Maple Leafs Without Stamkos Still Have Bright Future

After an absolutely wild day in the NHL, many teams can finally sit back and take in exactly what happened. The Edmonton Oilers and New Jersey Devils swapped a couple of players. Taylor Hall, the scoring forward, is now a Devil. Adam Larsson will move to Edmonton and be tasked with helping to turn around the Oilers blue-line.

Another deal saw the Montreal Canadiens make a blockbuster of a trade. PK Subban is now a Nashville Predator, with Shea Weber heading up to Canada in his place. There are fans on all sides of these deals who love and hate the moves that were made.

To top off the moves of the day, there was one other. That involved Steven Stamkos, the Tampa Bay Lightning captain and pending unrestricted free agent. Many teams had their eyes set on the scoring forward, including Detroit, Toronto and Buffalo. But Steve Yzerman never gave up on his star and was able to re-sign him for eight years and $8.5 million dollars.

He took a bit of a discount to stay with the very good Lightning team. He could have hit the open market and easily chased the money, but made the conscious decision to remain with the team he was drafted by.

Many fans, especially of the Maple Leafs, were heartbroken that Stamkos wasn’t going to come home and play for the Buds. Despite Stamkos not signing, the future is still extremely bright for the Maple Leafs. Let me explain.

Chances Were Slim to Begin With

There was never any indication that Stamkos would do anything besides re-sign with Tampa Bay. He loved the city and the people who inhabited it. He wasn’t the centre of attention and wasn’t mobbed whenever he went outside, like he would be if he played in Toronto.

The Lightning are a very good team. They possess multiple players who are all extremely talented including Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov. Don’t forget Jonathan Drouin, who many believed wouldn’t be a member of this team a few short months ago.

Stamkos nicely compliments this team, and he’s their leader. You could throw as much money as you wanted at him, but his mind was made up. Fans in Toronto shouldn’t be upset. Tampa was always the first choice. There’s history there that the Leafs simply didn’t have.

And if Stamkos wants to win, which he almost assuredly wants to, Tampa is much further ahead of where Toronto is. Stamkos made his call, and he did it in a timely manner. This decision could have dragged on for months, but he put it to bed before July 1st even hit. That gives teams time to focus on their next moves in free agency.

Maple Leafs Will Continue to Build Their Own Core

Having Stamkos join the Maple Leafs would have been extremely exciting. Now that the speculation and rumours can finally be laid to rest, it’s time for the Leafs to focus on free agency and their young prospects.

The Buds are building a core that should be one of the best in the coming years. Leading the charge is the slick blueliner Morgan Rielly. He took some tremendous steps this year under Mike Babcock and should continue to be counted on as a leader for this young team.

William Nylander got his first taste of NHL action and was extremely impressive. He has areas to work on to be sure, but the dynamic Swede definitely turned some heads with his shot and hockey IQ. Mitch Marner won just about every award there is to win in the OHL this year. He topped off a great season by hoisting the Memorial Cup with his London Knights teammates.

And then there’s Auston Matthews, the big pivot the team has been longing for since Mats Sundin left. His selection by the Maple Leafs at the recent draft marked the culmination of blood, sweat and tears. Leaf fans have endured so much pain and mediocrity in the recent past, that is was finally time something good came along. Brendan Shanahan started the whole thing off, and now the Buds are on the right track to properly rebuilding their franchise.

Having Stamkos back home would have been nice. Even though the Maple Leafs didn’t get him, it’s not the end of the world. The team will continue to add young talent and with the right additions by the front office and coaching staff, this team will be on the rise sooner rather than later.