Steven Stamkos and the Toronto Maple Leafs: A Perfect Match?


Steven Stamkos and the Toronto Maple Leafs: A Perfect Match?

July 1, 2016: that’s the day Steven Stamkos becomes an unrestricted free agent – the same day that holds centre stage in the hearts and minds of so many Toronto Maple Leafs fans.

Jun 13, 2015; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos arrives before game five of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final against the Chicago Blackhawks at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

They’re convinced Stamkos, a native of Markham, Ontario, will be coming home.

We’ve already seen a string of stories appear on this topic – here’s one and here’s another one – while I took a more comical stab at the prospect in the past. Stamkos has even added his own voice to the conversation, musing about the idea last summer.

Does this mean it’ll happen? I doubt it.

The Tampa Bay Lightning – the young team Stamkos leads today – are poised to compete for years. Backed by the talents of Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Jonathan Drouin and Ben Bishop among others, Tampa Bay is a legitimate contender. It’d be foolish to leave all of this for the Leafs – a team that could very easily still be at the bottom of the NHL standings in two or three years.

Having said this, there are two factors working in Toronto’s favour: time and money.

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  • Playing with a skeleton roster, the Leafs will have a lot of money to throw at Stamkos if and when he hits free agency. Things might be more complicated on Tampa Bay’s end with other key contracts to consider and the financial constraints of being a small-market team.

    At 25 years of age, Stamkos would also be entering his prime around the same time the Leafs return to contention (assuming everything works out to plan). This translates into the sacrifice of a few seasons, not an entire career, to play in Toronto.

    The new coaching staff in Toronto, led by Mike Babcock, could be another incentive to join the Leafs while the transition of leaving Steve Yzerman‘s team to play for Brendan Shanahan‘s team could be softened by the natural affinity shared between players. Yzerman would “understand” Stamkos’ decision; Shanahan could “relate” to Stamkos.

    In other words, it might be easier to say “I want to play for Shanahan’s team – thanks for everything Tampa Bay” than to jump ship because some Suit in Toronto offered you more money. Here the larger-than-life hockey personalities of Yzerman and Shanahan grab the attention, putting less pressure on Stamkos. At a minimum, we really don’t know how much influence Yzerman or Shanahan might exercise over Stamkos as former players, but it’s something to consider.

    Mar 19, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) wheels as goalie Ben Bishop (30) looks on against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre. The Lightning beat the Maple Leafs 5-3. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

    Of course, the prospect of Stamkos joining the Leafs could quickly become moot if he re-signs with Tampa Bay. There have been no recent talks between the two sides, and it’d be foolish for Stamkos to sign a new deal without leveraging his value in free agency, but this doesn’t guarantee he’ll come to Toronto either.

    As I mentioned, there are two main factors working in Toronto’s favour – time and money – but I don’t think they’re enough to overcome the ultimate draw of Tampa Bay: a Stanley Cup.

    Why would you leave the winning conditions of Tampa Bay to join a losing cause in Toronto? Stamkos might make it to Toronto one day, but it’ll likely happen at a later stage in his career when the glory days of Tampa Bay are behind him.

    What are your thoughts? Will Stamkos be coming “home” anytime soon? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.

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