LGD: Nobody is mad at Steven Stamkos

Photo Credit: Dan Hamilton/USA TODAY SPORTS

Steven Stamkos plays for the Tampa Bay Lightning now. He used to play for the Tampa Bay Lightning as well, but he also was a mostly-unrestricted free agent for a few days before it wasn’t worth it and stayed put. This surprised a lot of people, myself included, who had either assumed or had legitimate reasons to believe that Stamkos would sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs. 

Tonight marks Stamkos’ first NHL game at the Air Canada Centre since he made his decision, and predictably, everybody in Tampa, from fans to bloggers and even mainstream media types are beginning to paint the day as one of resentment from Torontonians. Take this excerpt from SBNation blog Raw Charge, for example:

As has become the norm with Stamkos whenever he comes to Toronto, he was peppered with questions by the Toronto media. Despite the reactions by many heart-broken and delusional Leafs fans over his decision to not come home, Stamkos says he has only had positive interactions with fans in Toronto.

Listen, the idea of Leafs fans being angry at Stamkos for his decision is a straw-man at its absolute finest. At the end of the day, most are aware that he signed a second contract that brought him to free agency about as fast as the Lightning would let him. 

Most are aware that he didn’t bother with the pitches from most of the teams and that even his agents didn’t give longshot teams the run-around, but that the Leafs got multiple in-person meetings, including Stamkos coming to them, which was something that didn’t happen for anyone else.

Most are aware that after their last in-person meeting, Stamkos had a change of heart about the whole process and called Steve Yzerman looking to get a deal that he had basically ignored for six months re-configured for him to sign, something that Yzerman publicly admitted had shocked him.

Ultimately, most are aware that Stamkos put himself into a position where he was going to sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs if it made sense, and that the meetings made it clear that it wasn’t going to make sense. For him to go back to Tampa Bay for under market value (especially compared to Toronto’s way-over-market offer if you include endorsement potential) after gossip of friction as a result of on-ice usage, and after setting himself up to be free to leave as soon as possible, means that he likely had a very good reason to commit to the Lightning. 

Fingers were pointed in the weeks following, but outside of a couple of Twitter eggs, most were pointed at Leafs management for perhaps not giving him the perfect pitch, and to John Tory and the Canadian Tire CEOs for being in the room and allegedly not being helpful in any way.

Nobody blames Steven Stamkos for making the decision that was right for him. When the World Cup came around, in the same building he’ll play in tonight, he consistently got among the most unanimously loud and positive ovations from the Toronto fans of any star player in the tournament. In fact, there might even be some thanks in order from a hockey perspective; with the bit three appearing to be “for real” ahead of schedule and a boat load of cap space freeing up in the next year, the Leafs might be in a better position for sustainable success. Though, the jolt in the arm that a free superstar would have given the team would have still been nice.

If we’re being honest about this whole thing, the only bitter resentment that still really holds from this scenario probably comes from Lightning fans, who are faced with the fact that their team need to win soon if they don’t want Stamkos’ couple of hours in the board room on Bay Street to make a bigger impact on hockey history than his projected 16+ years in Tampa Bay.

Anyway, these two teams face each other tonight. Let’s briefly talk about that.

The Leafs

Toronto Maple Leafs lines courtesy of our friends at Daily Faceoff

Seth Griffith and Frank Corrado are probably sitting in a corner wondering what the heck they have to do to get into this roster. I imagine this rendition of the fourth line will play less than the one that had Connor Brown on it, if only because it consists of a player that nobody seems to want to commit to in the lineup (Holland), a player acquired yesterday for specific faceoff abilities (Smith), and a player who.. is five games into a controversial four-year contract in Martin.

On defence, I don’t know what to tell you any more. Rielly-Zaitsev is long overdue. I’m not sure why Matt Hunwick keeps getting chances. Polak has been surprisingly fine in his first two games save for the tying goal in Chicago, but as soon as he’s not, Free Frank Corrado.

The Lightning

Tampa Bay Lightning lines courtesy of our friends at Daily Faceoff

Okay, I don’t think we were bitter enough about the Lightning when discussing the Stamkos situation. Let’s be bitter about the Tampa Bay Lightning. While the team is loaded with talent, and they deserve all the credit in the world for having those players and mostly keeping them together, this idea that the process has been cheery and well planned is insane. They’re winging a high-stakes game of poker and currently coming out ahead.

