As of today, it’s looking more like Steven Stamkos is going to remain a member of the Tampa Bay Lighting for a long, long time. The only question now is whether or not he’ll sign the richest eight-year contract in NHL history this summer and become the league’s highest-paid player.
Stamkos, who has in the past been a little coy about his future with the Lightning, was a definitive as he’s ever been about his contract status. In fact, he set off something of a social media firestorm this summer when he retweeted a tweet from Adam Proteau suggesting Stamkos follow the lead of LeBron James and sign with his hometown team, the Toronto Maple Leafs. Stamkos’s deal with the Lightning expires after next season, but he and the Lightning can announce a contract extension as early as July 1. And that’s clearly what Stamkos wants to do at this point.
“I think that’s exactly what the plan is,” Stamkos said at all-star media day when asked about signing a long-term extension with the Lightning. “Obviously July 1 you can announce a dal and something hopefully similar to what (Patrick) Kane and (Jonathan) Toews did, sometime after July 1. It’s a long ways away…but I’m obviously very happy with where I am in Tampa.”
When Stamkos talked about Kane and Toews, he was referring to the fact they agreed to long-term deals so quickly. Their deals, matching eight-year contracts each worth $84 million that kick in after this season, were announced July 9; eight days after the Blackhawks were able to sign them. Stamkos likely wasn’t talking about the amount because the reality is that he could get much more than they did.
Had Kane and Toews gone on the open market separately and not been willing to take a hometown discount, they could have signed for much more money. Instead, they decided they wanted to stay in Chicago together and with the Hawks so tight against the salary cap, were willing to accept far less money in order to have the chance to win more Stanley Cups.
Stamkos, however, isn’t in the same situation. The Lightning has about $45.8 million in contract commitments to 12 players for the 2016-17 season, which would be the first of his extension. Assuming the salary cap is going to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $73 million – but that could change with a sinking Canadian dollar – that would leave the Lightning plenty of room to give Stamkos the highest cap hit in the league.
That Stamkos would demand a yearly average salary of double digits in the millions is a given. But how high could he go? Both Kane and Toews are averaging $10.5 million for the eight years after this season and it would not be a stretch to suggest that Stamkos could get the same term for more than $12 million a year. Eight years at $12.5 million a year? That would give Stamkos a $100 million contract and put him at the top of all yearly earners in the NHL. Should he sign a contract of $100 million, he'd become only the fourth player in NHL history - after Alex Ovechkin, Shea Weber, Sidney Crosby and Ilya Kovalchuk - to break that barrier.
Based on a salary cap of $73 million, Stamkos could command as much as $14.6 million per season, which would be 20 percent of the cap. It's unlikely he'd go that high because that might not leave enough room to sign other players, but a $12 million yearly salary isn't out of the question.
And since most of the other superstars in the league – Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Ovechkin, Kane and Toews and Weber – are all under long-term deals, his reign at the top could be a lengthy one. The only player who might challenge that status is Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings, whose contract expires at the same time. Stamkos is currently on a deal that carries a cap hit of $7.5 million, while Kopitar is on a deal that averages out to $6.8 million. Even though an authority no less than Wayne Gretzky has stated that Kopitar is the third-best player in the league after Crosby and Toews, would he be worth more money than Stamkos?
There’s nothing keeping the Lightning and Stamkos’s agent Don Meehan from getting the framework of a deal done now. After all, it can be announced July 1 but the two sides are free to start negotiating any time. That has not happened yet, according to Meehan. He said he hasn’t even spoken to his client about his future plans yet and likely won’t until the Lightning’s season is over.
The money will be nice, but Stamkos said he wants to be a part of something special in Tampa.
“You see the team we’ve been able to develop the past couple of years, the ownership we have, obviously (GM) Steve Yzerman, the coaching staff, the young nucleus of the team,” Stamkos said. “I feel like the old fart at 24, all these guys coming in here, but they’ve played extremely well and I want to be part of it, to say I was there from the beginning to see the end result.”
Doesn’t sound like a guy who wants to be anywhere other than where he is right now, does it?