There were a lot of armchair psychologists studying Steven Stamkos in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
If the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup, would that increase the chances that Stamkos would seek a new challenge as an unrestricted free agent next summer or want to win more with this group? If they were eliminated in the Final, would it increase or decrease the chances that he’d stay?
What about his relationship with Jon Cooper? Is he pissed he was moved to the wing? Is there a rift, as Don Cherry opined on Wednesday in a series of tweets that laid out evidence ranging from usage or ice time to having Stamkos serve a penalty?
But then, this is nothing new. For years it’s been “wouldn’t Stamkos rather serve out his productive years in a REAL HOCKEY MARKET that rhymes with ‘schmoronto?’”
Maybe we’ll hear less of this one since, you know, Tampa is officially a damn good hockey market, observationally and statistically.
All of this tracks back to one thing: Stamkos is a free agent after next season. Does he want to return to Tampa?
Stamkos could probably make something along the lines of the eight-year, $84 million deals Blackhawks stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane signed last summer. Stamkos said he isn't too worried about it, believing the contract talks will "take care of itself."
He loves the future of this young team, saying this playoff run was the most fun he has had playing hockey. "I've said it all along, I want to win a championship with this group," Stamkos said. "It's been a great ride this year. I know we'll have some talks, whether it's in the next day or weeks, I don't know. But we'll definitely be getting something worked out hopefully shortly."
Stamkos knows it could be a distraction if he goes into next season without having a long-term deal. It would become a big story, especially with the media in Canada with regards to Stamkos potentially returning to his hometown Maple Leafs.
"Whenever (the Lightning) want to start talking, we'll be there listening," Stamkos said. "We have a lot of time in this summer."
Stamkos’ contract is going to be north of what Kane and Toews make. The idea that he’ll be the first $12 million annual salary player at some point in the deal isn’t outlandish.
There’s no question that Cooper has his “Coop’s Troops” from the AHL days, including Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat. But ask them about Stamkos, and to a man they’ll spin tales of how he made their transition to the NHL easier and how the team takes its marching orders from the captain.
And Stamkos knows that those players bring to the table, along with Victor Hedman, Ben Bishop and eventually Jonathan Drouin. Ultimately, one of the greatest aspects of Steven Stamkos’ personality might be the thing that keeps him in Tampa Bay: His will to win, and the acknowledgement that his chances to do so might be greater there than another allegedly greener pasture.
“I’m competitive at everything I do. Even running up the stairs with my sister as a kid, that was a race. I was competitive. I want to win at everything I do. At the gym, who can lift the most weight. Who can run the fastest around the track. Softball, golf, everything I do, I want to win,” said Stamkos before the Final. “I want this so bad. Everyone who knows me knows that. And I will do whatever it takes.”
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