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A second chance for Steven Stamkos and the Maple Leafs

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Photo credit:Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
20 days ago
You might have two questions right off the start based on the title.
The first one is probably, “When did Steven Stamkos become a defenceman?”
That’s a fair question. Fixing the Maple Leafs defence is absolutely the priority for the summer and Steven Stamkos most certainly doesn’t play defence nor does he play defensively. While Stamkos doesn’t address the Maple Leafs primary need, it should be noted that the Leafs frequently struggled down the middle last season as well and Stamkos presents the Leafs with one of two opportunities that could benefit them. Potentially the Leafs could go three deep down the middle with Matthews, Stamkos, and Tavares, or the Maple Leafs could move John Tavares to wing. Heck, they could even explore both opportunities while determining what exactly the Leafs have with Pontus Holmberg and Fraser Minten.
The idea of the Leafs not having a Max Domi calibre centre in their top nine is something that benefits the Leafs’ defence even if Steven Stamkos is not a defenceman. So hopefully that clears that up.
The second question is likely, “Didn’t they try this once before? I remember getting my hopes up and then suffering through the pain of Stamkos committing to the Lightning and winning multiple Stanley Cups with them?”
Yes, the Leafs have been hurt before. Steven Stamkos would have been a great addition all those years ago and it seems very likely, as it does with most players, that he will want to stay put. Where things are different this time is that the Lightning are very much heading in a different direction. They aren’t a team climbing up in the standings, they are the team that is likely to be leapfrogged by the Sabres or Red Wings in the coming years as they attempt to get their acts together. The Lightning, after trading for Ryan McDonaugh, only have $5,3M of cap space left which appears to price them out on Stamkos, especially when they have two lineup spots that need to be filled and potentially they will want some reserve players as well.
Markham being home, Tavares being a friend, and the Maple Leafs being perennial contenders all make a case for why Toronto is in the mix, at least from an online speculator’s perspective.
That brings us to the biggest question: What would the Maple Leafs potentially be getting in Steven Stamkos despite a leader with cup winning experience?
Stamkos might be 34 but he is still producing at a high level. He was a 40-goal scorer last season and past the 80-point mark for the third consecutive season. He’s still playing over 18 minutes a night, so he’s in more of a second-line centre role but has defensive drawbacks. Stamkos has increasingly been utilized as a winger, he may not be the depth down the middle solution but instead, he might give the Leafs a centre-by-committee second line.
Stamkos may be a better 2nd unit powerplay and centre option to Max Domi, but the cost of upgrading might not be palatable unless other moves are taking place.
I’m not sure I need to tell anyone reading a hockey site about Steven Stamkos, it is just a matter of whether or not he fits with the other things the Leafs need to accomplish this offseason. And perhaps it’s a matter of the Leafs making a money out deal that puts Stamkos on the radar or just other things would need to unfold first making it clear that Brad Treliving might not be able to do everything he wants to do on the blueline or in goal.
The predicted cost of Stamkos is encouraging when you look at AFP Analytics $6.15M x 3 deal but begins looking like a hard no when considering Evolving Hockey’s predicted AAV north of $8M. Recognizing that truth often falls somewhere in between, and the Leafs would be trying to play the “finish your career at home” card, the walking away number would be pretty low.
Signing Stamkos wouldn’t provide the Maple Leafs with leverage in a Marner contract, but it would with John Tavares, as the aging star centre contract comparators are somewhat limited. Whatever the Leafs would get Stamkos at they would have a reason to offer Tavares less and even if Stamkos signs elsewhere, Steven’s contract with be the first one brought up when talking about what John should get.
Leverage might not be there when it comes to Marner but having Stamkos under contract would represent a safety net for the Leafs as having another capable offensive option reduces the pressure of giving into a contract that will almost certainly cost the Leafs more than William Nylander.
Stamkos is unquestionably one of the more interesting July 1st options, one that somewhat meets a Leafs need but maybe not their priorities. While it has become standard practice for Ontario players to join the Maple Leafs late in their career, most if not all of the predecessors were still looking for their first Stanley Cup. Steven Stamkos would bring some of that cup winning experience to the Leafs locker room and while some might roll their eyes at whether or not that intangible quality is something the Leafs need, going with a winner who played a starring role in that success would be trying something new.
As for the likelihood of Stamkos becoming a Leaf, this feels a bit like Lucy holding the football for Charlie Brown. The Leafs will probably put in some solid work to be a good Plan B for Stamkos, but the Lightning will find a way of keeping him in Tampa.
As for the Leafs if they want to explore other centre options, players like Adam Henrique, Chandler Stephenson, and Sean Monahan will all be worth a look if all of Toronto’s cap space isn’t earmarked for defencemen.

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