While Steven Stamkos and his representatives at Newport Sports Mangement have shied away from speaking about the circumstances that led to the 26-year-old forward’s sudden decision to stay with the Tampa Bay Lightning, a report from The Fourth Period suggests that the Leafs were more than willing to break out the chequebooks to make it happen.
From the article in question:
Toronto’s top management brass, the city’s Mayor, and several other key figureheads in the sports community, including corporate executives, reportedly met with Stamkos during the last week of June in an attempt to lure him to the Maple Leafs.
According to multiple sources with knowledge of those meetings, the Maple Leafs were preparing to offer Stamkos a seven-year, $73.5 million contract, which would have paid him $10.5 million, per season.
As far as the legitimacy of those numbers is concerned, I’m not 100% sold. In conversations with multiple people close to the situation leading up to decision day, the consensus was that Toronto’s “upper limit” was a number below that (though not significantly). At the same time, a passing knowledge of The Fourth Period’s Leafs-related scoops gives the impression (I stress that this is speculation) that at least one of their sources was an ex-Leafs player signed under Newport, so perhaps some benefit of the doubt can be given. Not to mention, it’s hard for me to claim that the things I heard were the correct ones when I ended up being wrong when it came down to the final answer.
Even still, I find it a bit odd that the team would feel the need to make their first official offer go above their supposed limit, especially with gossip that the much-hyped “endorsement portfolio” being presented was more valuable than the rumoured $3.5 million per year.
Speaking of endorsements, Canadian Tire CEO Michael Medline, who was suggested to have been part of the second and final meeting armed with an offer of an increased endorsement role with SportChek, was fired on July 13th. Canadian Tire is a top-tier MLSE sponsor, with cross-promotion deals that goes as deep as a SportChek location in Maple Leaf Square.
Now, would $10.5 million have been worth it? The raw numbers probably lean towards no; I’m not convinced that Steven Stamkos deserves to be the highest-paid player in the NHL both on and off paper. But as I mentioned in my “Let’s keep expectations low for John Tavares” post on Saturday, a player of Stamkos’ age and calibre hitting the market at no asset cost happens exactly once in never.
You don’t want to pay at or above market value for depth players in a game where the goal is to undercut the market, but at a certain skill barrier, making the acquisition is undercutting it enough. Stamkos would have been that, and if the Leafs managed to close a deal at a $10.5 million cap hit, fans would have held their breath for a few moments before accepting the cost as worth the hassle.
It’s interesting to think about what moves the Leafs would have made if this worked out. Toronto currently has $3.55 million in Cap Space, and Nathan Horton’s LTIR placement will give them up to $5.3 million more in October. The team still has to sign Auston Matthews, Martin Marincin, Frank Corrado, Connor Carrick, Peter Holland, and a backup goaltender.
Trading Jonathan Bernier earlier this month freed up $4.1 million, but Toronto followed up on the Stamkos snub by committing $4.75 million to Matt Martin and Roman Polak. If I had to guess, at least one of those signings doesn’t happen in this scenario, and the team is likely a bit more aggressive in moving a forward like Joffrey Lupul, Tyler Bozak, Milan Michalek, or Brooks Laich.
Of course, these are all just hypotheticals now. Stamkos signed his eight-year, $68 million to stay in Tampa Bay, and the Leafs must and will move on without him. But it’s interesting to think of the outcome now that a rough number is out there.