NHL.com reports that the Tampa Bay Lightning have offered star skater, and team captain, Steven Stamkos an eight-year contract worth $68 million, with an annual salary-cap charge of $8.5 million.
However, this offer may prove to be futile given the contract that Los Angeles center Anze Kopitar accepted earlier this month.
Stamkos monitoring the Kopitar situation
In the middle of December, Stamkos brushed off his increasingly worrying contract situation by comparing his predicament with Kopitar’s. The Tampa Bay Times recorded him as saying:
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"But there has been a lot of situations in the past where guys have signed later in the season and this isn't the first time.
“Even Kopitar is going through it this year. It's not the first time someone in my position has been unsigned at this point in the season. Obviously we'll see what happens."
According to TSN’s Hockey Insider Darren Dreger, and Sportrac, on January 16 Anze Kopitar signed a new eight-year deal worth $80 million – allowing the Slovenian center to earn $1.5 million more than Stamkos.
Does Stamkos deserve an equal contract to Kopitar?
Steven Stamkos was drafted first overall in 2008. Since then he has played 540 games scoring 296 goals and 535 points – and he’s only 25-years-old.
28-year-old Anze Kopitar was drafted 11th overall in 2005, scoring 231 goals and 651 points in 731 appearances.
However, Kopitar and the Kings have won the Stanley Cup twice – 2012 and 2014 – whereas Stamkos doesn’t have a Stanley Cup to his record. Whilst this is largely dependent on the playoff ability of their teams, it still bares weight in player valuations.
In the playoffs, Anze Kopitar is a scoring wizard – totaling 60 points in 70 games which averages 0.86 points per playoff game. Stamkos, on the other hand, averages 0.73 points per game in his 48 playoff contests.
After 48 games played by both players this season, Stamkos has 20 goals – seven more goals than Kopitar – but the Kings center has 28 assists, which is 11 more than the Tampa Bay captain.
Given how young and extremely talented the Tampa Bay team is, they would do well to keep the experienced leader in their ranks. Considering what he’s provided so far to a growing team, he’s certainly worthy of a contract weighing in amongst the likes of Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Toews.
Can the Lightning afford to up the offer?
Sportrac estimates that, as it stands, Tampa Bay will have roughly $23.7 million of empty cap space. Take out the intended $8.5 million offer for Stamkos and there’s $15.2 million remaining.
The Lightning also have Braydon Coburn becoming an unrestricted free agent – who currently takes up $4.5 million of the salary cap – but Tampa Bay may be more inclined to let his contract run out. Rotoworld explains his diminishing playing time over the past few years, and the defenseman has only managed seven points this season.
If the Lightning’s do decide to let Coburn become a free agent, then they’ll still have $15.2 million to dispense between their restricted free agents, who are: Nikitia Kucherov, Vladislav Namestnikov, Cedric Paquette, Jonathan Marchessault, Nikitia Nesterov and J.T. Brown.
The big name on that list is Kucherov, who currently leads the Lightning on points. But HNGN reports that he will not be negotiating his contract until the season finishes – so he can focus on his hockey. The same source also expected Stamkos to be offered a $10 million-per-year deal.
Namestnikov has also been playing well recently. The 23-year-old has 25 points in 48 games, and is playing very well on line 1. Lightning will definitely be looking to keep a hold of Kucherov and Namestnikov, but they should still be able to offer Stamkos more money.
Stamkos may reject the Bay
There is no doubt that, if he were to go to the free agency, Steven Stamkos would easily pull in a $10 million contract that would rival the other big earners in the NHL.
However, the captain has explained his desire to win the Stanley Cup in Tampa Bay. NHL reports Stamkos as saying:
"Like I've always said, I envision myself winning a championship here and want to do that. Obviously we got close last year, and I'm the captain of this team and I want to be that leader."
It’s a tricky situation; Stamkos could easily wait out the season and get a big contract for 2016/17. But, he has made it clear that he wants to win the Cup with the club that drafted him.
If Stamkos were to reject this relatively low offer, then Tampa Bay should be able to come back with a better one for their captain.