Mar 19, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) carries the puck against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre. The Lightning beat the Maple Leafs 5-3. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Steven Stamkos: It’s Stammer Time

Social media is going berserk over the fact that Steven Stamkos clicked on “favorite” to a couple of tweets stating that in 2016, he will sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs. To his credit, Stamkos almost immediately retracted the faves but for many in Bolts Nation, the damage was done.  What is he doing?  Why is Steven Stamkos wanting to leave Tampa?  Let’s get a grip, people.

Many media members, especially in the Ontario Province have jumped on the story. Steven Stamkos will pull a LeBron and sign with his hometown team when he becomes a free agent in 2016.

I have seen multiple articles and several hundred tweets talking about Steven Stamkos playing for Toronto.

Believe it or not, I have actually seen projected lines for Toronto in 2016 and which players are going to line up with Stammer.  Everyone needs to simmer down.

The fact of the matter is that Steven Stamkos is under contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning. He is under contract until June 30, 2016 with the Bolts. I’m sure every kid who is fortunate enough to play in the NHL, dreams about playing for the team he rooted for as a kid. I’m sure it’s the same way in the NFL, the NBA and even Major League Baseball.

That being said, I don’t like that Stamkos hit favorite on some of those tweets. It angers me that when asked by the media recently, Steven Stamkos said “We’ll see what happens, it’s a couple years away,” further fanning the fires.

It is certainly within his prerogative to fantasize what it would be like to play for his hometown team. Steven Stamkos can play out his Lightning contract and choose to play with any of the other 29 NHL teams after the 2016 season.

But here, in July of 2014, with the upcoming season less than 90 days away, let us remember this: Steven Stamkos is the captain of your Tampa Bay Lightning. He is under contract for the next two seasons. At the same time that he is being somewhat cryptic about his free agency, which is two years away, he is also telling members of the media, what is the task at hand as he sees it: “Right now I’m focused on what I have to do to win in Tampa, and I think we’ve really established ourselves as a team that can compete in upcoming years.” That does not sound like a man who is looking to leave.

In fact, Steven Stamkos seems to me to be wise beyond his years. Yes, he is only 24 years old but he has already played in the NHL for six years. Yes, he hasn’t even lived a quarter century but he is already a captain of a team in the NHL. Yes, he can’t even legally rent a car, but Steven Stamkos has made it to one Eastern Conference Finals and his team is primed to contend this year and for the next few years.  Most importantly, Steven Stamkos knows all of this very well.

Let all the nationwide and Canadian media theorize and suppose all they want. Steven Stamkos is our captain. He plays for our Tampa Bay Lightning. He is a smart young man, who has shown his toughness on many occasions. When his nose was broken in the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs, he was back the next game. When he severely broke his leg last November, he tried not once, but twice, to skate off the ice on his own power.

Steven Stamkos understands that despite playing a child’s game, that the NHL is a business. So while the pundits write about what may or may not happen, let me throw some facts your way.

The Tampa Bay Lightning could have re-signed Steven Stamkos to a bridge contract after his initial three year deal was complete three years ago. They didn’t. The Tampa Bay Lightning organization signed Stamkos to a five year deal worth $37.5 million. The bridge contract has been on the rise in the NHL the last few years. It is short term, say two or three years, when a young player is coming off their initial contract. If a team isn’t sure about a young player they can utilize this bridge contract for a shorter term before signing that player to a longer term contract. Montreal used a bridge contract a couple years ago with P.K. Subban.  There is a risk involved both ways but again, the Lightning chose not to utilize this three years ago with Stamkos.  It was their way of telling Stamkos that they believed in him.  That they have bought into everything that Steven Stamkos brings to the table.

Steven Stamkos is smart enough to understand that the Tampa Bay Lightning organization thought so highly of him that they didn’t use a bridge contract prior to the 2011 season and signed him to the five year deal he currently plays under. By the way, that was Steve Yzerman who orchestrated that deal.

Another fact is, that this year, the Lightning currently have $70 million of cap payroll. The cap is $69 million and the move most likely to occur is to assign Mattius Ohlund to long term injured reserve, thereby taking his $3.6 million cap hit out of the equation.  The team still has to pay this but it just isn’t on the cap numbers.

Of the $70 million in cap payroll (including Ohlund’s) the Lightning will free up approximately $10.5 million from this, by the time the Steven Stamkos re-negotiation has to take place. In addition to Ohlund’s $3.6 million, the obligation for Sam Gagner, who the team flipped and is paying $1.6 million to, along with $3.8 they are currently paying Eric Brewer and the $1.5 million for Brenden Morrow.

That adds up to $10.5 million from the $70 million in cap space that will be freed up from players no longer on the team, no longer projected to be on the team or obligated to be paid by the team. Now, keep in mind the $70 million also includes the $7.5 million that Stamkos is receiving now. So, in theory, there should be approximately $18 million freed up to pay Steven Stamkos in 2016 that is without adding a dime to what the payroll is this year.

Steven Stamkos should see a contract in the $12 million range in two years.  Which should put him as the highest paid player in the NHL.  Well deserved, Steven, well deserved.  My point is that the Lightning and Steve Yzerman will have the financial wherewithal to negotiate in good faith with Stammer when the time is right.

Lastly, Stamkos has said how important it is for him to win. He means Lord Stanley’s Cup. The roster that Steve Yzerman has built around him should tell him that this team, this organization gives him the best chance to build his legacy. As captain of the team, Steven Stamkos will be the driving force behind multiple championship seasons – here in Tampa Bay.

So, I say to you Steven Stamkos, what it is going to be? I realize it would be an unbelievable kick to play for the team you rooted for as a kid. But I have seen just about every game you have played for in your NHL career. I have seen you lay it out for all of us who root for you in Bolts Nation.

You are finally out from behind the long and illustrious shadows of your two predecessors of the captaincy here in Tampa. Vinny and Marty are damn hard shoes to fill. But I have faith in you and so far, you have filled those shoes extremely well. I know what you have shown yourself to be thus far in your six years here. It’s Stammer time.

You have a lot of young players looking up to you.  Not just Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson, but Nikita Kucherov and Richard Panik and Alex Killorn.  You have a goalie by the name of Ben Bishop, who told us what you did for him when he hurt his elbow last spring, who would skate through a wall of fire for you.  It’s Stammer Time.

You’ll have a kid this year by the name of Jonathan Drouin who has anticipated playing alongside of you for over a year now.  He had to face the disappointment of playing in the Juniors last year but seems ready to make the leap to the NHL this year.  He will be looking to his captain for help.  It’s Stammer Time.

You have the strong, faithful fandom of Bolts Nation wanting to see you be handed the Stanley Cup like Dave Andreychuk was ten years ago.  It’s Stammer Time.

It is time for you to carve out your legacy. Your legacy as one of, if not the best player in the NHL. This is your team. This is your city.  This is your time. Grab it. Take hold of it and lead this team to the Promised Land. It is time for you, Steven, it is Stammer Time!

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