Steven Stamkos has always been a pretty laid-back guy. I’ve been interviewing him for almost a decade now and his sunny outlook has been very consistent (though one time I accidentally called him during a high school English class – I still feel bad about that). But in speaking to reporters on a conference call Thursday, there was something weightier to Stamkos’ words. In re-signing with Tampa Bay, he may have broken hearts in Southern Ontario and Western New York, but he also proved just how worthy he is of that captain’s ‘C’ with the Lightning.
We can only assume that Steven Stamkos’ agents aren’t terribly excited at the moment. His accountants? Well, since there’s no state tax in Florida and Stamkos will earn an average salary of $8.5 million each of the next eight years, well, that should make them fairly happy. We know fans in Toronto are a little down, as they probably are in Detroit, Montreal and Buffalo, too.
But Steven Stamkos is happy and that is the most important part of the equation. And it’s why, despite a year-long soap opera that accounted for a petrified forest worth of newsprint and countless gigabits in cyberspace, he decided to stay with the only NHL team he has ever known. As first reported by Bob McKenzie at TSN and confirmed by thn.com, Stamkos has agreed to an eight-year deal with the Lightning totaling $68 million. The deal involves a full no-movement clause, which means Stamkos isn’t going anywhere unless he approves of the deal.
Free agency opens on Friday, as teams will be officially allowed to sign players on the open market, and fans around the league should be excited.
No, wait, excited isn’t the right word. What’s the one I’m looking for? Terrified. That’s the one. You should all be terrified.
That’s because, despite the occasional success story, NHL teams tend to be terrible at signing free agents. They can’t help themselves. And it rarely takes long for the initial excitement of a big signing to give way to the realization that a team has just handed out too much money for way too many years.
As we count down to Friday’s deadline, let’s take some time to look back at some cautionary examples of how quickly a big deal can go bad. Here are my picks for the five worst unrestricted free agency signings of the past two decades.
BUFFALO –– The moment was surreal. Especially considering where the Toronto Maple Leafs franchise was even two years ago. Lou Lamoriello and Mike Babcock, standing on the stage, handing a sweater to the first overall pick in the 2016 draft, representing the Blue and White? Did Leaf Nation dream this? Nope.
Toronto selected what it believes will be a franchise-defining player in center Auston Matthews. It was only fitting that, when Matthews donned his Leafs jersey, he became the first player to do so. The old getup, associated with too many years of failure, wouldn’t do. The “new” look includes the veined logo worn from 1938 to 1963, a period during which the Leafs won eight Stanley Cups. The rest of the design is understated, simple and classy: two horizontal stripes on each arm and some thicker piping along the bottom.
“It looks good,” Matthews said. “I like it. It felt unbelievable putting on the jersey. Such a storied franchise, so it was a big honor.”
Surely, the Matthews residence in Scottsdale, Arizona is a lovely abode. But when Auston Matthews was growing up, he tended not to stay within its walls for very long, even through the Xbox era. That’s because there were always sports to play outdoors. The neighborhood was full of kids up for games of football, soccer and basketball, while organized hockey and baseball went year-round thanks to summer hockey all-star tournaments and Arizona’s perfect ballpark climate.
Auston’s father, Brian, must shoulder some of the blame for this as well, however. A college pitcher who went on to play semi-pro, he loved to challenge his son in the batter’s box. And the right-handed Brian had more than just fastballs in his arsenal against the left-batting Auston. Brian hurled sinkers and filthy stuff fathers don’t typically give sons. “I was throwing everything at him, mixing it up,” Brian said. “He never knew what was coming. But his hand-eye co-ordination was uncanny.”
Auston was a catcher and a hard-hitting one at that. Coaches told him there was more money to be made on the diamond than the ice rink, but the Arizona Kid wasn’t having it. When time constraints forced him to choose between sports at 13, baseball lost out handily. “Auston was a better baseball player than he was a hockey player, but the game wasn’t fast enough for him,” said his mom, Ema. “He needed motion.”
No. What ever happened to that Maple Leafs rebuild?
One of the first things that came out of Mike Babcock’s mouth after he was hired to coach the Toronto Maple Leafs last summer was, “If you think there’s no pain coming, there’s pain coming. The path we’re taking has to be different. There’s no chance for a quick fixer here.”
Well, apparently that pain threshold isn’t quite as steely and strong as we all thought. That path that was supposed to be so different? Well, accelerating rebuilds is a path so well worn in Toronto that the organization still has too look up to see ground level. And no quick fixer? How’s that working out? Well, the first chance the Maple Leafs had, they went out and got a quick fixer.
Whatever happened to that rebuild that was supposed to take place in the Center of the Hockey Universe™? Well, it went out the window when the Leafs traded two draft picks in exchange for goalie Frederik Andersen, then handed him a five-year contract worth $27 million. It’s a move that makes no sense on so many levels for a team that says it’s committed to rebuilding properly.
Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Jonathan Bernier entered training camp on a brand new two-year, $8.3-million contract in 2015-16. This year it appears he’ll be heading into camp with some serious competition for his starting job.
The Maple Leafs announced Monday afternoon they have acquired restricted free agent goaltender Frederik Andersen from the Anaheim Ducks for two draft picks — the first-round, 30th-overall selection in 2016 and a second-round pick in 2017.
Anaheim had long been trying to get Andersen under contract, with GM Bob Murray saying as recently as this past weekend that he was working on getting a deal done. Murray did, however, acknowledge that eventually one of Andersen or John Gibson would have to be moved. With Gibson being the presumptive goaltender of the future, though, it seemed Andersen would be the one sent packing. Monday’s deal makes that official.
The acquisition addresses a definite need for the Maple Leafs, who were hoping to rely on, but were mostly let down by, the play of Bernier this past season. Read more
Members of Leafs Nation are going ga ga over the fact their beloved Toronto Maple Leafs have the first pick in the 2016 NHL draft.
And why not?
The opportunity to choose Auston Matthews and give the organization its first legitimate No. 1 center since Mats Sundin is nothing to balk at.
The Arizona native, who stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 212 pounds, is a blue-chipper who finished fourth in the Swiss league with Zurich, scoring 24 goals and 46 points and was second in voting for the league’s most valuable player award. Then, just for kicks, the 18-year-old led the United States in scoring with nine points in 10 games at the World Championship.
Toronto has not had the first overall pick since 1985 when it chose Wendel Clark.
The question is, will the addition of Matthews be the Maple Leafs instant ticket into the playoffs?
The answer, in a nutshell, is no. Not on his own.