For those of you who have been out of the country, living under a rock or haven’t been on Twitter recently, there was a massive uproar in Leafs Nation regarding an elite 40/50-goal scorer and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

But for the above-mentioned absentees, I’ll fill you in on Stamkos-Gate.

December, 6th, 2015: TSN’s Frank Seravalli posted a great article on the possible disconnect between head coach, John Cooper and Lightning captain, Steven Stamkos. With Cooper getting an extension, that could be an indication that Stamkos won’t return with the Lightning next year. Article.

Tuesday, December 8th: Before the Leafs/Devils game, the TSN Panel took part in the traditional TSN Quiz and the Quizmaster had a bold question for the panelists. They had a discussion on whether or not the Toronto Maple Leafs should pursue sniper, Steven Stamkos. Two out the three panelists said yes. Full segment here.

Wednesday, December 9th: Not even a full day later, Stamkos liked a tweet from TSN about the Leafs possibly pursuing him.


Screen cap courtesy of Mike Beverly (@GilmourFan4ever)

Thursday, Decmeber 10th: Stamkos is already in hot water with the Toronto and the Tampa Bay media. He then described the Twitter fiasco as an “accident”.

There hasn’t been this much excitement over a potential free-agent signing than the Mike Babcock saga, which ended on a high note for Leafs Fans. Now, I know what your thinking:

  • “It’s an accident. ”
  • “He’s only trolling.”
  • “Stamkos wouldn’t want to come to Toronto. He would sign with a contender.”
  • “Leafs fans are stupid and delusional. Get a life.”

However, this isn’t the first time that Stamkos has put himself in the media spotlight about a possible return to his hometown. There are a number of instances and situations that point to a possibility that Stamkos could sign with the Leafs when he’s a free agent at season’s end. Here is my case as to why signing Stamkos is possible.

The Pre-curser to Stamkos-Gate:

In 2014, Adam Proteau, who wrote for The Hockey News, had an interesting column on whether home-grown players from leagues, like the GTHL, such as Stamkos, would end up pulling a LeBron James to come and play for the hometown team. That article immediately caught the eye of… you guessed it. Steven Stamkos.

Full article here

Proteau then followed up that article saying that the possibility of Stamkos is more likely than what the nay-sayers think:

Both articles sent Leafs Nation into a frenzy. I mean who wouldn’t love the idea of a superstar coming to a franchise that has seen countless lows over the years. When was the last time the Leafs had a true superstar on our team. Mats Sundin? Doug Gilmour? If Stamkos is added to that group, it would put Toronto back on top as a city where winning matters and that this franchise means business.

This is now the third time where Stamkos has “hinted” about the possibility of playing in Toronto by creating a buzz on social media. First time, okay things happen. Second time, is this actually for real? Third time, something’s going on.

The Disconnect:

As noted earlier, Frank Seravalli mentioned that head coach John Cooper and Stamkos appear to be on different pages, and signing Cooper to an extension possibly made matters worse for the Lightning. This “disconnect” between coach and star stems back to last year in the playoffs and this where I think things become more clear.

In terms of average ice time during the playoffs, Stamkos ranked fourth overall among forwards on the Lightning with 18:33. Alex Killorn (20:10), Valtteri Filppula (19:13) and Ondrej Palat (19:10) rank ahead of him. The Chicago Blackhawks’ top two players in time on ice per game, Jonathan Toews (20:54) and Patrick Kane (20:23).

During the finals, Cooper moved Stamkos from his natural centre position to the wing and also kept Stamkos on the bench in a situation where the goalie was pulled. I’m not an NHL coach, but logic dictates that when the game is on the line, you play your best players. No ifs, ands or buts. What Cooper was thinking in keeping his most valuable player on the bench is beyond me.

It’s little things like this that can cause a player to find another place to play. There needs to be a strong connection between player and coach, especially if he’s the leader of the team. If both the player and coach are at different ends of a spectrum, things will not go well in the end.

It’s Happened Before:

Remember when the entire hockey world was laughing at Leafs fans when the thought of pursuing Mike Babcock was a topic of discussion? Yeah, me too. Who had the last laugh?

