It is 6 in the evening on the 25th day of the eighth month of year 2015 at the time of this articles publication and Steven Stamkos has not been signed to a contract extension by the Tampa Bay Lightning. There isn't a real news story here, just idle fans (and local columnists who were assigned something besides the Bucs and Rays) have made it into one. The age-old panic fed with help from insecurity and reactionary thinking has presented itself. Steven Stamkos cannot and should not near free agency in any way, shape or form because of other markets wanting him (hello, Toronto). Plus he's good at hockey ya' know? We need him and he can score goals.
We've been here, we've done this and now we're doing it again, to which I must ask in a stern fashion: Please, stop.
Most sports markets go through this with their teams at one point or another:
- Star A needs a new contract
- Other cities interested in Star A for personal reasons or ego (hometown boy or "we're awesome and he'll want to be with us instead of you")
- Star A will require OMG dollars to be re-signed
- Blind impulse suggests nothing more than getting it done
The complicated process of budgeting, roster management and the salary cap aren't the focus of fans when panic turns up a notch or three, it becomes the objective and nothing more; sign him because it's the right thing / best thing / necessary thing / only thing.
That fierce urgency can turn ugly in the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately reaction to underperformance that compares to how some fans got on Stamkos for his modest showing in the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs. It also seems like some of the fans barking for the contract to just get done change their complaint into how that player sucks for the amount of money they're being paid. Again, we've seen it here in Tampa Bay with Lecavalier several times through his career in Tampa Bay - the future had to be locked up by way of signing Vinny and it was necessary to do it now because him landing in Montreal, or Philadelphia, or Toronto or elsewhere in the NHL was unacceptable and would mar the Lightning... Oh, but you have to produce more, Vinny, because you're making so much and you're supposed to be a leader.
I don't go through the chatter about the Tampa Bay Rays on Drays Bay or Rays Index but I wouldn't be shocked to see Evan Longoria derided for not earning his contract and limiting the roster by having the deal on such a moneyball team (without much money to throw around, the club has to be smart with cash and get the most production possible from players signed).
As a fan, you want the Lightning to forge ahead in the best of ways with the best roster, retaining their superstar fits that frame, but it ain't simple even if we want it to appear that way (and the media presentation of just telling you a contract signing and the dollar amount leaves out a lot). "Just sign him" doesn't talk about the language of the contract and the legalese that is pure jargon to just about every fan in pro sports. The clauses, the bonuses, the unbeknown aspects of a NHL contract and what gets worked in; it's all so complex and arcane and—
And you don't want to hear that shit, you just want it done!
You also want a fully capable club surrounding Stamkos and yet a "just sign him" deal obstructs that by way of life under the salary cap. This isn't the NFL where roster turnover is perpetual and contracts aren't guaranteed. Getting rid of a player because he's no longer financially efficient is costly; buyouts will penalize you under the cap. The common "trade him" solution is a stretch - you don't just need to find a willing partner but you have to satisfy their demands in a deal (which is usually taking up a dead weight contract of their own to compensate the deal you're sending them). Giving Stamkos whatever he wants to get him signed also complicates retaining players. Do you like the Triplets (who I'd rather refer to as the TKO Trio)? New contracts are forthcoming for them, and it'd suck to have to let them go because we can't afford them on top of an at-any-cost-to-retain signing of Stamkos. Victor Hedman is in the same situation and he's in the spotlight as one of the best defensemen in the league now (as well as the fact he's entering his prime). Is the impulse necessity of getting Stamkos retained important enough you're willing to displace other integral members of the roster?
With regards to the rhetoric of Stamkos actually planning to leave (thus no new deal announced), most of the idle chatter comes by way of Toronto, where they want the local boy to come home and become the latest player tasked with resurrecting the Maple Leafs franchise from mediocrity. Most of the time, those southern Ontario sources are so disconnected from what and who in Tampa Bay that believing them is as trustworthy and believable as a weather report out of New Delhi, India that expects snow showers in Clearwater, Florida in February. Don't bet on it.
After all this rambling, I can tell you Steven Stamkos still wasn't signed to a new contract and you need to accept the fact that's a-okay. It's a process to put anyone down on ink. While you may not be comfortable with waiting, it's out of your hands and there are many more topics worth investing your time and patience in than waiting for a contract announcement. Case in point: training camp opens in less than a month (will you be attending?) and we'll be opening the 2015-16 Tampa Bay Lightning season in seven weeks time. There will be a lot more interesting storylines playing out for the team and the franchise than talk of Stamkos' new contract.