The Toronto Maple Leafs don’t play another game until next Tuesday. That game just so happens to be against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Do you know what that means? A whole lot of Steven Stamkos to Toronto talk in the meantime. The only thing that can stop it is if Tampa Bay signs him to an extension, which seems unlikely at the moment.
There’s been a lot of talk that bringing in a player such as Stamkos would ruin the Leafs’ rebuild. Yes, it would accelerate the Leafs rebuild. However, it might be the best road for the Leafs to take.
When most people think of rebuilding nowadays, they think of the Edmonton Oilers. They have finished at or near the bottom of the NHL standings for the past six years. Look at how that has turned out. Other than the fact that Connor McDavid might drag them out of the basement himself, they haven’t improved all that much.
The Right Way To Rebuild
What the Leafs should look to imitate is the way Pittsburgh and Chicago did it. They finished in the bottom of the League for sure, but nowhere near as long as the Oilers did. Pittsburgh got Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal and were done. Chicago got Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane and were done. They didn’t inhabit the bottom-10 for what seems like forever, at least as part of a plan.
Toronto has selected in the top-10 of the draft three times out of the last four drafts. With those picks, they have come out with Morgan Rielly, William Nylander and Mitch Marner. Rielly is already with the Leafs and is already arguably their best player. Nylander and Marner could both be with the Leafs next season and are currently tearing up the AHL (Nylander) and the OHL (Marner). The Leafs will more than likely end up with another top-10 pick in the 2016 NHL draft, so that’s just another blue-chip prospect to add.
It’s Really A No-Brainer
So, back to Stamkos. Why should the Leafs bring him in? The argument against it is that he will be too old when the Leafs come out of the rebuild. If that was true, the Leafs should just trade James van Riemsdyk right now because is only nine months older than Stamkos. So that argument is as unfounded as it can be.
Bringing in Stamkos would finally give the Leafs a bonafide No. 1 center. No one would be talking about whether Tyler Bozak or Nazem Kadri are because they wouldn’t have to be. Stamkos would obviously bring in some additional offense himself, which the Leafs would need, but his arrival would also free up Kadri. If he remains with the Leafs, he would be probably be freed up by other teams playing their best defensive lines and defense pairings against Stamkos’ line.
So all this talk of that it would ruin the rebuild is just ridiculous. Do you think Mike Babcock and Lou Lamoriello want to reside in the Leafs basement for five years or longer? With their penchant for winning, it’s fairly certain that the answer is no. So if the opportunity to bring in Stamkos is there, the Leafs should jump at it.
Now, the Leafs shouldn’t make a trade for Stamkos. If they did, you can bet that Nylander and Marner would be in the conversation. No, the Leafs should be patient and just hope that he reaches July 1 without re-signing in Tampa. If he doesn’t, the Leafs haven’t lost anything. If he does and the Leafs are able to sign him, they could gain everything.
If the Leafs were able to bring in Stamkos, he would join the new core of the Maple Leafs that will be coming about in the next few years. Just imagine a team with a core of Stamkos, Rielly, Nylander and Marner. You can probably add the Leafs top pick in 2016 to that group as well. Then all the Leafs have to do is build around that group correctly and the playoffs won’t be an issue.
For those that think that the Leafs wouldn’t be able to fit him in under the salary cap, don’t worry. You can bet that players such as Tyler Bozak, Joffrey Lupul even Dion Phaneuf could be traded at the trade deadline or in the off-season. Trading those three players alone frees up over $16 million in cap space for next season. That’s enough to bring in Stamkos and still have money left over. Add that to all the other contracts have coming off the books and the Leafs can dramatically remake their team this off-season. On top of all that, remember the Leafs will still have Nathan Horton’s contract to stash on LTIR, so they can go over the cap if need be.
With all that said, there isn’t really a reason the Leafs shouldn’t try to acquire Stamkos in the off-season.