Monday, June 27, 2011
July 1st - Happy Stamkos Day or Sad To See You Go Day?
A big date looms in the not too distant future. July 1st, 2011. It is a day that some folks in the Tampa Bay Area are dreading, perhaps even bemoaning. Those folks would be Lightning fans. You see, as the calendar switches to the greatest of summer months a certain pale-faced centerman could be tempted by the lure of unspeakable riches from rivals to the north.
If you’re not a hockey fan I’m sure you’ve already turned the page. If you are a fan of the puck then I’m sure you’ve noticed that Steven Stamkos has completed his standard entry level contract and is now a Restricted Free Agent. What that means is that his current club (the good and mighty) Tampa Bay Lightning have exclusive negotiating rights with him on his next contract until midnight on June 30th. After that date, any team in the league can sign young Mr. Stamkos to an offer sheet. The Lightning would have the choice to match that contract or let the sensational sniper leave and in return receive 4 first round draft picks.
Since there hasn’t been much reported on the negotiations that has led fans and pundits to expect the worst. Gruff Brian Burke in Toronto is ready to sign Stamkos to $9 million a year long term contract to bring him back to his home town. The despised Flyers jettisoned two of their stars (Jeff Carter and Mike Richards) to free up cap space to snag the 21 year old from their playoff rivals. Lowly Florida, in a desperate bid to reach the salary cap floor, will offer Stamkos a one year $12 million contract to lure him away from their upstate competitors.
As each day goes by, the rumors increase. On Monday, Nick Kypreos reported that he heard at the draft that the sides were “not close to getting a deal done”. Of course, he didn’t cite any sources or even vaguely insinuate that the person he heard this rumor from had any connection with the ongoing discussions.
If there is one thing we’ve learned from Steve Yzerman, GM extraordinaire, it’s that he does not negotiate with terrorists. Err. Negotiate through the media. On the eve of the draft, stalwart defenseman Eric Brewer resigned with the Lightning with barely the rumor out that they were close. No one knew he was going to draft a Russian with his first round draft pick. Going back a year, no one saw him being able to unload Meszaros’ unwieldy contract.
In other words, he plays his cards pretty close to his chest. The same goes for the Stamkos Situation. There is an excellent chance that details are being ironed out as you read this. Details, like how many luxury boxes Stamkos gets per game, what color M&M’s are in his locker pre-game, and if they will finally unblock the hotel porn channels in his room on road trips. You know, the important things.
Personally, I think the deal is done and they're just messing with the fans at this point. Milking the drama for all it's worth, keeping the Lightning name in the news. Not that signing Mike Vernace doesn't make for top of the fold news.
It’s not like Lightning management only has the one problem to worry about. It would kind of be nice to have a goaltender on the payroll that has more than 5 games of NHL experience. There’s also the matter of finding a winger to replace Simon Gagne (Brooks Laich, maybe?) and a grinder to replace the soon to be departed Sean Bergenheim (Jimmy Wright?). Oh and there are other twelve restricted free agents in the organization to be tended an offer and signed.
That being said, he has done quite a bit since the Lightning last skated a month or so ago. He has solidified the defense by bringing back Brewer, trading for and signing Bruno Gervais and locking up depth players such as Blair Jones and Vernace. The Bolts now have their top six defensemen under contract with reports of the seventh (Mike Lundin) close to being signed.
He has more than enough cap space (roughly $23 million not counting the Gervais contract) to resign young Mr. Stamkos and still entertain the thought of bringing Brad Richards back to the Bay. However, the chance of Richey skating in the blue and white are slimmer than the chances of Stamkos playing in a uniform that doesn’t resemble the Flash’s outfit.
Of course, it’s not likely that the Lightning will spend up to the cap. Mr. Vinik, the owner, has enjoyed a nice return on his investment over the last year, but he doesn’t strike me as someone who is going to rashly run around dropping large sums of money on people just to get to a league mandated cap. This year’s draft is a good example of smart spending. It is unlikely that any of the Russians drafter this year will be on the roster come October, in fact, they might not even be in this country. That allows them to develop at a reduced cost to the Lightning.
The Stamkos deal will get done. If you ask me my somewhat less-than-expert opinion I say it ends up being somewhere in the 7 years /$47 million range. Long enough that the cap hit isn’t horrible, but short enough that Stamkos can think about another long term deal when this one is over.
Of course, if by any chance this posting jinxes the negotiations and Yzerman lets Stamkos sign for 9 years/ $72 million with Toronto I will have to seriously reconsider my devotion to this team. I think the Blues need some fans….