McKenzie on Stamkos negotiations: ‘I don’t believe either side have put any specific numbers on the table’

Photo Credit: John E. Sokolowski/USA TODAY Sports

There haven’t been many constants in the recent history of the Toronto Maple Leafs, but the club’s fans have always had two things to hang their hat on: their collective disappointment and their giddy pipe dreams. 

Tampa Bay Lightning superstar Steven Stamkos, a pending unrestricted free agent, fits into the latter camp for now. Though he may fit into the former camp eventually, Bob McKenzie’s recent take on Stamkos’ situation at should serve to stiffen pipe dreams across the GTA. 

Ever since those fateful Twitter faves a few summers back, Maple Leafs fans have indulged in vibrant visions of watching Stamkos sport the blue and white. And as negotiations on a potential contract extension between the Lightning and Stamkos have dragged on with no end in sight, the prospect of watching the local kid who once scored 100 goals in a season for the Markham Waxers play home games at the Air Canada Centre has started to seem more realistic. 

Mike Babcock coaching the Maple Leafs was also a popular pipe dream in the 6ix not too long ago, right?

So the centre of the hockey universe waits with bated breath, eagerly following every development concerning the ongoing contract negotiations. There hasn’t been much in the way of hard news out of Tampa Bay regarding contract talks between Stamkos’ camp and the Lightning, which could be a good or a bad thing from a Maple Leafs perspective. 

On Wednesday night, though, TSN’s Bob McKenzie, the consensus dean of hockey reporting, suggested that the negotiating process is still so preliminary that the two sides may not have exchanged specific salary figures at this point.

Now before we get to what McKenzie said, we should discuss his qualifiers because he laid them out at length and he did so for a reason. This is McKenzie’s personal opinion. McKenzie’s opinion is as informed as any you’ll read in hockey media, but McKenzie has not confirmed this information.

“Lightning GM Steve Yzerman and Stamkos’s agent Don Meehan have agreed to a veritable news blackout,” McKenzie writes of the scant flow of information emanating from either camp.

“Since no one is commenting on any of this,” McKenzie later added, “we’re left to try to figure things out on our own, which is a dangerous endeavour.”

That crucial context presented, here’s the meat of McKenzie piece, which you should read in full by the way, and his sense of what’s going on between the Lightning and the NHL’s most lethal sniper:

… I believe Tampa wants to sign Stamkos and Stamkos wants to stay with the Lightning.

But I can’t help but feel as though there are unspoken reservations from each side. I think the Lightning are still trying to get their head around how much to pay any one individual on a team, even if he’s a marquee talent such as Stamkos. I think Stamkos is waiting to see how the season plays out, both for him and the Lightning, before he makes any long-term commitment. It has got a weird “we do mostly, sort of, love each other but let’s be really careful about the public displays of affection” vibe to it. So much so that I don’t believe either side – Stamkos or the Bolts – have put any specific numbers on the table or there’s been any hard horse trading like there has been on Kopitar with the Kings.

I’ve come across all sorts of people in the game who are convinced Stamkos is as good as gone. I can find others who say we shouldn’t read too much into the seeming snail’s pace of negotiation and odds are in favour of Stamkos eventually re-upping in Tampa.

While I’ll reiterate once more that this is McKenzie’s honest opinion, as I’ve long said: no one has ever gotten rich betting against McKenzie on NHL happenings. 

There is still a lot to iron out here. The Lightning are still one of the league’s most promising young teams – I’ll consider them to be a contender-quality club even if they lose Stamkos for nothing this offseason – and the two sides still have time to get a deal done. 

Tampa can also offer Stamkos an additional guaranteed year on his deal, which is a legitimate advantage over other suitors, though I’d imagine it’s somewhat offset by the unthinkable amount of additional endorsement money Stamkos could make as a superstar hockey player in Toronto.

All of that said, I have to think it’s a bad sign if McKenzie’s take on the situation is accurate and the two sides haven’t even gotten to the point of hammering out specifics. The Lightning have been a cap team the past two seasons and have been in or near the top half of the league in payroll expenses since Jeff Vinik purchased the team. They’ll have the cash to get a deal done.

I’d think that Stamkos’ deal could be particularly difficult though, particularly if Stamkos’ agent Don Meehan of Newport Sports Management is looking for a deal structurally similar to the one that his other high-profile Newport client Ryan O’Reilly signed this summer. That deal, you’ll recall, has built in lockout and buyout protection and is paid almost entirely in signing bonuses rather than in salary. 

The Lightning have resources, but committing to a minimum $9 million payroll expense paid to just one player every July 1 for the next eight years is still a significant decision for any business, particularly one that Forbes estimates to be in the red by annual operating income. Presumably it’s the kind of decision that takes time to weigh.

Luckily for Tampa, time isn’t running out. There’s three months until the trade deadline and seven months until the market opens on July 1. If you were writing a script that ended with Stamkos signing in Toronto though, you’d probably have included ‘McKenzie penning an article about how progress on a potential Stamkos extensions seem nonexistent’ in roughly late November. 

It’s still too early to get really excited about this. That said, it’s also not not exciting if you’re a Maple Leafs fan.

  • Gary Empey

    An NHL bidding war for Steven Stamkos would likely make him the highest paid player in the league. I think 14 million per season is the maximum anyone could bid. I wonder if he does hit free agency, if the Leafs would be willing to make a winning bid? It is starting to look like, to sign him someone will have to overpay for his services.

