Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Steven Stamkos and the End of the Mega Deal

steven stamkos
Steven Stamkos is off the market. No need to continually refresh HockeyBuzz to find out the latest outlandish fable concerning who is soon to trade for the talented pivot.

Today the Lightning signed Stamkos to a five-year deal worth $37.5 million, which works out to an average annual cap hit of $7.5 million. Some might suggest he left some money on the table, but it’s important to remember that he was an RFA and couldn’t truly maximize his value as if he was a UFA.

This signing marks the first major RFA to re-sign with his club, leaving Drew Doughty, Shea Weber, Zach Parise, and Luke Schenn as the most talented players currently without a deal. It also marks an end to the various trade rumours and offer sheet speculation that happens when there is little to discuss during the summer.

Stamkos wasn't presented with an offer sheet because the reality was that it was a futile venture. The Lightning possessed enough cap space to match any offer another club could have imagined extending to Stamkos. And any notion of a trade was equally ridiculous because there are no teams that would possibly consider moving a 21-year-old franchise player who has already scored 119 goals in his first three seasons. Even if the signing means the Lightning spend a disproportionate amount of money on their forwards it doesn’t matter, you find a way to shed salary elsewhere. I understand it made for a good story, but let’s be realistic, you can probably count on one hand the players you would actually trade Stamkos for.

What’s really interesting about the Stamkos signing is what it means going forward.

In this age of mega long-term deals, Stamkos signed for a relatively short five years. This means that once his new contract expires, Stamkos will become an unrestricted free agent as a 26-year-old. As a 26-year-old UFA entering his prime years, Stamkos can surely expect to receive lucrative offers that could exceed the $100 million that Ilya Kovalchuk signed for. This is especially true if the salary cap continues to climb. Why lock yourself into a franchise long-term when each season the amount of money a team is willing to spend on you increases.

Stamkos’ chose to follow the strategy of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, who both signed identical five-year deals, instead of signing a mega long-term deal like Alex Ovechkin, who signed with the Capitals for 13 years.

Signing a short-term deal is going to become an increasingly common practice after this season, especially for superstar players of Stamkos’ calibre. I’m sure many players around the league took notice of some of the questionable deals that took place on July 1st and realized that if players like Scottie Upshall and Tomas Fleischmann are worth a combined $8 million then an actual superstar is certainly in line for an obscene pay raise.

Not only does a short-term deal permit you to hit unrestricted free agency earlier, allowing a player to earn even more money, but the trades of both Mike Richards and Jeff Carter this off-season proves that a long-term contract really only guarantees money, not location. Why commit long-term to a franchise when it’s entirely possible that they will trade you at some point. Jeff Carter better like Columbus because now he’s stuck there for 11 years, even though he envisioned being in Philadelphia for 11 years.

Of course it seems unfathomable that some players will ever be traded, even with a long-term contract like Ovechkin’s, but, as cliché as it is, if Wayne Gretzky can be traded, anyone can be traded. If Ovechkin continually fails to lead the Capitals deep into the playoffs does there come a point in time where it’s actually advantageous for the Capitals to deal their superstar? Perhaps.

Interestingly, according to CapGeek, both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have a NMC worked into the final year of their contract, meaning that their future is entirely in their own hands. If negotiations on an extension progress slowly or even fail, the Penguins will not have the option of trading either at the deadline (an unlikely scenario sure, but we’re talking hypothetical). Both superstars will choose where they want to play, and, likely, for how much. Update: reportedly, Stamkos' contract has a NMC/NTC in the fifth and final year as well.

The free agent landscape is changing. Not only could a new collective bargaining agreement spell the end for these long-term, possible cap circumventing mega deals, but players now understand that these deals don’t guarantee much (uh, except millions of dollars). Once Drew Doughty, Shea Weber, and Zach Parise sign it will become even clearer.

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