Steven Stamkos (Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Tampa Bay Lightning captain is approaching free agency while in the prime of his career and the Bolts have apparently made a substantial offer. But what is the appropriate salary for the face of the franchise when there are other talents to be signed in upcoming years?
It has been one of the unceasing sagas of the 2015-16 season and it's by no means over yet. The contract status of Steven Stamkos has been a hot topic in Tampa Bay dating back to last year, but with the Lightning captain up for unrestricted free agency in the summer, the urgency is apparent.
According to Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman, the Bolts have made an offer of $68 million over eight years, for an average of $8.5 million per season. Is that enough for Stamkos?
It's a tricky question. Los Angeles captain Anze Kopitar will begin a new eight-year pact next season that sees the Slovenian make $10 million per and no doubt folks will want to compare the two superstars. Kopitar has two Stanley Cups to Stamkos' zero, but Stamkos is also three years younger and from what we're learning about typical career arcs, that's a big deal.
Kopitar is a better two-way player and actually has more points than Stamkos right now, but here's where it gets complex: I have to wonder if all the distractions surrounding Stamkos has impacted his performance this season. There has been way more trade speculation around him than there was with Kopitar; it is really hard for a team to rebound from losing the Stanley Cup final; and Stamkos has dealt with a position shift from center to right wing (dating back to last year).
If you're part of his Newport Sports agency negotiating team, you're certainly going to point to how important Stamkos has been in the recent past and how two of the three items I just mentioned go away next year automatically (unless they lose in the final again. But if they got back there, it would be a testament to Stammer and his mates).
And let's not forget: Stamkos is the face of the franchise. He's the captain, he's the player that brought the team out of the dark ages, he's the one with the Rocket Richard trophies on his mantle.
From Tampa Bay's perspective, the salary cap era puts a damper on such sentiments. GM Steve Yzerman must consider a busy summer ahead of him even if the Stamkos contract is resolved. Assuming Stamkos gets in at $8.5 million, the Bolts still have about eight necessary contracts to figure out, including Nikita Kucherov, Vladislav Namestnikov and Alex Killorn. The Bolts will likely have less than $20 million of space to do that with.
And that is possible, but the bigger storm comes in 2017-18, when pretty much every other core player comes up: Victor Hedman, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and both goalies – Ben Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy. Right now, Hedman is making $4 million a season, which is an absolute steal for the titan defenseman.
Should Stamkos agree to an average annual stipend of $8.5 million, he would be one of the highest-paid players in the NHL and this is where you, the reader, can have some fun.
Chicago's Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews have the highest salaries in the NHL with an average annual value of $10.5 million each. Hard to question the value of those two, given all the championships and all. Other players that would be making more than Stamkos include Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, P.K. Subban, Sidney Crosby and Corey Perry. Henrik Lundqvist would be making the same amount.
That's a pretty impressive roster right there. Coming in behind Stamkos would be names such as Claude Giroux and Shea Weber. So here's where you can play a game of "Who would you rather have?"
As these negotiations go on, you'll probably hear a lot about the end of the contract versus the beginning and how a 32-year-old Stamkos will contribute, for example. I know it's contrary to logic, but I understand teams paying guys for their earlier years and maybe taking a bath at the end – it just seems to be the cost of business in the NHL and I imagine it's tough to say to a player "we don't want to offer you max years because you may be 60 percent of the player you are today by then."
Personally? I think $9 million is a good number for Stamkos. It recognizes his stature both on and off the ice while acknowledging that the Bolts are a depth team rather than a top-heavy affair. Now the question is whether any deal gets done at all.