The dog days of summer, the doldrums of mid-July through August, can breed many types of narratives and storylines among the masses in hockey. It can mint Stanley Cup champions on paper (which don't come anywhere close to fruition when the season starts), it can produce all sorts of whimsical ideas to "improve" the game, and of course it can and does produce all sorts of rumors and innuendo about player movement - even if the player in question is under contract with his parent club (a team that has no plans on trading the player in question).
Tampa Bay is used to the most latter of the above listed items. We heard it for years because of our status as a non-traditional market while we harbored one provincial superstar or another on the roster.
In case you've missed it the past few days, the Lightning and player-go-home narratives have graduated from Vincent Lecavalier and the Montreal Canadiens to Steven Stamkos and the Toronto Maple Leafs. A furor is out there far, far before the opportunity has arrived for the potential for Stamkos go go anywhere.
NBA player LeBron James "going home" to Cleveland (in another over-dramatic episode of NBA free agency which almost played out as grotesquely as "The Decision" a few years ago) spawned a piece by Adam Proteau at The Hockey News about Stamkos and his potential to pull the same act when his contract expires in 2016. What really set off the firestorm was the fact that someone among the idle masses monitors what Stamkos does on Twitter, and noted to the world that Steven favorited the tweet from his Twitter account. Much like how Winnipeg reads far too much in to every single action of Evander Kane, Ontario and the larger idled east coast hockey world has been in a tizzy over this.
Stamkos is in the Toronto area at the moment, training with Gary Roberts per usual during the summer, and he addressed things yesterday. I'm just linking over to it because there's one thing going on and going on too much on the Internet right now and that's people reading into Stamkos' remarks in one way or another to the point it renders the remarks moot; personal want of the reader is all that gets taken from his remarks.
We've dealt with this before with Lecavalier (as I mentioned above) and how every summer he was destined to go home to Quebec). Vinny, when he was a free agent, always chose to remain in Tampa (and still chose elsewhere when Tampa wasn't an option.) Stamkos won't have that freedom to make a choice where to play until the summer of 2016 - that's if he doesn't sign a contract extension before then. He'll have the option to "go home" or go to a location that he decides on at that time, or he can stay in Tampa. There's no use getting worked up about it now.
The best writing about the whole charade that I've seen was done by our own Clare Austin over on her personal blog, Puckology. She addresses some of the broader social aspects of this whole ordeal - defensiveness, insecurity and irrelevance that has its hands in both Tampa Bay and Toronto. More importantly:
Will Steven Stamkos leave Tampa Bay in 2016? Does he dream of playing for his hometown team? I don't know, and neither does anyone else jawing about it. Of course Toronto will try to get him. They've been trying since he was 18. Will Steve Yzerman have to pay top dollar to keep him? We were expecting that before anyone noticed that he'd favorited the link to that story. We were guessing that a year ago. And as long as Steven Stamkos is one of the top 5 players in the NHL, he deserves to be paid like it.
Basically that's the only fact that all sides (and the NHL in general) need to be aware of: Superstar Steven Stamkos will be an unrestricted free agent in 2016. Period. End of story... at least for now.
A lot happens in two years, and many things change. Getting anxious over things (as a Leafs fan or a Lightning fan) is like watching the ticking clock, it won't go any faster while you do it and it's best you go on with your life as you wait.