LAS VEGAS, NV - JUNE 22: "Hey, EA Sports, you guys have Photoshop, right?" (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The reality of the Steven Stamkos situation in one excessively long sentence is as follows:
If the Tampa Bay Lightning don't sign the 21-year-old center, who has scored more goals (96) than anybody else in the NHL the last two years, before noon on Friday, July 1st, he will become a restricted free agent and can receive offers from any other team in the NHL, although the Lightning still have the option of matching that offer and retaining him, even though all those that are actively involved in the negotiation process at this point have expressed nothing but optimism that a deal will be made with the Lightning before that point.
Right. So in other words, contrary to overwhelmingly popular and thoughtful opinion, not to mention simple, basic reason itself, now is the perfect time to freak out and panic over the prospect of him leaving town.
Worrying needlessly about things that have very little chance of ever happening are one of the most fun things about being a sports fan, just like an ingrown toenail is one of the most fun things about having feet. Critics of worriers will say that worrying about something terrible that doesn't come to pass is nothing but wasted energy. Like, when the world was supposed to end a few weeks ago but didn't and all the people who said that it would looked kind of foolish when it didn't but wouldn't have looked that way if it had. Nobody ever points out the time not wasted by not worrying about bad things that do happen.
Ouch, my head hurts. Wait. What was I talking about? Oh yeah, Stamkos! Here are some reasons why it's a good idea to start panicking right now, this very instant...
- Because the pundits say so - If you can't trust a talk show host, TV analyst or newspaper/internet columnist with anonymous sources, who can you trust? The only question isn't whether Stamkos will wind up in Philadelphia or New York or Toronto or Buffalo or Colorado, it's how he'll wind up in all of those places at the same time. Impossible, based on the elementary principles of physics you say? Ha! these guys aren't bound by any principles, of physics or otherwise. In that way, they're like wizards. Also in the way that most of what they conjure up involves lots of smoke but very little fire. High profile media speculators who are never held responsible for throwing out all kinds of wild unsubstantiated rumors are the best source for accurate inside info the same way lottery tickets are the best option for funding your retirement.
- Because of The Carl Crawford Effect -The Tampa Bay sports market went an incredibly long time, over 30 years, without having a high-profile, key contributor in the prime of his career pack up and leave town for a better deal elsewhere. Until Carl Crawford left the Rays for the Boston Red Sox. Now you have to assume the floodgates are open, right? After all, "taking his talents to Toronto" is a lot more alliterative than LeBron saying he was taking his to South Beach. Do you think somebody named Steven Stamkos might be a fan of alliteration? He hasn't ever said that he isn't.
- The NHL is out to get us - Oh come on, everybody knows it. Never mind that fans of every team feel that way (there are people in Toronto who think there are people in Toronto who have it in for them). We all know that we're the ones who always get the dirty end of the stick, don't we? Yeah! Now, how would the league organize a conspiracy to get involved in making sure Stamkos leaves Tampa Bay? I have no idea how that would work. Something to do with Gary Bettman probably (I realize that this sentence, with absolutely no substance to it whatsoever, is enough to provoke a reaction from hockey fans everywhere and while I don't feel good about that, I make no apologies for it either).
- Because you can't go back and panic a year ago - Taking into account that speculation on where basketball players like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and now Dwight Howard will go begins years before their contracts expire, this Stamkos situation is actually coming to a boil really, really late in the process. And once again, the NHL lags way behind the true innovators in the NBA. Sheesh, Bettman (pandering isn't fun but it sure is easy)!
- Because Dave Mishkin says so - Well, not in a straightforward manner, no. But if you play Mishkin's call of the goal that Stamkos scored at 00:34 in the 3rd period of Game 6 of the Conference Finals, what sounds like "SCOOOOOOOOOOOOORE!!!" forward, clearly almost sounds kind of like "yeah, that's your last goal as a member of the Lightning, Stammer" backward. Also, there's some business in there about Josh Groban tickets going on sale but that part is more muddled.
- Because there isn't anything else to do right now - Hockey fans are passionate and like to be excited. There's nothing wrong with that. With the draft completed and the new schedule just sitting there, waiting to be tacked to a 'fridge, there's a lot of suppressed energy with no outlet. At least focusing on wild conspiracies and "what if" scenarios more elaborate than a Rube Goldberg-designed particle accelerator gives us something to talk about. After all, which is better: people monitoring this situation on a daily basis, concerned about how it plays out or showing up some time after football season is over and asking, "hey, do we still have that guy that was pretty good, what's-his-name, number 91?"