Will Stamkos stay in Tampa Bay, go home to Toronto, or sign with a newly interested team?
This week, Steven Stamkos will become the most sought-after free agent in the NHL. At 26 years old, Stamkos has played in 569 games and tallied 562 points, including 312 goals. The Tampa Bay Lightning captain has averaged 0.55 goals per regular-season game in his career; the only player with more goals since Stamkos entered the league in 2008-09 is Alex Ovechkin.
Although it may be difficult for Lightning fans to accept, building a championship-caliber team will likely cost them their beloved captain and one of the best players in franchise history. In addition to Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, the Lightning’s leading scorer last season, is also awaiting a new deal. Furthermore, core players like Victor Hedman, Ondrej Palat, and Tyler Johnson all need new contracts after next season. Since Stamkos has yet to sign a deal with the Lightning and will be a free agent on July 1, it’s probably safe to assume that he will be leaving the cap-space-strapped Tampa team. The question, then, that remains is the following: Which team will win the Steven Stamkos sweepstakes?
Other than the Lightning, potential suitors include the Boston Bruins, Vancouver Canucks, Buffalo Sabres, Detroit Red Wings, and Toronto Maple Leafs. Each of these organizations have both pros and cons for Stamkos to consider. Based on the pool of contenders, it seems like the top three realistic options for Stamkos are the Sabres, Red Wings, and Leafs.
As a free agent, Stamkos will surely look for a chance to earn a big deal. However, additional factors other than money will play a large role in his decision. These factors include geography, team rosters, and championship aspirations. Stamkos will need to examine all factors to figure out which team is the best fit for him. Let’s take a look.
The Red Wings and Buffalo Sabres have a lot of cap space to sign Stamkos. Reports have suggested that the Sabres could offer Stamkos a contract worth $10-12 million annually. In addition, the Red Wings made a smart move by trading the rights to star forward Pavel Datsyuk to Arizona, which freed up an additional $7.5 million to use in free agency.
However, it is important to take taxes into account when examining the net income of a professional athlete. For instance, Florida has no state income tax, compared to Toronto, where the provincial and federal tax rate is predicted to rise to 53.53 percent. While Stamkos could make up for some of that money through endorsement deals in Toronto, it is difficult to project just how much those deals would be worth in the long run.
According to some reports, if Stamkos signs with the Lightning before July 1, he could make $8.5 million annually ($1 million more than his current salary). The Lightning are the only team that can offer him an eight-year contract until July 1. Because of the extra year, Stamkos would actually make more money in Tampa Bay than in another location.
After July 1, though, the Lightning lose this advantage because every team - including the Lightning - can only offer Stamkos a seven-year contract. Under a seven-year deal, Stamkos would net $32 million in Tampa Bay, significantly less than in other markets. According to one source, Detroit could offer Stamkos a seven-year deal worth $10 million annually and make a total net income of around $36.1 million. For comparison, Chicago Blackhawks stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane will make a net income of $44.5 million during their eight-year deal, the highest net income of any NHL player.
With the deadline just a few days away and no deal apparently in the works, it looks more likely than not that Steven Stamkos is leaving Tampa Bay. If this is the case, then Detroit is his best option in terms of making the highest net income.
Stamkos is from the Toronto area, and the Leafs could offer him a nice homecoming. If he played for the Leafs, Stamkos would instantly become their biggest star and have the opportunity to lead them to their first Stanley Cup since 1967. Yet, the pressure would also be the greatest in Toronto. As many NHL fans know, former Maple Leafs star Phil Kessel constantly felt the pressure of the media, who first hailed him as the player who would correct all of the organization’s problems before quickly blaming him for all of their subsequent downfalls. That light would be even more magnified on Stamkos, as his would be seen as a hometown hero of sorts.
If Stamkos signed with Detroit or Buffalo, he would still be close to home, without the same amount of pressure and expectations constantly looming over him. For a player like Stamkos, though, he would probably enjoy the hometown spotlight — at least for a while.
3. Team Roster
In Buffalo, Stamkos would likely play center and join Jack Eichel, the No. 2 pick in last year’s draft, on a struggling team. In Toronto, Stamkos would play alongside Auston Matthews, the first pick of this year’s draft. While both of these teams have other good players, Detroit offers the best overall supporting cast for a star like Stamkos, and they have an immediate need for a No. 1 centerman. Stamkos has the ability to elevate the play of forwards like Tomas Tartar, Gustav Nyquist, and Justin Abdelkader.
Stamkos is one of the best players in the NHL, and he could play alongside another great player — Henrik Zetterberg — in Detroit. Together, they could potentially form one of the top lines in the NHL.
4. Championship Aspirations
Out of all of the teams previously listed, the Lightning undoubtedly give Stamkos the greatest chance of winning a Stanley Cup. They went to the Stanley Cup Final last year and reached Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final this past season. However, we are assuming that the Lightning are no longer in the running for Stamkos.
Therefore, he will have to look at the state of each of the other organizations. Buffalo and Toronto are in the midst of rebuilding processes. And while the Sabres are progressing, the Leafs still remain in the early stages of their rebuilding process.
The Maple Leafs ranked in the bottom five in goals for (2.34) and goals against (2.93), and power play percentage (15.4%) last season. They finished the year in last place with just 69 points. The Leafs have only qualified for the playoffs once in the past 11 seasons. Plus, signing Stamkos to a big deal could make it even more difficult to continue their plans of building a successful franchise if they spend a good amount of their cap space on one player — no matter how good he is.
Detroit, on the other hand, is sort of in between rebuilding and becoming a Stanley Cup contender. There are certainly issues that they need to address in order to improve their roster — including acquiring a No. 1 center, improving their physicality, and finding good playoff performers — and become a legitimate championship team. Yet, they aren’t in need of a drastic overhaul like Toronto.
Detroit captain Henrik Zetterberg captured the Stanley Cup with the Red Wings in 2008 and was the team’s leading scorer last season. Stamkos could learn a lot from Zetterberg and become an even better player because of him. Stamkos would greatly benefit from signing with a team that has a long history of postseason success, something that he would not get in Toronto or Buffalo.
Stamkos is going to sign a long-term deal, meaning that it’s a decision he can’t take lightly. Because of hi talent level and winning pedigree, I doubt that he will take a chance on a struggling team that is far removed from serious championship contention, even if it means going back home to Toronto. Detroit is not his hometown, but it is called “Hockeytown” for a reason. If Stamkos signs with Detroit, he will not only get a big contract and play in a great hockey city, but also have the best chance of winning a Stanley Cup.
Money and geography are important elements to consider. For a professional athlete, however, the caliber of a team — their chance of winning a championship — is usually one of their biggest motivating factors. Sure, it would be nice to watch Stamkos go home to Toronto and turn their franchise around (LeBron James would certainly approve of it), but he also needs to consider the fact that winning a Stanley Cup is a difficult task. and he gets to choose the team that gives him the best chance of making his dream into a reality. Unfortunately, it seems like Tampa Bay will no longer be that team. So, we will all have to wait and see if Steven Stamkos chooses his hometown or Hockeytown in the next few days.
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