There was a time, as late as a couple of weeks ago, when we wondered whether the Tampa Bay Lightning would even bother to make Steven Stamkos a legitimate contract offer. Whether general manager Steve Yzerman even saw Stamkos as the type of player worthy of a huge money, long-term deal.
Then Jonathan Drouin walked away from the organization, and around the same time word leaked of an offer worth $8.5 million a year.
Did one have to do with the other? Did Yzerman realize that he was going to have to lose Drouin, so he had to keep Stamkos?
We’ll likely never know, but what the contract offer did prove was that Tampa is ready to pay something approaching superstar dollars for their superstar. Can $8.5 million stretch its way to an AAV of $9.5 million?
If so Stamkos, who turns 26 on Feb. 7, will likely be in Tampa until at least his young 30s.
With the Toronto Maple Leafs visiting Tampa tonight however, Leafs Nation still clings to the hope that a Markhan boy might come home to join the program in Toronto. But here’s a better question: Can a former 50-goal scorer get back to that level again?
Not surprisingly, a 51-goal season for Stamkos as a 19-year-old sophomore — then a 60-goal campaign two seasons later — has proved a difficult pace for Stamkos to keep. He’s become a dependable all-around centre/winger who is still a lock for 40 goals, even if he’s a few goals behind pace heading into the All-Star break.
Yet, somehow, there’s been questions surrounding his future in Tampa.
Why wouldn’t the team that drafted him simply say, “We’ve got a 40-goal man here who is good in the community, a humble person and a fine leader. We’ll never do better than this, so let’s lock him up.”
Then again, how was it that Stamkos ranked fourth in ice time among Lightning forwards in the playoffs last spring, averaging just 18:33? Alex Killorn played more (20:10), which baffled everyone at the Stanley Cup Final between the Lightning and the Chicago Blackhawks.
“I think some of the best games he’s played, he’s played 14 (minutes), he’s played 19, he’s played 17,” said Lightning head coach Jon Cooper, in a confusing quote issued after a 2-1 Game 1 loss to Chicago. “Stammer is one of our leaders. He plays top‑line minutes. He plays on the power play. When we're down a goal, when we're up a goal, he's on the ice.
“We don’t sit here and say, ‘Gosh, if we would have had Stammer on the ice that extra minute, the game would have changed.’”
Maybe they should. Stamkos played 17:17 in Game 1, and though his ice time rose to over 21 minutes in three of the last four games of the series he never scored a goal in his first Cup Final.
Do we blame that on ice time, linemates, or should Stamkos simply look in the mirror on a goalless Final? Maybe the opposing coaches have figured him out?
Somehow, the entire National Hockey League knows that Alex Ovechkin is going to one-time the puck from that left circle — especially on the power play — yet he still finds that opportunity game after game.
Stamkos scored that same goal with regularity earlier in his career, but he doesn’t get that shot with nearly the same regularity anymore. Watch him tonight: Does Stamkos set up at the left circle as a genuine scoring threat, or does the Tampa power play use him there as a decoy? Does he have the proper right-handed set-up man that Tampa has struggled to find?
Do the Leafs have that player? Or would they need to find that rare, right-hand shot defenceman who can put it on a tee for Stamkos? Could Drouin have been that player, even though he’s a left-hand shot?
Why is that Ovechkin plays the entire two minutes of a power play, but Stamkos does not?
All things to ponder this evening, as you watch Steven Stamkos play for his future team, Tampa. Or is that against his future team, Toronto?