    Let not forget that Don Meehan has a fiduciary duty to get Stamkos the best contract that is out there. I can’t remember a player of his caliber and age hitting the free agency market before.

    PS. I wonder how many packs of Rolaids Steve Yzerman is going through every day?

  • silentbob

    I still say Toronto should tread lightly on the idea of signing Stamkos.

    We’re not talking about a Crosby or Ovechkin deal here. When an okay player like O’Reilly is going to be paid $11 Million next season (look on, it scares the hell out of me to think what Stamkos might want…

  • silentbob

    If I were Tampa, rather than lose him for nothing, I would trade him, maybe after the season. The other team should only offer their own UFA, since they are only getting the right to sign Stamkos within a short time period. Kopatar and Johansen are obvious, but I think most of us are guessing the reason he’s not signing, is because he want’s to see what Toronto offers. If I were Tampa, I would take Kadri, rather than get nothing.
    then Toronto’s first line:
    JVR Stamkos Komarov
    Rebuild over
    (trades and draft, not winning/contending before 2019).

    • Gary Empey

      Johansen is not in a similar situation at all. Still a year after this one on his current contract and even after that he is an RFA. Any smart team would not trade for Stamkos unless they knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he would sign, which is hard to know when the only reason he would leave a good team in Tampa seems to be the draw of his home town. What does any other team in the league have that Tampa does not? And don’t say money because then Toronto is even more of a foregone conclusion. The beauty for Toronto is that IF Stamkos does want to play there they can probably sign him for Toews/Kane money and Stamkos will be fine with that because of all the endorsement money that will be coming in. Add to that the allure of playing for babcock and the possibility of being the greatest Leaf of all time if he wins the cup while there. Like honestly, if Stamkos captained the team that won a Stanley Cup for Toronto for the first time since 1967 he is without a doubt the most well regarded hockey player in Toronto’s history and would have his name all over the city and probably the biggest statue in front of the ACC. He would be a rock star. There has to be some draw for him.

    • Gary Empey

      Stamkos has a no movement clause in his contract. So Tampa has a problem getting value, Even if a trade could be arranged Stamkos would have to be 100% on-board with it.

      They would have to allow Stamkos to work out a deal with the prospective trade partner. A lot of top players like the idea of playing in a big market like New York City. Islanders could afford him. So could the Devils.

      I am sure teams would prefer to make a trade rather than participating in a bidding war.

      If for some lucky reason he does sign with Toronto, the fans will have to accept he will be over-paid, and not cry and bitch about it, later on down the road.

      It is situations like this where one would like to know if any sort of super secret indirect communication are fueling these rumors.

  • silentbob

    There also some some star who is a pending UFA that the Leafs are just waiting to pounce on. 10 years ago it was Thornton. Then Nash. Then Getzlaf. Next it will be Tavares.

    • silentbob

      Nah stamkos situation is different. You’re not wrong about the others though…there are definitely a lot of leafs fans who always think everyone is coming to Toronto. The difference in this situation is that the leafs are not waiting to pounce at all…they are just going to keep going about their business and rebuilding as per the plan. They do not need stamkos and are not planning next year’s roster around him. This is a situation where if stamkos wants to play in Toronto they will not turn him away, they will sign him as a UFA. However, they will not trade for him or give up any sort of asset to get the chance to sign him because they are in a rebuild and really don’t need him. The last 10 years were totally different because Toronto always needed that number 1 center so badly to make themselves feel like they could contend so they came up with these dreams of signing one of the group you mentioned.

  • silentbob

    Tampa won’t be able to sign him is my opinion, if he wanted to go back to Tampa, Stamkos would have already signed an extension, then again he could just want to test the market and see how much he could get. But my guess is he wants to come home and play for his home team and a coach he really praises & admires in Babcock, Not to mention the extra money he will get in endorsements for playing for the Leafs. To me it’s too easy a decision for Stamkos to choose to not re-sign with Tampa & Sign with Toronto

    • Gary Empey

      I meant to add in my last post that one GM said that if Tampa doesn’t sign him by the trade deadline then consider him gone. I tend to think that is correct.

    • Gary Empey

      I would agree with you Mike. Not saying I know how Stamkos thinks, but if you put yourself in his shoes, there doesn’t seem to be another option but to go to Toronto. If he doesn’t do it now he realizes there will not be another opportunity. This isn’t a case of fans fabricating his love for Toronto either, he has said it himself. When he took batting practice with the Jays, he was pumped about the atmosphere in the city and was commenting on how awesome it would be to see a championship come to Toronto. Couple that with Babcock now being there and Toronto stockpiling young talent to turn the ship around. I would say Toronto is fairly appealing. Add to that the rock star status he will have and the money that people will throw at him for sponsorships…isn’t hard to imagine that it’s his childhood dream. Couple with that the fact that Tampa’s cap situation will be a hot mess in a couple years and a rational person can add up the parts. However, I am not an unrealistic person and realize that all this could change this afternoon and Stamkos could sign…no biggie, Toronto can carry on with its rebuild. Fact of the matter is this: If stamkos wants to be in Toronto there is absolutely nothing that can stop that from happening. Thats a nice thing to know.