the ride.

  • BollockingHell

    I want to cheer for players who love the Leafs as much as I do. Players who are going to stay here and give back to the community and reinvest their fortunes in the local economy. Players who will sacrifice their time and risk their bodies for our country at the Olympics and worlds.

    How can you cheer for a mercenary who is only playing here because they have to or because it’s where they can make the most money for themselves before they jet back to where ever they love best?

    Sundin never gave a crap about this town or country he was here purely for the cash and when he was done he left, refusing to be traded to help the team. And then he was gone only to be seen occasionally at the ACC when he was given some tribute. As if making him richer than he ever could have hoped had he stayed in Sweden wasn’t enough.

    Marner is the kind of kid I can cheer for. So is Subban. It’s a shame he couldn’t be here instead of being forced to play for Nashville especially after giving away 10 million to Montreal children’s hospital.

    • Gary Empey

      Re – “refusing to be traded to help the team”

      Isn’t that a lot like your employer firing you and having the cheek to ask you to stay on for six months to train the new guy to help the company?

  • Gary Empey

    By the time Stamkos was able to talk to the Leafs the long standing vacancy was filled. Simple as that. The Leafs feel they have a real good one, two punch with Matthews and Nylander. I feel the same way.

    The saving on the cap money is all bonus or gravy whichever you prefer.

  • Gary Empey

    Stamkos is a traitor. He she be booed everyone he shows his face in this city. If your a garbage man in Aurora dump it on his lawn. If you’re his plumber run the sewer pipe into his pool. If he loves Tampa so much stay the funk outta the GTA!

  • Newleafs

    Am I the only guy worried about the whole blood clot thing? The guy missed almost the entirety of the playoffs, and granted I’m not a doctor, but nobody seems to know whether Stamkos’ issue could return and might go the way of Dupuis. I’m relieved we don’t have an $8m+ potential ticking bomb around our neck for the next 7 years.

    Will be interesting to see how many players the Lightning will have to sacrifice over the coming years because of this contract.

    • Jeremy Ian

      It really depends on the cause of the clot, where it’s located, and where it migrates through the vascular system. Athletes are prone to them anyway because they are sometimes helpful in healing processes for damaged blood vessels. Managing them is part of the health regime (and why they have to work so hard to stay hydrated, lest blood thicken, especially after games, then you get on a flight and wham…)

      It’s true, TB will have to make some hard choices now. Still, the deal is a good one — what Yzerman wanted all along. Now that is a manager others should follow.

  • Gary Empey

    It seems obvious now. The Leafs offered Stamkos less than 8 million. Plus endorsements on Canadian Tire gear to get it up another 4 million.

    Stammer wasted no time and went straight to Tampa and signed.

    There were only two teams he was interested in playing for. Toronto’s interest was only lukewarm.