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Monday, April 6, 2020

Steven Stamkos staying with Lightning gives him best shot at Cup


Steven Stamkos is set to re-sign with the Tampa Bay Lightning in a move that, while slightly surprising, makes total sense for him.

TSN’s Bob McKenzie first reported that Stamkos would be staying with the team that drafted him No. 1 overall in 2008.

Stamkos himself confirmed that he was sticking with the Lightning.

This is, at first glance, a surprise. NHL free agency does not start until July 1, and it was widely assumed that Stamkos would at least test the market. He would have had any number of suitors, though the number of teams that really had the cap space to sign him was much lower than the number of teams that would have wanted him. The Toronto Maple Leafs, his hometown team, were widely expected to make a run at him. So, too, were the Buffalo Sabres. The Detroit Red Wings were also poised to enter the Stamkos sweepstakes after they managed to clear the contract of Pavel Datsyuk, who is going to play in Russia’s KHL, off their books. As recently as last Friday at the NHL Draft, Lightning GM Steve Yzerman didn’t sound optimistic about keeping Stamkos in the fold.

However, it’s a deal that makes total sense for both sides, particularly the player’s. Toronto and Buffalo had the cap space, but they’re both rebuilding projects that aren’t close to completion. Detroit, while an intriguing prospect, is a team that has had to squeak into the playoffs as a mid-tier franchise over the last several seasons. Stamkos joining would not have made them an instant contender either.

The fact is, no other team could offer Stamkos the supporting cast that Tampa Bay can. They were in the Stanley Cup Finals in 2015 and took eventual champions Pittsburgh to Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2016 – basically without Stamkos, who only played one game in the playoffs due to injury. One can only wonder if Tampa Bay would have gotten past the Penguins with a healthy Stamkos in that series. There is a sense of unfinished business for Stamkos and the team, and it’s business that never would have been finished had he bolted for another team.

It may also seem like Stamkos took less money to stay in Tampa when he could have gotten $10 million a year elsewhere, but Florida’s lack of state income tax evens things out a bit. Financially and competitively, staying with the Lightning was the most reasonable option for Stamkos if he wanted to win a Stanley Cup. They’ll have to do some creative budgeting to keep guys like Nikita Kucherov and stay under the salary cap, but it’s still a very talented team that will now be ready to make another run at the Stanley Cup.

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