A lot of the buzz on Twitter and internet message boards over the couple days has been the situation surrounding Steven Stamkos. The Lightning superstar is set to become a restricted free agent on Friday and contract talks are, reportedly, not going well. But does that mean Stamkos won’t stay in Tampa Bay? No.
If Stamkos and the Bolts don’t have a deal done by the time Friday afternoon rolls around, teams will be able to sign the 21-year-old to an offer sheet (teams are already allowed to gauge interest from the Stamkos camp). No matter what how big the contract is, the Bolts need to (and will) match it.
Any deal around $8 million will surely be matched in a heartbeat by GM Steve Yzerman. Other general managers would have to go higher if they want to be considered a threat at all to Tampa. Even then, Yzerman would be crazy not to match any offer.
If a team signs Stamkos to an offer sheet worth upwards of $7,835,219 per year, the compensation is four first-round picks. That may sound all nice and dandy, but it doesn’t make up for the importance of Stamkos to the Lightning organization. Also, any team that would acquire Stamkos would probably be a playoff team, lessening the value of the four first-rounders.
One common theory is that the Lightning can take the four first-round picks for Stamkos, and then subsequently sign Brad Richards for less money than what Stamkos would have made. Stop it.
Stamkos is the face of the franchise in Tampa Bay. Go anywhere in the area and you see his face on the billboards. His jerseys litter St. Pete Times Forum. We’re talking about a player who is barely old enough to legally drink in the U.S., has scored 96 goals in the last two seasons and isn’t even close to his prime. No disrespect to mainstays like Vinny Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis, but Stamkos is the centerpiece of that franchise. Yzerman simply cannot let him get away.
This isn’t to say that teams won’t try to sign Stamkos to an offer sheet. In fact, 29 general managers would be crazy not to at least entertain the idea. Some GM’s may contemplate putting together an offer sheet that would limit Yzerman’s capabilities of signing other free agents. But if any team realistically thinks Stamkos will be in their lineup come October, they are out of their minds.
Hypothetically, let’s say a team signs Stamkos to a max contract ($12,860,000) for one year. If the Lightning match that offer sheet, they’d have over $8 million of cap space with four or five players left to sign. That is doable. Not to mention the possibility of trading Ryan Malone, who would attract other teams due to the lack of impactful top-six forwards in free agency.
In past years it would have been difficult to see a ‘small market’ like Tampa Bay pay someone a max deal. However, new owner Jeff Vinik has deep pockets and has committed to winning. And I repeat, Stamkos is the face of the franchise.
According to a report from Lightning beat writer Erik Erlendsson, negotiations between Yzerman and Stamkos’ agent, Don Meehan, will resume today. If they want to complete a deal under their terms, they may want to get something done by Friday. Whether a deal is finished is done by then or not, Stamkos is not going anywhere.
Who knows what’s holding up the negotiation. Some believe he isn’t happy in Tampa Bay; I’d lean towards saying it is money that is the hold up. This is a complex negotiation. Not many 21 year olds make $8 million (or more) in this league, but Stamkos is a special talent and a former No. 1 overall draft pick. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin all made between $8.7-9.5 million in their first contract following their entry level deal. This is Yzerman's first test as GM.
Are contract talks at a stalemate? It appears to be that way. Could teams slap an offer sheet on Stamkos come Friday? Absolutely. Is the NHL 12 cover boy going to be playing somewhere other than Tampa Bay next season? Don’t even think about it.
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