  • Stamkos was so committed to being a member of the Lightning that he signed a contract that only gave the team one UFA year, actually made it to free agency, and stayed because nobody that he would’ve preferred would give him an offer that made sense to him. Good for them for keeping him. Very good for him for staying in the place that made the most sense. Let’s not act like the road was easy when we’re comparing the process to every superstar who signs their future away well in advance.
  • Nikita Kucherov was shotgun marriaged into the roster this year. Nobody gives offer sheets any more, so Yzerman took advantage of the fact that Kucherov’s only hope at playing NHL hockey was to give in and accept a sweetheart contract. He won the game of chicken. It doesn’t change the fact that he played a long game of chicken.
  • Jonathan Drouin demanded a trade from the team after being sent down despite being one of their best even-strength point-producers because Jon Cooper is an, uhh, interesting coach. Drouin is back because he immediately showed a great attitude that proved he was worthy to be a member of the Bolts! Or because Stamkos suffered a blood clot before Yzerman could trade him. I can’t remember which.
  • Anton Stralman rules and the Leafs probably feel bad about letting him go so many years ago (actually, probably not; almost nobody from that regime is still here), but the idea that the Lightning made him into a great defenceman is a bit silly too. They signed a guy who had been good for a while and rejected despite that after he confirmed his goodness by going to the Stanley Cup Finals. Good for them for signing him. Let’s not pretend they were a magic potion.

You can keep going on and on. They discovered Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson after teams passed up on them, but they also passed up on them repeatedly until they didn’t. They have a few people signed to sweetheart deals, but are also already trying to wait out the clock on Callahan and Filppula and might be in the same spot with Killorn and Coburn soon. Expect some out-of-the-blue lineup drama to happen with Johnson and Palat so they can bring their RFA asks down in July, which might work for them again only because the players want to stay with their teammates who previously committed to shotgun weddings to stay with them. 

I guess what I’m saying is that Steve Yzerman and Jon Cooper have lucked into some stuff and been dangerously cutthroat in assembling their team. It’s working out well enough right now, though I imagine that it will lead to some serious drama once the team’s window starts to close. Fair play to them for now, but let’s not act like this is a happy, genius method that should be the model for every other franchise. In a league where front office staff are hired to be fired, playing dice with live grenades isn’t something that should be attempted by many at the same time, especially those who don’t have a core like this.

Starting Goaltenders

Ben Bishop, who proved to be a great windfall for the Lightning after Yzerman’s hopes of building a goaltender in the organization like Anders Lindback or Dustin Tokarski into a Hall of Famer didn’t quite come to fruition, will start in goal for the Lightning tonight. Bishop, who is a UFA at the end of this year, has had a slow start to his season, winning 2 of his first 3 games but posting just a 0.861 save percentage.

On the other hand, the Leafs have Frederik Andersen pegged as their likely starter. People are wondering what’s up with his sudden aggressive play style, whether it’s being taught or whether it’s to compensate for an injury. Whatever it is, it’d be nice to see “Freddy be Freddy”, because while he’s yet to lose a game in regulation yet, not even these kids can play through a 0.879 in between the pipes for very long.

What To Watch For

The Lightning are, for all the above words, a really great team right now and immensely fun to watch. In a lot of ways, their on-ice skill set is an example of what the Leafs should strive for moving forward.

But this can’t just be treated like an educational game. As I keep stressing, the idea of the Leafs falling into the standings abyss seems to be over-romanticized by those obsessed with drafting; playing well against good teams now should be the goal. With that in mind, grabbing two points from a divisional rival that they’ll be chasing later in the year would be huge, even if it’s just for the sake of the team being reminded that they can keep a lead.

Puck drop is at 7:30 PM. Catch the action on Sportsnet One, or go watch a Nicolas Cage movie instead.

  • FlareKnight

    Unfortunately it’s the damn media. They can say whatever they want about what we think because we’re on not television. We can’t actually refute them on the same stage.

    I’d forgotten Stamkos was even a thing we were focused on in the Summer. I don’t care anymore and I don’t think many still do. We’re probably better off. I’d rather spend the money they could have thrown at Stamkos at Matthews when the time comes.

    Such is how it goes. The Leafs will be fine and a superstar center isn’t a need for us anymore. And that’s something to be happy about. We don’t need to wait and hope for a Stamkos to leave Tampa or a Tavares to leave New York. I mean sure a guy like that wanted to come to Toronto you’d take that, but it’s not something we need to hope about. The franchise’s future up front is solid.

    Tampa is a great team right now so this will be tough. Though I do think this team can at least score against anybody. So should be amusing.

  • Wes

    The only thing i dont agree with is dismissing the picks of palat and johnson as “luck”.
    Did the red wings get lucky with datsyuk, or us with bracco/nielsen/timashov or even nylander falling due to “attitude”? I know you aren’t taking away all the credit of what yzerman has done, but the wording is too dismissive.

    • FlareKnight

      Any team that drafts a franchise superstar at 171 overall was lucky. If they had any inkling he had that kind of potential he goes in the first round no matter where he was ranked by others.

      It still takes scouting to think a guy may have some nice potential in the later parts of the draft. But it’s still luck that no one else took that guy before you did.

  • Richard

    I was glad when we didn’t get Stamkos…..let’s face it….what could possibly go wrong with signing a guy with blood clots and recovering from a severely broken leg for 11,000,000 a year….