Steven Stamkos enters training camp with the Tampa Bay Lightning without a new contract in the final year of his current deal. The face of the Lightning’s mini-dynasty isn’t mad, he’s just disappointed. Those are his words, not ours (well, at least the “disappointed” part).
Why haven’t the Lightning re-signed their captain when he clearly wants to stay there? Because of salary cap fears. Those same salary cap fears are preventing Julian BriseBois from even crossing the “should we re-sign Stamkos” bridge until the end of the season.
The NHL is a business and the salary cap isn’t always fair (although that’s the very thing it’s trying to do, but you get our point). BriseBois’s seeming refusal to make a new contract for his captain a priority can be seen as “disappointing” at best but disrespectful at worst.
Stamkos has been the leader and longest-tenured member of the Lightning’s current championship core.
The Tampa Bay Lightning and Steven Stamkos have a contract issue.
While he’s certainly had injury concerns that made him less valuable in those championship runs than the likes of Victor Hedman or Nikita Kucherov, Stamkos is undoubtedly this franchise’s cornerstone.
BriseBois is saying in very polite terms that Stamkos has made himself expendable. It’s hard to imagine he would be taking the same “wait and see at the end of the season” approach if it were any other member of the championship core’s contract at stake.
Not only did the Lightning’s new contract with Brandon Hagel take up valuable cap space, but it also gave them an excuse to have another player who could pick up Stamkos’ production if he should seek employment elsewhere.
BriseBois also re-signed the trio of Anthony Cirelli, Mikhail Sergachev, and Erik Cernak to eight-year extensions last offseason, so his hesitation to re-sign Stmakos sticks out even more.
Normally a team like the Lightning locks up those four or so key players without question and for whatever it takes. That’s what the Chicago Blackhawks did with their roster upheaval in between the 2010 and 2013 Stanley Cup championships and it worked.
BriseBois inherited Stamkos’ current contract but his idea of roster construction should have been to keep Stamkos, Kucherov, Hedman, and Vasilevskiy together and let everything else fall into place.
The cap may be a short-term worry for the Lightning but their player development pipeline will most likely be a larger one going forward. As with any contending team, they emptied their cupboard of draft picks and prospects for immediate help.
Eventually, that will catch up to them but they have two additional worries. One, they have last year’s ill-fated overpay for Tanner Jeannot. Two, the longer they wait to re-sign Stamkos, the longer they risk losing him for nothing, further accelerating what might be a freefall in the standings.
The fact that BriseBois said he might have to let Stamkos go because of cap concerns raises the question if the Lightning are expecting to continue spending.
Any free agent signings in the post-2020 championship era have been rather small, veteran depth moves, such as Corey Perry and Calvin DeHaan. If they need to offload Stamkos, they might have big plans for that $8 million.
By no means is Stamkos’s fate of leaving Tampa set in stone. Stamkos is the type of player teams would hate to lose. Of course, if Tampa is worried about the cap, they could always re-sign him, Put him on LTIR, and have him return for the playoffs Kucherov style. That might work a second time.