Where were you when Steven Stamkos re-signed with the Lightning?
After more than a year’s worth of will-he-or-won’t-he-leave-Tampa, when Stamkos finally revealed he wouldn’t be taking his services outside of Tampa exactly one week ago, it set into motion how free agency would play out two days later. So all that excitement when the clock struck noon on Friday, July 1? The hockey world has Stamkos to thank for that. So much so that Sportsnet’s John Shannon says players should send thank you cards to the captain.
Shannon’s right. Stamkos signed with enough time before free agency where the teams that were courting him had time to lick their wounds and move on to target other players.
Those teams and more had different strategies for free agency depending on their team’s needs. There was the Stand Pat and Do Nothing. The Give a Five-Year Contract to an Aging Player. The Let’s Go After the Guy We Once Traded. The Grab the Stanley Cup Champ Defenseman. The Lightning, meanwhile, had a different strategy: Take care of their own. So they extended Victor Hedman’s contract to the same eight years Stamkos received but with a bit lower AAV. Just like that, in a span of a few days, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2008 draft and the No. 2 overall pick of the 2009 draft were locked up with their original team.
Because of those accomplishments, which also included doing the right thing and buying out Matt Carle the day before free agency, and then re-signing future/present goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, the media overwhelmingly praised Steve Yzerman and the Lightning.
For instance, our mothership, SB Nation, gave Hedman’s signing an A. Kevin Allen of USA Today ranked the Lightning No. 1 in a list of “teams that have done the best job of improving their outlooks.” Ted Kulfan of The Detroit News wrote “Yzerman might have secured executive of the year honors by re-signing forward Steven Stamkos and extending defenseman Victor Hedman in a matter of days.” The Chicago Sun Times’ Mark Lazerus, someone who knows a thing or two about covering Stanley Cup championship teams, put it best:
Every Stanley Cup-winning team in recent years has had at least one world-class forward, defenseman and goaltender. By adding nobody, but keeping everybody, Tampa Bay is the big winner.
There’s also something to be said about homegrown talent staying with his team when they could’ve commanded more money elsewhere, guaranteed. It helps when those two players are great friends outside of their jobs. In fact, ESPN’s headline declared: Bond with Victor Hedman a big reason Steven Stamkos stayed with the Lightning. Stamkos told Pierre LeBrun:
"Victor and I are extremely close friends. We came up in this organization as 18-year-old kids. To say that we're going to be together for the long run, and on one team, that's something special.
We have talked a lot throughout this process. I joke with him that sometimes I forget the time difference (with Sweden) and I'm calling him at 4 in the morning. But he's always getting back to me as quick as he can.
It was extremely exciting to see him sign. A big reason why both of us stuck around is because of the relationship that we have as teammates and as friends as well."
The implications of Stamkos’ signing reverberated throughout the league not just for free agency but beyond that. Specifically Jamie Benn, who’ll soon be in the same boat of approaching free agency with the Dallas Stars. Mike Heika, who covers the team for the Dallas Morning News, wrote that Stars fans should be happy with Stamkos’ signing because of what it could mean for Benn. Here are two of the most notable paragraphs from the article:
NHL negotiations work a lot off of "comparable" salaries. It's the system that's used for arbitration in the NHL, and agents and GMs rely on the same principles when they are talking contract extensions.
Stamkos took less money to stay with his team because he believes the Lightning have a chance to win the Cup. Benn could do the same thing. Stamkos decided living in a market like Tampa in a state like Florida that has no state income tax creates more value in the money he makes. Benn could think the same thing.
So about that thank you card... we’ll just say it for Stamkos: You’re welcome.