We can only assume that Steven Stamkos’ agents aren’t terribly excited at the moment. His accountants? Well, since there’s no state tax in Florida and Stamkos will earn an average salary of $8.5 million each of the next eight years, well, that should make them fairly happy. We know fans in Toronto are a little down, as they probably are in Detroit, Montreal and Buffalo, too.
But Steven Stamkos is happy and that is the most important part of the equation. And it’s why, despite a year-long soap opera that accounted for a petrified forest worth of newsprint and countless gigabits in cyberspace, he decided to stay with the only NHL team he has ever known. As first reported by Bob McKenzie at TSN and confirmed by thn.com, Stamkos has agreed to an eight-year deal with the Lightning totaling $68 million. The deal involves a full no-movement clause, which means Stamkos isn’t going anywhere unless he approves of the deal.
So what have we learned from all of this? Well, the first thing is that sometimes hockey’s rumor mill is right and other times it’s wrong. It was right about P.K. Subban, wrong about Stamkos, although there was plenty of reason to speculate about Stamkos’ future, some of it generously supplied by the player himself. The second thing we’ve learned is don’t ever, ever get into a stare down with Lightning GM Steve Yzerman because he’ll squash you like the insignificant bug that you are. First he calls Jonathan Drouin’s bluff, now this. The man has a cast-iron constitution.
He also knew what everyone else did, and that is if Stamkos’ true desire was to win a Stanley Cup, there was no team in the mix that could help him do that better than the one with which he has spent his entire career. That’s the conclusion that Jari Byrski, Stamkos’ skills coach and confidante, came to as well fairly early in the process. “At the end of the day, what he really wanted to do right from the beginning, was that he’s the captain, that the job is unfinished and he wants to win the Cup,” Byrski said. “The biggest motivation in his life is to win and he’s a born leader. I remember a conversation we had that, ‘Hey, it’s great to win a Rocket Richard Trophy, but the Stanley Cup would be worth 10 Rocket Richard Trophies.”
And that is why Stamkos took an enormous hometown discount, unless you consider Toronto to be his hometown, to stay in Tampa. And make no mistake, it was significant. The yearly salary of $8.5 million is probably about $2.5 million-$3.5 million less than he could have made on the open market had he gone to the highest bidder. Had Stamkos pushed for an eight-year sign-and-trade deal, which was a possibility at $11 million a season, he would have made a total of $88 million. That means Stamkos might have left as much as $20 million on the table.
Criticize Stamkos if you must for taking so long to make what seemed to be such a clear decision, but it must have been agonizing for him. He had to know what was out there waiting for him and for him to realize that he’s three years younger than Anze Kopitar and making $1.5 million less per season. After all, we’re talking about the youngest, most intriguing, most dynamic potential unrestricted free agent of all-time here.
But Stamkos signed this deal for a reason and for Yzerman, the pressure to keep the Lightning together with Stamkos in the lineup begins in earnest this summer and won’t get any easier after that. With the Stamkos contract, the Lightning have $63.7 million in cap space committed for 2016-17 and still have to sign restricted free agent Nikita Kucherov. But Yzerman faces a Murderer’s Row of UFAs and RFAs next summer in Drouin, Victor Hedman, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Brian Boyle and both goalies, Ben Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy, as well as juggle his roster in anticipation of the expansion draft.
Will Yzerman be able to keep everyone happy and hold his roster together? Well, conventional wisdom suggests it will be impossible. But Yzerman clearly does not listen to conventional wisdom. It would clearly be unwise to assume that Yzerman will not get his way. A couple of months ago, it looked like a fait accompli that both Stamkos and Drouin would be gone after this season and they’re back. And thanks to Yzerman’s persistence and Stamkos’ loyalties, so are the Lightning. It looks as though it will be an extended stay for Tampa among the NHL’s elite.