Being from Toronto, Stamkos is an obvious target for us to be pursuing, when he goes on the FA market, as he certainly will. For him not to have put his contract issues behind him already means that he’s determined to play the market. The question on my mind is whether he’s interested in coming home, or whether he’s looking for the sweetest deal on the market.
Players who make top dollar like that, especially when transplanted to another team, are rarely bargains. That may seem stupidly self-evident, but think of it this way: If you paid for a Stamkos but got a Gretzky, you would call that a bargain. Stamkos is by now what he will be. A very good player, and an accomplished scorer. But he will be offered money beyond what reason would dictate. Do you want to chase it? Ilya Kovalchuk comes to mind as one you signed back when. He was not a disappointment in terms of his production. But was he worth it? I don’t know.
Look at it another way. Let’s pick a guy who Mike would list as someone he’d like to build around, if a younger version of him were available: Zetterberg. He rarely scores more than thirty, but you want him on the ice, because your team plays better when he’s there. You don’t get scored on as much. Other guys score. Everything works better. Is Stamkos like him? My gut says no, Stamkos is more of a pure scorer. This carries some risk. I’m not saying he would turn into another Kessel, because I think he’s above that. But when the value of a player is principally in the goals he’ll score, it’s a little one-dimensional, especially for the kind of game Mike teaches. And when he slumps, you get nothing for your investment. By contrast, the kind of player Kadri has become is valuable even when he’s not scoring. I would argue that this is the kind of player we want to be building.
What is Stamkos going to score for Mike? He’s had a sixty goal season, two in the fifties, and forty three last year, after returning from a broken leg. Is he good for another sixty goal season? What would you pay to take that risk? If he’s good for forty-plus, that’s still an asset. But wouldn’t you rather have a Zetterberg, who scores less, but wins more? Or a Toews? He’s only topped thirty twice, but he’s considered the better player.
The other danger you would face is to have Stamkos in his prime, while the team is not yet ready to support that level of talent. He’d be spinning his wheels. He’d underperform, and the media in Toronto would crucify him. It would ruin him, and maybe you.
If there were no salary cap, or the size of the team’s market were factored into the cap for each team, it would be different. Toronto would be allowed to spend more, to compensate the player for the extra pressure. But under Bettman’s totalitarian regime, no such flexibility is going to be forthcoming. So while Stamkos is a prize, I humbly suggest that it might be best to let someone else claim that prize. For one Stamkos, you could probably have or keep a pair of two-way players who are good for twenty-plus goals. That’s how cups are won.