Had it happened at any point over the last year, Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos re-signing with the Lightning would have been the top story of the day and dominated the conversation. However, on a day where big names were being traded left, right, and center, the Markham-native forgoing unrestricted free agency seemed like a side note.
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports the structure of Stamkos’ new contract being heavily bonus-laden: Stamkos will make a $1MM salary with the rest in bonuses. Friedman has the salary at five years of $9.5MM, followed by $7.5MM and two years of $6.5MM. That’s a total of $68MM over 8 years, for a cap hit of $8.5MM, which is only $1MM higher than his expiring contract.
It’s a similar structure to the contracts of David Clarkson and Ryan O’Reilly, with great benefits to the player in the event of a lockout or buyout: Stamkos will still get the signing bonus money if the NHL goes through another lockout in 2023 at the expiration of the current CBA. As well, should the Lightning ever want to buy him out (don’t laugh, they bough out Vincent Lecavalier), it would cost the team $2.83MM per season. That’s 283% of his actually salary. (Buyout calculation done on General Fanager).
The feel-good aspect of the signing is this: Stamkos took less money to stay than he could have gotten on the open market (not factoring taxes). He wants to retire a member of the Lightning. In the Lightning’s press release, Stamkos was quoted as saying “it’s not often that a player gets the chance to spend his career in one organization and I am hopeful that this agreement sets me on that path”.
However, the part that is going to make Lightning fans nervous is how it will affect the team around Stamkos. The team has $9.3MM in space for next season. However, leading scorer Nikita Kucherov still needs a new contract after being qualified earlier this week, as does two-way winger Alex Killorn. Those two contracts are doable; it’s next summer where it could get ugly. Top defenceman Victor Hedman, both starting goalie Ben Bishop and goalie-of-the-future Andrei Vasilevskiy, and forwards Jonathan Drouin, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat will all see their contracts expire.
One of the goalies will likely be traded before then, but the rest of the group will cost serious money to keep together. Defenceman Matt Carle has two years left at $5.5MM and figures to be traded or bought out to save space for the upcoming group of free agents. This is also where gritty winger Ryan Callahan’s contract is going to hurt. Callahan will make $5.8MM annually until 2020, but scored just 28 points in 73 games last season and is on the wrong side of 30.
Wily GM Steve Yzerman will have his hands full again this season, after masterfully handling the Drouin and Stamkos sagas last season. It’s going to be a very interesting year for the Lightning and their fans.