Steven Stamkos: He’s Back!

This is the story of one Steven Stamkos. For a brief shining moment this week, fans in various NHL cities were allowing themselves to think what their team would look like with this particular free agent. Stamkos’ agent and advisors were able to speak with all 30 NHL teams this week to gauge any mutual interest.

Toronto was the suitor with the most tenure. Clearly some Leafs fans have been dreaming of Stamkos playing at the Air Canada Centre. The tale writes itself as Stamkos grew up in the Toronto vicinity and what kid that grows up as a Leafs fan wouldn’t want to play in Toronto given the chance?

Stamkos had his chance. Team Stamkos could entertain the thought of playing anywhere that a team with sufficient cap space would make a legitimate offer. Recent rumors had the Buffalo Sabres making a strong push. Detroit and Vancouver were others prominently mentioned in the Stamkos sweepstakes.

Is the Grass Greener?

For many professional athletes, the opportunity for absolute free agency may come but once in a career, if at all. Stamkos was right there. He was young enough at 26 years old to still have the prime of a spectacular career ahead of him. As a veteran of eight NHL seasons, he was experienced enough to understand the importance of this once in a lifetime opportunity.

Perhaps, that’s why it took so damn long to make this decision. Two days away from complete free agency, Stamkos re-signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning in an eight-year $68 million dollar deal. No matter what anyone thinks of Stamkos and this deal, credit must be given to the Lightning captain for foregoing more money to stay with this Cup contending Lightning team.

If Stamkos were merely interested in money or the material possessions it brings, he would not have signed with the Lightning. Why not take top dollar to go to Buffalo or Toronto or Detroit or any points on the NHL map? But his maturity was evident in making this decision to finish what he has started.

One residual effect may be evident soon when Lightning GM, Steve Yzerman tries to keep as much of his group together for as long as he can. If Stamkos stayed for less money than he would have fetched on the open market, would any other Lightning players follow suit?

Yzerman must be given credit for exhibiting an incredible amount of patience throughout this saga. He could have easily handled this differently especially in light of the fact that this reported offer has been around for several months. He didn’t panic, he didn’t push his star player to make the call. He gave Stamkos ample room to make the decision in the time that the player needed.

Time will tell as Yzerman tries to sign restricted free agents Nikita Kucherov, Alex Killorn and Vlad Namestnikov in the coming days. The upside of the Stamkos signing may even be felt next year when Victor Hedman, Tyler Johnson, and Ondrej Palat come up for renegotiations of their current deals.

Paying Dividends

It is a huge statement from the captain of your team to make this kind of decision. It would have been easy for the Tampa fans to criticize Stamkos if he had chosen to leave. They would have said he was more interested in his paycheck than winning the Cup. This new deal blows that notion out of the water.

In addition to the benefit of future player negotiations, Stamkos’s decision also has tremendous upside on the ice as well. First and foremost, since entering the league in 2008, only Alex Ovechkin has scored more goals than Stamkos, so the Lightning has a world-class sniper back in the fold.

It was no secret that the emergence of the Triplets Line of Kucherov, Johnson and Palat was helped in large part to the fact that Stamkos is on the top line and usually draws the opponent’s top defensive tandem. Not taking anything away from the Triplets as they possess exceptional hockey skills already but not having to face the other team’s top defensive pair is an advantage that only comes with Stamkos.

In the upcoming season, Jonathan Drouin is the one player that will probably benefit the most by playing alongside Stamkos. Drouin made colossal amends for last season’s transgressions throughout the playoffs. He turned things around so much that he publicly rescinded his trade request.

Lightning fans have been rejoicing at the news. Stammer is back in the fold. The team that has been to two consecutive Eastern Conference Finals will remain largely intact. Stamkos saw to that today.

Give the guy credit. I have written it many times over the last year that I thought Stamkos would stay in Tampa. I have seen every NHL game he has played. I’ve witnessed the growth of the young man from simply a scorer to being an integral part of the penalty kill unit last season.

Stamkos stayed because he wants to win a Cup. That was perhaps the most important factor in rendering his decision. Which team gives him the best chance to do this? For Stamkos and his family, it was a no-brainer. It was Tampa all along.

He said it throughout the season. He said he wanted to stay. Yzerman said he wanted him to stay. The fact that they made it work made it a great day in Tampa Bay. Welcome back, Stammer. Now, go lead the boys to the Cup.