Two days prior to the highly-anticipated free agent frenzy, a.k.a. the “Stamkos Sweepstakes”, star forward Steven Stamkos has put all the rumors to rest by deciding to re-sign with Tampa Bay.
Stamkos agreed to the original offer made by Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman of eight years with an average annual value of $8.5 million.
Accepting this $68 million deal proves that Stamkos is eager to win, and eager to do so in Tampa Bay. The move says a lot about Stamkos as a player and as a leader.
Many expected the Lightning captain to test free agency to seek a more lucrative deal. For example, it was rumored that teams like Detroit and Toronto were prepared to offer a full seven-year deal (the maximum term allowed for a team to sign a free agent under the collective bargaining agreement) at $10.5 million or higher. Stamkos could have become the highest-paid player in the league since Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks each have an average annual value of $10.5 million. It’s important to keep in mind that Florida does not have any state income taxes, so Stamkos will earn the full $8.5 million from Tampa, which would be about as much as he’d earn on a $10-10.5 million deal in another state or in Canada.
That being said, it still says something about the player and about the team.
It’s no secret that Stamkos is one of the elite talents in the National Hockey League. He could have demanded an astronomical contract. After all, it’s not often that such a huge superstar comes so close to free agency. So while many teams and many fanbases are disappointed by today’s news, it’s nice to see a player of Stamkos’ caliber take a reasonable contract to stay with the team that drafted him and try to bring the Cup back to Tampa Bay.
Yzerman also deserves a lot of credit. Stamkos’ pending free agency has been a source of controversy and distraction all season, though both sides did their best to not allow it to affect the team. However, Yzerman has felt pressure to move Stamkos at various times for more than a year (not to mention pressure to move Jonathan Drouin after the young forward refused to play for Tampa’s AHL affiliate and requested a trade). His patience has paid off in spades, and now his team will be that much stronger with both players in the lineup.
Plus, the fact that Yzerman signed Stamkos to a long-term deal where his cap hit will only see a $1 million raise is truly remarkable. The full no-movement clause in the deal is not only understandable but also seems appropriate given the hometown discount Stamkos has taken.
Stamkos, originally selected first overall in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, scored 36 goals and 64 points in 77 regular-season games this season. He has 312 goals since he entered the league in the 2008-2009 season. Only Alex Ovechkin has scored more goals (362) in that time. Stamkos has scored 40 goals four times and 50 goals once, though he was on pace to reach just shy of 50 in the lockout-shortened season. He also reached the impressive 60-goal mark in the 2011-2012 campaign.
Stamkos has 312 goals and 562 points in 569 career regular-season games with the Lightning, as well as 15 goals and 35 points in 49 career playoff games, all with Tampa Bay.
Tampa Bay has reached the Eastern Conference Finals two years in a row, losing in the Stanley Cup two seasons ago and losing in Game 7 of the third round this past season. Stamkos was hurt for most of the playoffs this year but did return for Game 7.
The Lightning have a tremendous amount of talent up front with some solid defensemen and strong goaltenders. There are still question marks facing this team, such as how Yzerman will be able to manage the cap when players like Tyler Johnson, Victor Hedman and Ondrej Palat become restricted free agents next summer. It’s also unknown whether Tampa Bay will trade goaltender Ben Bishop later this season since he’ll be due a big pay raise next summer and will be exposed in the expansion draft. But regardless of those question marks, Yzerman and the Lightning management made a crucial move today for the future of the franchise and have ensured that this team will be a dangerous Cup contender for many years.
Featured Image Credit: Chris O’Meara-The Associated Press