Fresh off of a loss in the Stanley Cup Finals, rumors about Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos are already forming. Today, analyst Don Cheery tweeted that Stamkos may skip town in 2016 when he is a free agent.
13) to offers that arrive. I am trying to put this as delicately as I can, but I feel unless this is straightened out, Stevie will be gone.
— Don Cherry (@CoachsCornerCBC) June 16, 2015
The rumors about Stamkos bolting when his contract runs out is nothing new, but the timing is surprising given the fact that this is the most success he has seen in an NHL season. Regardless, Cherry does make a very good point, Lightning Head Coach John Cooper mismanaged his star player in the most important series in hockey.
Stamkos also had his shortcomings. In the Stanley Cup Finals, Stamkos, who finished second in the NHL with 43 goals, failed to find the back of the net and only notched one assist. To make matters worse, he saw a decrease in shots throughout the Finals. After taking five shots in Game 1, he only tallied a pair in Games 2, 3 and 4 before letting off just one shot in Games 5 and 6.
Much of that had to do with terrific defense played by Chicago, led by Conn Smythe winner Duncan Keith, but regardless, superstars find ways to score when it matters most and Stamkos is every bit of a superstar.
Despite his showing in the Stanley Cup Finals, Stamkos is by far the best player on a talented Lightning team, but his departure has the potential to cripple the franchise, much like Zach Parise when he left the New Jersey Devils in 2012.
If Stamkos does decide to walk, it is hard to imagine any team not being interested in his services, but the odds-on favorite is Toronto, where Stamkos is from. Before the Maple Leafs are able to land Stamkos, however, they will need to prove that they are ready to rebuild quickly.
Instead, another Canadian team who has top level NHL talent who he could lead to a Stanley Cup is Montreal. The Canadiens have an elite goaltender in Carey Price, a top level scorer in Max Pacioretty and a Norris Trophy winning defenseman in P.K. Subban. Additionally, Montreal will have nearly $15 million in cap room when the salary cap rises next season. This could allow the team to be able to not only sign Stamkos, but possibly even lure another free agent to town.
The grass may not be greener on the other side. Tampa Bay has a talented team and could become even better if Andrei Vasilevskiy becomes as good as advertised. Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov have emerged as one of the best second lines in hockey and Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman showed just how good they are in the Stanley Cup Finals when they contained Blackhawks stars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.
The Lightning need to be aggressive when negotiating with Stamkos this offseason, because if a deal is not locked up before the season begins, Stamkos will likely test the market in 2016 and Tampa will be left in the dust.