By: Luke Johns
If you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t heard, Lightning forward Steven Stamkos “liked” a tweet linking him to the Toronto Maple Leafs on multiple occasions. They’ve since been unliked but not before it stirred up a lot of speculation. What makes this all interesting is that Stamkos is in the last year of his contract.
While I’m personally not reading too far into this Twitter liking, it is alarming that the Lightning have yet to sign their captain to an extension. Negotiations have apparently been going on since last summer but to this point nothing has happened. So it brings up the million-dollar question: will Stamkos actually leave Tampa Bay?
From the Lightning’s perspective they must do everything they can to keep Stamkos in town. You can’t just replace a guy who is your captain and has the elite resume that Stamkos can show. Sure General Manager Steve Yzerman will have expiring contracts of role players on his plate soon, but Stamkos is their franchise player. The team just won’t be as successful without him. That being said everything they can might not be enough.
It won’t come down to money. If Stamkos does hit the open market this summer, he’ll be arguably the most coveted free agent ever, considering he’ll be 26, and he’ll get his desired money from whichever team he decides he wants to play for. The minute free-agency begins, it’ll be a matter of which teams aren’t offering him a lucrative contract. It will come down to whether Stamkos is happy in Tampa Bay or wants to move on. Stamkos did make it clear in a recent interview that he wants to remain in Tampa Bay, but minds can change and surley Lightning fans won’t be relieved until he signes the dotted line.
When it comes to Toronto specifically, I’d have to see it to believe that he’d actually leave Tampa Bay and sign with the Maple Leafs. Stamkos was born in the Toronto area, but Tampa Bay has a great young core of players and I’m sure they’ll be a playoff team for a long time to come considering the job Yzerman has done. The Maple Leafs on the other hand are second to last in the Eastern Conference and have just about nothing going for them. Unless Toronto’s intangibles like playing for Mike Babcock or playing for his hometown team are too irresistible, I doubt Stamkos would walk away from a good situation down in Tampa Bay.
Ultimately it will be all about Stamkos making the best decision for him personally. Whether that is trying to finish what him and Yzerman started and bring another cup to Tampa Bay, take on the challenge of being the hometown savior to resurrect a dormant franchise in Toronto or just play elsewhere for whatever reason, the longer he doesn’t sign an extension the more and more nervous Lightning fans are going to be.