Steven Stamkos, defiant to the last minute, returned from a horrifying, potentially life-threatening blood clot injury to play for the Tampa Bay Lightning in their game seven loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Finals. It could very well be his final game as a Bolt.
The former first overall selection, four-time All-Star and four-time 40-plus goal scorer (once 60) is set to hit unrestricted free agency on July 1st. Once Los Angeles Kings general manager Dean Lombardi secured Anze Kopitar’s services well into the next decade, that made Stamkos the unquestioned prize of his free agent class. That fact is likely to manifest itself in a sea of suitors followed by a lucrative contract that might run the millions into double-digits annually.
Most are operating on the assumption that the Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning are the preeminent head of the pack, but I wouldn’t rule out the field. Is there a team in the league that wouldn’t benefit from adding Stamkos to their lineup? Probably not and you can count the Vancouver Canucks among the more needy of the lot. Let’s see if there’s a match.
The Scouting Report:
Stamkos is, inarguably, the best pure sniper in the entire league. He’s carried an even-strength shooting percentage of 15.9 over the last six seasons and I’m fairly confident at this stage that he’s cleared the threshold for luck and laid claim as the league’s best finisher. Further to that point, Stamkos is scoring 1.36 goals at even strength over that time span, good for first in the league.
If there’s any one area of Stamkos’ game that lags behind his peers, it’s his ability to contribute in the defensive zone. Stamkos has a largely negative impact on the Lightning’s shot and goal suppression, which is worth taking into account in the grand scheme of things. He’s a very one-dimensional player, though that one dimension is exceedingly important and he’s exceptionally good at it.
Are you fielding an NHL Team? Because if so, you qualify for adding Stamkos to your lineup. It really is that simple. If you don’t have the room, you make it. If you don’t have the cap space, you create it. And if you don’t have the dollars, you find them.
It isn’t often that a 26-year-old centre in the middle of their prime hits the open market. There’s a good reason for that. To qualify for unrestricted free agency that age, you have to have played NHL games at 18-years-old. That’s usually a pretty good sign. Like, top three talent in your draft good. Those are exactly the type of players you try to build your team around.
The Canucks have the middle of their lineup set going into next season. Though, it could very reasonably be argued that most, if not all of their centres are playing a spot in the depth chart above their pay grade. Consider Stamkos the great equalizer. The Sedins move to the second line, Brandon Sutter to the third and so on. This team becomes legitimately competitive overnight.
The Canucks can undo a world of negative publicity in an instant. All they have to do is sign Steven Stamkos. Easier said than done, right? It’s not impossible to imagine, though. Not by any means. The Canucks have cap space. They can literally afford to offer a maximum dollar value deal and remain under the cap. That’s before Alexandre Burrows and or Chris Higgins get their walking papers.
Adding a player like Stamkos will go a long way in fixing the Canucks even strength and power play offence, and for a team that struggled so mightily to score there’s no denying what an instant boost that would provide to their short-term goals of remaining competitive as they add long-term talent to the pool.
It’s not likely that the Canucks land Stamkos. Not by any stretch of the imagination. But they have the resources and there is absolutely a fit to be had. All they’ll have to do is convince him to spurn the team that drafted him, a best friend and his hometown team growing up.