To be fair, getting Babcock as a coach was a long shot. I even thought it wasn’t going to happen. But it did. The reason why I’m using this as part of my argument is that history is repeating itself.

This time last year, we we’re having the same discussion about the Leafs possibly getting the most prized free agent. Should the Leafs pursue him? Will he actually come to Toronto?  These are just a few of questions asked about the best coach in the league.

But what caught my eye was this article from Sportsnet. At this point last year, Babcock was “watching the Leafs carefully”, hinting at the possibility that the Leafs could look to him as the next head coach.

Full article here

This comment is what stood out for me with Babacock in the article; “He’s in a good spot. It’s not about money,” Maclean stated. “If he sees a team he thinks he can win with then he’ll be here.”

And we’re already seeing some good signs with the Leafs with no big name player under Babcock. Imagine if we had a superstar, like Stamkos, play under him? With Babcock’s desire to win, it might be what the team needs to attract intriguing names to Toronto.

Fast forward to today. Here we are again, a year later in December, talking about another top name in the NHL coming to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The signs are there. Three times guilty of liking comments about him in Toronto, a disconnect between him and his coach and the Leafs being on the winning side of the rumour mill once before with Babcock. Thank you Hockey Gods.

Plus, there’s also the dreaded contract talks that have gone nowhere. Steve Yzerman stated that signing Stamkos was a number one priority. Three months into the season and still no indication of talks or a deal getting done. I know that contract talks take some time, but for a contract of a player with this magnitude not getting a deal done now will only increase speculation and rumours. Yzerman is a very intelligent guy and I’m 100 per cent sure that he wants a deal to get done to keep Stamkos in T-Bay. But with every second that ticks by, Yzerman is one step closer to losing his chance at keeping his star player. We’re already in December. By the time you know it, it’s the trade deadline and then it’s free agency. Time won’t slow down for Yzerman.

In a recent article by Fox Sports, negotiations to re-sign the sniper are going absolutely nowhere. Further adding to the speculation, could Stamkos come to Toronto via free-agency? Article

If the Leafs end up being successful a second time around in signing two big name free agents back to back, hope to Leafs Nation will have been fully restored. Couple that with the likes of Nylander and Marner as key pieces of our future, the recipe for success is there.

We are potentially getting Stamkos when he’s 26. Not in his mid to late 30’s, but a guy who’s still in his prime at a young age where many in this league have flourished. And he will too. Plus there’s also the process of trading away guys that have one-year deals plus hefty contracts to make space.

If we sign Stamkos to a seven year deal, he will be 33 when the contract is up. To me, that’s a good deal for a guy who can still put the puck in the net. He will then be at the point of his career where others may question his consistency, but that will be up to the Leafs if they want to keep him.

While Stamkos only has 11 goals and 21 points in 29 games (0.72 points per game) in what is an off year for both him and the Lightning, the LittleStammerteam was supposed to continue the trend of success after making it to the Stanley Cup Finals last year. I don’t expect him to continue this trend next year and the year after that. He’s too good of an elite scorer to give those kind of numbers. Since 2011/12, he’s second to Ovechkin in goals scored, even though he missed most of the 2013/14 season due to an injury. Guys like Stamkos hit the free agent market once in a while, why not take a chance on him. He’s a star player, you do whatever you can to sign him.

To those that may say signing him is a bad idea or long shot, I ask you: Why wouldn’t you want a 26-year-old guy in his prime and is capable of scoring close around 40 to 50 goals a year on the Leafs where there are a number of holes to be filled, including at centre?

During the radio show Leafs Lunch when this story broke, Bryan Hayes said it best. I don’t have the exact comment word for word, but he talked about the impact, dedication and heart a guy like Stamkos would have on younger players coming up like Nylander and Marner. He’s the kind of guy you would want on you team for younger players to model their game around.

There’s no doubt that everyone is on the edge of their seat with Stamkos-Gate. Are we looking into this rumour way too much? Maybe, maybe not. After all who would’ve thought that one tweet could create a massive headline. The only one who holds the answer is Stamkos. He may possibly know what he wants to do. If his decision is to sign with the home team, then he’s definitely doing a great job at keeping it under wraps.

I said this when the Leafs were “pursuing” Babcock and I’ll say it again: only time will tell.

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