First, thanks to Erik Erlendsson for creating a portmanteau of Steven Stamkos and Armageddon that will forever haunt every single one of his contract years, from RFA to retirement. But let's start at the beginning.
Back in 2011, when Stamkos was an RFA, the whole fan base of the Tampa Bay Lightning flipped their poop when Stamkos was not yet signed by his contract-ending date, July 1. Retired Raw Charge editor-in-chief John Fontana wrote an article about the mass poop-flipping entitled, "Stammergeddon: Rumors, paranoia, and Tampa Bay sports." Fontana's theory about our fan base was simple. In 2011 we were like pets from a rescue shelter, cowering in fear:
Tampa Bay sports fans seem to have heightened insecurity when it comes to these things. We're always on the verge of disaster by way of a trade, free-agent loss, contraction, relocation, or the latest Tampa Bay Buccaneer quarterback. Of course, the Bay area does have a history that's led to such paranoia. It's one of bad management decisions, head-scratching exploits, or outright stupidity.
There was ample reason to be paranoid in 2011, with years of covetous Montreal eyes on Vincent Lecavalier, and excellent defenseman Dan Boyle dealt in 2008 in a ridiculous trade that made Tampa's power play suffer ever since. The part that made it paranoia rather than simply fear was that in 2011, Stamkos was RFA -- and in this league, nobody offersheets anybody, especially one of Steve Yzerman's players. In 2011, Stamkos was Yzerman's for the asking, with very little wiggle room for other teams to court him.
After re-signing with the Lightning on July 19, 2011, Stamkos admitted that he'd totally had the deal done for weeks, but was just hashing out the rest of it. He also called the furor "comical at first," mentioning that his friends passed around a picture of his face Photoshopped onto Phil Kessel's body. Then he said it "got a little annoying towards the end."
In retrospect, Stammergeddon 2011 was a cute harbinger of Stammergeddon 2016.
The Tampa fan base became much less insecure in the five years that followed. Jeff Vinik cemented our love by hiring one of the best general managers on the planet, Yzerman, in 2010. Yzerman proved to us that he's solid at making deals, and shrewd at picking prospects, so despite a few missteps and moments of uncertainty, we learned to trust in our skillful Jedi master.
But after Tampa's Cup run, the one that ended with Stamkos holding back tears while the Blackhawks sang in the locker room next door, the story of the summer was once again Stammergeddon.
Fontana's updated Stammergeddon article for the contract year of 2015-16 had the following ominous headline: "If only it were that simple to just sign Steven Stamkos." In this piece, Fontana cited Stammergeddon 1.0 and said with a sigh, "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."
The paranoia was rampant again, but this time, it bordered on reality.
Our fears began with Stamkos hitting "like" on a Tweet in 2014. Adam Proteau of The Hockey News wrote a story about how the Maple Leafs should have a guy "come home," like LeBron James did to Cleveland. Proteau tweeted his article headline, as writers do, but Stamkos' finger must've slipped, because he hit "like" on the article. In the imaginatively fertile hockey fields of Toronto, this story wiggled home and hit paydirt, spawning literally dozens of stories about a possible homecoming for Stamkos in the summer of 2016.
Stamkos would be UFA, not RFA. He could potentially be the highest-paid (and definitely most sought-after) UFA in hockey history.
These stories only ramped up in intensity in December of 2016, when Stamkos' trigger-happy Twitter finger found yet another "coming home" article. This one was from TSN. "Should the Maple Leafs pursue Stamkos?" The headline read. Stamkos hit like -- and because he only had one like on his account, it was blatantly obvious.
Stamkos later said it was a "pocket like," but the damage was done. My secret theory is that contract negotiations with Tampa were stalling at the number 8.5, and Stamkos knew the power of a deniable Twitter accident to get huge media gears rolling again. It was a shrewd move by a smart player to innocently prod the organization, and resulted in... well.
It resulted in talk, at least. So much talk. So very much talk, and not just by Toronto. It seemed like every team with cap space (and some that had to deal players to get the cap space) were in the running for Stamkos, with “remaining home” sometimes a possibility so remote that the fan base occasionally tried to figure out what life would be like without him in Tampa.
Thankfully, we all know how this ended. After letting his contract negotiation nearly approach deadline, Stamkos flew to Toronto to allow himself to be courted by the Leafs. The Leafs made a sales pitch that was described as "lavish," with "Maple Leafs ownership, front office executives, Toronto Mayor John Tory, Canadian Tire CEO Michael Medline and others from the corporate community" in attendance. Stamkos might have immediately realized that the Tampa Bay environment was more to his liking. As reported by the Toronto Sun:
He left the meeting with the Leafs, and apparently turned to his advisors and said: “No more meetings.”
“I think they scared him off,” said an NHL executive.
[A]ccording to another source, Stamkos left the Toronto meeting and told his advisors: “I want to call Steve (Yzerman).”
The conclusion of the article states, "He needed to go through the process before realizing what he had."
Tampa is low key; Toronto is not. Playing to justify a huge contract at the center of the hockey universe is stressful; remaining where you’re comfortable with your just-big-enough contract is not. Maybe that was the deciding factor.
On June 29, 2016, news broke via Bob McKenzie that Stamkos was staying. Not only that, it was for an eight-year contract, so Stammergeddon 3.0 won't come until (mark your calendar, Erlendsson!) 2024.
We know how lucky we are, Steven Stamkos — so luck we're writing this series to prove it. And we're glad you like it here well enough to say no to your hometown. Now don’t mind me while I remove an app named Twitter from your phone before 2024 hits...