Should the Oilers be in on Steven Stamkos?

I was going to write the word “no” and then end the article right there, but some people actually think it’s a good idea for the Oilers to go after Steven Stamkos, so I feel the need to address it. This article by TSN’s Bob McKenzie, a very well respected voice in the hockey world, suggested that Stamkos will not re-sign with the Tampa Bay Lightning. I tend to agree with him. There is a disconnect somewhere between Steve Yzerman and his star player.

It’s possible that the Lightning have made Stamkos an offer and he rejected it on the basis that either, it’s not enough, or, he doesn’t want to stay in Tampa. There has been chatter that he doesn’t get along with Jon Cooper, because he wants to play center, but Cooper is playing him on the wing. I actually believe that his preference is to stay in Tampa Bay long-term and try to win the Stanley Cup. But, that’s simply speculation on my part.

From the perspective of Steve Yzerman and the Lightning, they know what they have in Stamkos. They made it to the Stanley Cup final last season, and while their captain helped fuel the run, he wasn’t the reason they had success. Tampa has a deep defence, a great goalie, and lots of skill at forward. Is it possible that the team believes they could live without Stamkos? I know they can live without that cap hit. Of course you want a guy like with that talent on your roster, but he’s going to command a lot of money, and the elephant in the room is his alarming decline in production. Before he broke his leg in 2013, Stamkos was a 60 goal scorer. Can he reach that number again?

Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) during the NHL game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Carolina Hurricanes at the PNC Arena.
Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91)

While I do believe it took him a while to fully recover from the injury, I don’t think that’s the reason he isn’t producing. He very well could be distracted by the contract troubles, and if he truly isn’t comfortable on the wing, that doesn’t help. Plus, his ice-time isn’t as high as it could be. Stamkos wants to be the go-to guy, but Jon Cooper isn’t deploying him as that, for whatever reason. I know Stamkos has the talent to score 50, but there’s a really good chance the Lightning don’t believe he is worth giving a max contract to. He is an elite goal-scorer, but is he an elite overall player?

Thanks to injuries and other issues, the Lightning aren’t faring as well this season as they would have hoped. And if they aren’t in a playoff position come the trade deadline, I absolutely believe they will ask Stamkos to waive his no-trade clause. The tricky thing for Tampa is if they are in contention, moving a star player will hamper their Cup aspirations. But it’s tough to watch a guy like that walk for nothing at the end of the year. I don’t envy Steve Yzerman one bit.

Now as for the Oilers, well their name came up in possible destinations for Stamkos, and I laughed when I first heard it. When healthy, the Oilers have Connor McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Leon Draisaitl down the middle. That’s a formidable group. Stamkos won’t sign with a team unless he knows he will be playing center. Therefore, the Oilers would have to move one of those guys. You could potentially put Draisaitl on the wing, but he’s much more effective at center, so that’s not a good plan.

The idea is, move one of the centerman you have for a top-4 defenceman and then sign Stamkos. It’s a nice idea, because the Oilers need quality defenders, and a trade may be the only way, so I understand this logic. But if you’re going to move one of your top players, you better be 100% sure Stamkos is going to sign in Edmonton. Would he even be interested in coming to the Oilers? Who knows. In terms of who they would move, well they aren’t trading McDavid. Draisaitl is one heck of a player and is dynamite with Taylor Hall so they have to keep him. That leaves the usual trade rumor suspect, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

Edmonton Oilers center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (93) during the NHL game between the Edmonton Oilers and the Carolina Hurricanes at the PNC Arena.
Edmonton Oilers center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (93) 

I like RNH. I’ve made the case many times that the Oilers would be best to hang onto him. He’s had his struggles, but he’s also just 22 years old, and tasked with being the number one guy on a bad team. He had no veteran leadership to help him along. He’s got 8 goals and 23 points so far. Stamkos, who is going on 26 years-old, has 11 goals and 22 points. Nuge has the one point edge.

Steven Stamkos will ask for max dollar if he hits free agency, and some team will be willing to pay that number. Is he worth that? Well, at age 28, Sidney Crosby is not worth his current salary, and the Penguins are saddled with that contract until 2025. That is scary to think about. Will Stamkos’ production take that much of a nose-dive? Who knows. He is much better than 11 goals, but Crosby is much better than the six goals he’s got on the season.

Every contract is a risk. I just don’t see how signing Stamkos for big money makes sense for the Oilers when they have a plethora of young forwards already. Yes, they’re going to have more cap space after this season. But, I’d rather invest that in other places. Yes, Stamkos is a proven NHL talent. But the current situation with Tampa gives me pause. Do they know something we don’t know? If he’s really an elite talent, how can they even consider not keeping him? Why doesn’t he look like the Stamkos of old? The Oilers already have stars on their roster. Build around them.