Not so long ago, the potential of seeing Steven Stamkos hitting the free agents’ market was making a lot of teams and general managers drool over the possibility of having the opportunity to get a shot at convincing him to agree to a contract with them. After all, how often does a 27 year-old, at the prime of his career, becomes free to sign with whomever he wants? How many natural goals’ scorers, in recent history, have become available as unrestricted free agents, particularly at such a young age?
Well it seems like you can thank the salary cap, at least in part, for making Stamkos available and putting the Tampa Bay Lighting in a tough position. While there is no doubt that Steve Yzerman still wants to re-sign his team captain, he may not have the choice but to either trade him at the draft, or let him walk on July first. If that happens, he will be leaving a huge void on that team and that, even if they did rather well in his absence, particularly in the playoffs.
Not so long ago, several teams were rumoured to have interest in Stamkos, with the Toronto Maple Leafs as one of the favourite destinations. The New York Rangers were rumoured to be willing to trade Rick Nash in order to free up enough cap space to allow the team to make a move for the Lightning’s captain. At that time, we have even looked at odds for the Habs to sign Stamkos.
Since then though, things have changed. No, the Lightning did not re-sign their star player… yet. However, Stamkos has since missed a considerable amount of time due to a blood clot near his right collarbone, and he had have surgery in hope to resolve the issue. It turns out that Stamkos was diagnosed with the same condition as Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy and in the medical field, it is believed to be “fixable and temporary”.
Unlike Kimmo Timonen and Pascal Dupuis, both now retired due to different types of blood clots, Stamkos made a return during the playoffs in a failed attempt to prevent his team’s elimination. That being said, the problem is that blood thinners still are a component of the treatment, at least for the first three or four months. He SHOULD be fine after that and doctors believe that the blood clot issue has been fixed. All agree that the biggest challenge or question mark in the case of Stamkos will be due to the fact that there are a lot of moving part where the surgery occurred and no one knows for sure how it will have affected the sharp shooter.
Teams interested in Stamkos will definitely be doing their own homework, as well as they will be contacting insurance companies to find out if his new contract can be insured. Imagine an owner agreeing to pay Stamkos an average of $11 million per season for seven years, and Stamkos’ problems re-occur… with an insurance clause leaving that owner having to pay that contract without his services! More than cap implication, few owners can sustain non only paying him while he’s out, but spending up to the equivalent of Stamkos’ contract to get more players to fill the void hockey-wise.
While, as mentioned before, several factors will play into the decision of offering a contract to Stamkos, including owners’ approval and medical opinions, there are a couple of teams who could easily afford to take a flyer on him. Of course, the New York Rangers who paid Wade Redden $6.5 million to play in the minors, are more than capable to pay even if Stamkos was forced to put an end to a season. New York must, however, clear up a lot of cap space to make that happen.
Another team which can do so is the Toronto Maple Leafs and unlike the Rangers, they already have plenty of cap space available to lure the Toronto native. Having the first overall pick at this upcoming draft and Mike Babcock as head coach might be enough to convince Stamkos that the Leafs could be a very desirable location for him to continue his career.
Like many other teams prior to Stamkos’ blood clot issue, the Canadiens will have to rely heavily on medical advise in order to decide if they will or not be key players in convincing Stamkos to come and play in La Belle Province. Also, while the Molson family is quite well off, they did not make their fortune by taking $77 million risks and only THEY know if it’s a risk that they are willing or able to take.
Either way, we should find out within the next two to three weeks… unless Stamkos takes his time before making a decision. Like most fans and members of the media, I am hoping that it doesn’t drag on for weeks this summer.