On July 1, the biggest Free Agency in recent hockey history, Steven Stamkos, heads home and becomes the face of the Toronto Maple Leafs. With the Leafs also holding the first overall pick in the 2016 NHL draft, expected to be American Auston Matthews, they could potentially have a very potent forward core.
Obtaining Steven Stamkos is a once in a lifetime opportunity, but in the case of the Leafs, is it a case of bad timing?
Steven Stamkos would improve every single franchise, and given every opportunity, every single franchise would sign him, but it seems that the mixture of coach Mike Babcock, heading home and never having to do anything again if he was to lead Toronto to the promised land, the Leafs look to be the favourites to sign the biggest free agent in recent history.
After missing the 2010 and 2014 Olympics squads for Team Canada and being Captain of the Tampa Bay Lightning that lost to the Blackhawks in the 2015 Stanley Cup finals, Stamkos has missed out on success in his career, and succeeding in Toronto would be the ultimate achievement in hockey, immortalizing him forever, is that something that can be passed up, especially if it comes with a ten million dollar a year paycheck?
Say the Leafs pulled it off, and signed Stamkos, the Leafs’ offense would regain the scoring touch that they lost when trading away Phil Kessel, bringing with him an extra 35-40 goals. But, do the Leafs have the supporting cast to be able to make the most of Stammer’s offensive skill set and become an offensive juggernaut in the league?
Someone who should benefit from playing in the same lineup, is James van Riemsdyk. JVR will no longer be relied upon to be main source of scoring, taking the pressure off him and allowing him to play with more freedom, which should lead to more productivity.
Nazem Kadri would drop to the second line with Stamkos’ arrival, possibly the third, depending on where the Leafs would play Auston Matthews. Kadri goes from being the centre of attention (pun intended) who just signed a six-year, 4.5 million dollar contract in the off-season, to being able to play second fiddle, which should open him up to reach the heights of his potential.
By signing Stamkos, the youth brigade will have some of the focus taken off of them, allowing the likes of William Nylander and Mitch Marner to grow and become elite NHL forwards, without having the spotlight shining in their faces, whilst they are still learning and growing to the paces of the National Hockey League.
Even though Steven Stamkos would instantly improve the Toronto Maple Leafs, it wouldn’t all be sunshine and lollipops. Stamkos’ cap hit, would be somewhere around the ten million dollars a year. His cap hit, would add up to about one seventh of their entire cap, and with the Leafs trading for Frederik Andersen from the Ducks, signing him to a five-year, 25 million contract, they will have to either trade away some cap, or buy out players with big cap hits.
Tyler Bozak would be one candidate to depart Toronto, if Stamkos was to arrive. Unless they can convert him to a winger and find a slot for him, between the mixture of Stamkos/Kadri/Matthews down the middle, as well as JVR/Komarov holding up one line on the wings, with the likes of Nylander, Marner and Soshnikov potentially taking spots in the lineup, Boz Lightyear could find himself squeezed out of the lineup, and on the way to another franchise.
Bozak could survive in Toronto, if the Leafs could move Joffrey Lupul and his 5.25 million contract per season, until the end of the 2017-18 season. It may be harder than first thought, with Lupul having an injury riddled 2015-16 season, as well as rumoured to have his locker replaced, but fully fit, he could provide handy scoring assistance for any line that he plays on. But, with Lupul currently the highest paid forward on the roster, it is very unlikely that Lupul stays, if Stamkos arrives.
Free agents can start talking to teams on the second day of the draft, with official signings starting on July 1. Whether Stamkos decides to stay in Tampa Bay, start afresh with a new franchise, or return home to Toronto, in search of immortality, the hockey world will be hanging by their TVs and social media, waiting. Waiting for the announcement, sure to rock the foundations of the National Hockey League.