Perhaps Steven Stamkos has a propensity for “pocket Tweeting,” or maybe he’s just trying to nudge his contract negotiations with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Or perhaps he’s just having us all on and sitting back laughing at the fact that every move he makes causes the hockey world to lose its collective mind.
But the fact is, something seems not quite right between Stamkos and his employer at the moment. And that’s why when Stamkos, apparently inadvertently hits “like” to a tweet from TSN that highlights a video of a panel talking about whether the Toronto Maple Leafs should take a run at acquiring him, it sets the hockey world abuzz. People trying to find some grain of truth in a Twitter “like” are going to come to certain conclusions.
For your trusty correspondent’s part, this is getting out of hand. It’s not a circus yet, but it will become one soon if this matter isn’t addressed. Either the Lightning and Stamkos should decide he’s part of the future and make it happen, or decide they’re going to part ways and make a clean break as soon as possible. The time for continuing to tiptoe around this issue should be over.
For his part, Stamkos said the “like” was an accident and it has since been removed from his account. And he also acknowledged the optics of it all when he told reporters after the morning skate Thursday, “It doesn’t look great.” And chances are, we won’t be seeing too much out of Stamkos on social media for the next little while. But these “accidents” have been happening a little too frequently of late, wouldn’t you say? It all started in the summer of 2014 when Stamkos “liked” a tweet from The Hockey News speculating on the possibility of him coming to his hometown the way LeBron James did when he returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers. He later liked another tweet from a fan asking him and John Tavares to join the Leafs. Apparently, both of those were liked accidentally as well, meaning Stamkos is either really accident prone when it comes to social media or someone is trying to cover his tracks.
Throw into the blender the fact that Stamkos has been moved to right wing, a shift with which he is not terribly thrilled, the fact that by all accounts he isn’t even close to reaching a contract extension with the Lighting and the fact that the Lightning re-upped coach Jon Cooper for three years before addressing Stamkos’ contract and you have the makings of a concoction that at least provides a strong basis for speculation that Stamkos will not be a member of the Lightning much longer.
As for moving Stamkos to the wing, there is absolutely no doubt that Cooper is doing that because he thinks it gives Stamkos the best chance for success and the Lightning the best opportunity to win games. Coaches are in the business of winning games and there is no coach in the league who makes any decision without that basic tenet paramount in his mind. Cooper is not trying to screw Stamkos here. Of that there is no doubt. But when Stamkos reacts with the words and body language he has to the move, it’s not surprising that some people might have that impression.
When it comes to the lack of traction on a contract, that’s where things get a little murkier. Stamkos and Lightning GM Steve Yzerman both stated early on in the process that reaching a long-term deal was the top priority for both of them. And despite the fact that the Lightning could have signed an extension with Stamkos as early as July 1, 162 days have gone by not only with no deal, but with no deal in sight.
It’s possible Yzerman and Stamkos’ agent, Don Meehan, have been working on a deal and keeping things very well under wraps. Yzerman can be notoriously quiet about these things, but usually even when things are this secretive, somehow something spills out about how negotiations are going through the grapevine. In this case, though, nothing.
None of this means anything definitive. It doesn’t mean Stamkos is necessarily leaving Tampa. And even if it does mean that, it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s going to Toronto. Anyone who thinks Stamkos will limit his options to one team if he becomes an unrestricted free agent in the summer is delusional. But the problem here is that it’s difficult to figure out what any of it means. It’s just as tough to get to the crux of what either he or Yzerman is thinking at the moment. We do know that Yzerman traded Martin St-Louis at the deadline when the two of them crossed swords and St-Louis still had a year to go on his deal. Would he do the same with Stamkos if there’s no sign of a deal by the deadline?
So far, Stamkos and the Lightning have done a pretty good job of not making this a distraction, but they will be in Toronto next week. And in case you haven’t noticed, Stamkos is not exactly putting up career numbers and the Lightning are currently outside the playoff picture looking in. Something is not quite right in Tampa this season on a number of fronts and they’re not going to get better until this gets put to bed one way or another.