Last season was filled with Steven Stamkos trade rumors. He was set to be the best free agent to enter the market in years and the Lightning were facing a salary cap crunch. It would make sense for General Manager Steve Yzerman to deal his pending unrestricted free agent for something rather then lose him for nothing in the summer.
Mr. Yzerman went in another direction. With the full support of his owner, he announced two weeks before the deadline that he would not be trading his captain. With that assurance, Stamkos promptly went on a six-game goal scoring streak and helped the Lightning get in a position to make the playoffs. The general manager’s gamble paid off when Stamkos re-signed with the Lightning in the off-season.
There was another general manager in Lightning history that refused to trade Stamkos. And he did it with less than full support of his owners. Well, at least one of the owners.
On April 4th, 2010 Larry Brooks wrote a story for the New York Post in which Glen Sather, the Rangers general manager, claimed that he had agreed to a trade with the Lightning in which Stamkos would come to New York in exchange for two or three players from a list that included “Michael Del Zotto, Evgeny Grachev, Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky and Dan Girardi.”
The day before the story was released, the Lightning had just been blown out on the ice by the Rangers, 5-0. The Lightning were struggling through a non-playoff season but Stamkos was showing the potent scoring touch that had made him the number-one pick overall. While Stamkos was shut out against the Rangers, he had scored 46 goals up to that point in the season and was well on his way to his first Rocket Richard Trophy.
The Rangers were a middling club with a mix of aging talent and young prospects, but lacked a true offensive star that could sell even more tickets to the world’s most famous arena. Stamkos could be that star.
According to what Sather told Brooks, the deal was struck. In fact, he shook hands on it with a member of the Lightning’s staff. The only problem was that the person who he shook hands with was Len Barrie. Unfortunately for Slather, despite what Barrie told him, the Lightning co-owner didn’t have the authority to actually make the deal. When Slather brought it up to Brian Lawton, the Lightning general manager wanted “no part of it” and Barrie’s co-owner, Oren Koules “shot it down”. The deal died right there.
Lawton confirmed that Barrie and Slather (Slats) had discussed it, but it was Lawton, not Koules, that ended the discussion. When asked about it a few days ago he told Raw Charge:
Was Slats excited about the prospect of it? Probably. Doesn’t matter. When I spoke to Slats, he asked me about trading for Stammer and and he said he had spoke to Len and wanted to discuss three players for him. I told him absolutely not a consideration. Nothing to discuss. That is as far as it went.
According to Slather’s version, the discussions started in Prague where the Rangers and Lightning opened the season. Why would the Lightning even contemplate moving their prized rookie mere days into the season? The season hadn’t fallen apart at this point. Barry Melrose was still coach, Stamkos still had a lot of potential and the Lightning were in a position to at least fight for a playoff spot.
Even when the handshake supposedly happened (around Thanksgiving), trading Stamkos didn’t make sense. Yes the team was in chaos and he was struggling (2 goals and 7 points), but it was way too soon to give up on a player with his skillset. Lawton had no intention of dealing him to the Rangers or any other team,
“After the first training camp Stammer was in, I had a meeting with our staff and coaches to let them know the future of the Tampa Bay Lightning was to build around 91.”
Word made it out to the league, and Lawton says he never received any serious offers for the young star. His dedication to the dynamic center would pay off as the Lightning did build themselves into a team that made it to the Eastern Conference Finals a year after Brian Lawton was fired. Stamkos has developed into a leader of a team that has made it to the playoffs four out of the last six years.
As for the players coming the other way, it’s interesting to see Callahan’s name in the mix. This wouldn’t be the last blockbuster trade that Slather supposedly tried to make with the Lightning involving the young center. After failing to land Stamkos, Slather apparently made a run for Vincent Lecavalier with a package that included Callahan.
Lawton shot down the Ottawa Sun’s report stating that it was “completely false” and that it “absolutely did not happen”.
It took four years, and a different GM for the Lightning, but Slather finally accomplished his goal of trading Callahan for a Lightning legend when he traded his captain for Marty St. Louis.