If Steven Stamkos’ agent Don Meehan and Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman are unable to agree on a contract extension between now and July 01, the Lightning captain becomes a free agent. Media and fans have dedicated a lot of digital space offering up opinion and enthusiasm at the thought of Stamkos donning a Toronto Maple Leaf Jersey this summer.
There is another player garnering attention that is worth examining.
A well placed NHL insider spoke with me last week that the Toronto Maple Leafs are not inclined to sign Stamkos. This insider also offered up that John Tavares is a Leafs target. Perhaps as soon as this summer.
Would it make sense to sign Stamkos? This is the end of year one of the rebuild. To date the Leafs plan has been to attain draft picks and young talent.
It is difficult to see how signing Stamkos to a seven year contract would benefit the Leafs at this time. Adding a $10-$14 million player to the Leafs lineup is tying up valuable cap space for a team that is not ready to win. The Leafs proved this year that cap space can be a valuable tool in attaining and stockpiling draft picks and young talent. It makes sense that next season will be very much the same plan.
Tavares has two years remaining on his contract at a reasonable $5.5 million per year and his “modified no trade clause” kicks in this summer. Hard to see why Tavares would not have Toronto on his trade list. Clearly the Maple Leafs could handle Tavares’ contract via trade under the teams salary cap and continue to execute their master plan.
In two years time Tavares will be seeking a big money contract. He would have had time to learn Babcock’s system and adjust to life in Toronto. The Toronto Maple Leafs will be closer to winning and will also be a playoff team. So why Tavares over Stamkos?
Both are fairly evenly matched players. Both are the same age, are from the Toronto area and are captain of their respective teams. Tavares was drafted a year after Stamkos only due to birth-dates and NHL drafting rules. An interesting side thought is who would have been picked first overall if both entered the draft the same year.
A few key ideas stand out why Tavares is a stronger candidate for the Leafs.
Stamkos has missed 45 games (and counting) since 2013. Recently he was diagnosed with a blood clot and return to playing is unknown at this time. Is Stamkos showing signs of becoming injury prone? Some say he has not been the same since breaking his leg two years ago.
Both Stamkos and Tavares put up elite numbers with .98 and .92 points per game over their career respectively.
Tavares is a better point producer in the playoffs. The Islanders recent return to the post-season creates a small sample size but the evidence is there. Tavares has proven to elevate his game in the playoffs and produces more than a point per game. This goes back to his junior hockey days. Stamkos does not compare in the post season at any level.
General consensus in the hockey world is that Tavares has more leadership ability. This would be important for a dressing room that is going to be even younger next season. Solid player leadership is a must for any successful NHL team.
Finally, economics will play a role for the relatively new Islanders ownership. They are not a salary cap team. The ownership and business structure of the Islanders is complex and very unique. What it boils down to is the team does not get to take advantage of the same revenue streams that most other NHL teams do. This limits their spending ability.
Toronto has not only stocked assets to put a team on the ice but to also dangle as trade assets A couple of draft picks and Nazem Kadri is a good starting point. Over to you Lou Lamoriello. Please discuss among yourselves
In two years Tavares will be be looking for a significant raise. Toronto can afford to pay a Tavares type player say $12 million a year. The Islanders may be motivated in moving Tavares now.
The future is unclear with Stamkos. Will Stamkos resign with Tampa Bay? Probably is the word coming from the Tampa Bay front office not named Steve Yzerman.
Attaining Tavares will not be as popular as Stamkos but from the Maple Leafs point of view it makes sense. All Leafs Nation can do is wait and see how the intrigue of Stamkos versus Tavares plays out.