Will there be an offer sheet storm soon? Tampa Bay fans sure better hope not.
Somebody put the Steven Stamkos Watch on the board please. We are now heading into the sixth day of free agency and a contract for the young dynamo has not been put to paper yet. If you scour the Internet you can find anything from stories that he and the Tampa Bay Lightening are "close," to endless speculation by other team's fans salivating at the thought of Stammer wearing their team's colors.
What do we know about the situation except for Stamkos bearing a resemblance to Sean Penn's legendary character, Jeff Spicoli, from Fast Times at Ridgemont High? For starters, signing the star is not going to come cheap.
Stamkos is a restricted free agent, which is the only true saving grace for the Bolts. According to Fox News, only six restricted free agents have been signed to offer sheets since 2005.
But Steven Stamkos appears to be a once-in-a-generation talent. Unless you are willing to bet your job on your team contending for a Stanley Cup in the next one to three years, strong consideration should be given to blowing the team up and starting over with Stammer as the centerpiece.
Coming up with an offer sheet is relatively easy. Basically, all you have to do is decide the price you want to pay Stamkos for, put some term to it and make the offer. The hard part is getting back under the cap by the deadline prior to the season. If a GM can pull that off, it could be Executive of the Year worthy.
Assuming Stamkos gets anything close to a maximum salary, the compensation according to NHL.com would be four first-round choices. Steep to say the least, but is a Stamkos just going to come along again from the Sarnia Sting or Rimouski Oceanic? The chance is slim.
So all that is standing between the Lightning and franchise disaster is one team that is willing to say, "Yeah, let's see if he'll bite at a 12-year, $120 million deal." Toronto, Philadelphia, New York Islanders—I am looking in your direction. You know you want to.
But what are four measly first-round picks anyway when you have a perennial Art Ross, Hart Memorial and Rocket Richard Trophy candidate? Plus EA Sports would have to put your team's picture on its cover instead of the Bolts. Pretty cool.
Luckily for the Tampa Bay organization, they have some things working in their favor. It all starts with the fact that no matter what the offer, they have the right to match it.
So the question really becomes, can the Lightning afford to keep their young star free agent? To the slides!
In 2010-11, the Tampa Bay Lightning ranked 18th in attendance according to ESPN. Their average of 17,268 was 87.4 percent of the St. Pete Times Forum's capacity.
There are a lot of snobs that will beat the Tampa-St. Pete area up for this. Please do not count me among them.
For a team that came on strong and out of nowhere, filling up 87 percent of a cavernous, older arena in the second-most southern NHL city is pretty good. That remark is not facetious. Plus, from what I understand, renovations are underway at their barn. Things are looking up.
Face it—for all the snobbery out there that teams should not be in the Sun Belt, there are some exceptions. Cities that have won a Stanley Cup seem to plant the seeds of fandom and expose the game to areas that were previously unthinkable as NHL talent factories.
Call me crazy, but I'm sure many times over the years people did not think Pittsburgh (my home) was NHL worthy. Winning a few Cups in the 1990s sparked an interest that is only now surpassed by the exciting core of young players, including Sidney Crosby.
NHL players such as R.J. Umberger and Tampa Bay's Ryan Malone are from Pittsburgh. Five players from the area were selected in the 2011 NHL draft. Would that have happened if the team lost Mario Lemieux in his prime? Of course not.
The Lightning won their Cup. They still have Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis to remind fans of that. Stamkos' main jobs now are to be marketable for the franchise, win and spark that generation of Florida-born NHL talent.
Winning teams fill stadiums and arenas in most cases. GM Steve Yzerman and Guy Boucher set the foundation, now it is up to the fans to provide the support. They are likely up for the challenge, but they face some stiff obstacles.
Since the start of “The Great Recession," it has been said that times are tough for everyone. If you think this is bullcrap, as a New York Mets fan or an L.A. Dodgers fan, it's not.
According to Business Insider and Forbes, 17 of 30 NBA teams lost money "last year" as of January 27, 2011.
The NHL is also no stranger to losing dough. Despite Gary Bettman’s insistence on supporting a sinking ship, the Coyotes remain in Phoenix.
Arizona finds itself in a very similar situation to the state of Florida when it comes to the economy. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Florida had a 10.6 percent unemployment rate in May 2011 compared to Arizona's rate of 9.1 percent. (BLS is not to be confused with Tampa Bay morning host BTLS.)
It does not take a genius to figure out that when people cannot pay mortgages, car payments, put food on the table and other such things—sports are going to take a back seat.
But that is just that half of the factor that will not help the Lightning sign the star Stamkos to a big contract.
Cause and effect is a pretty simple concept when you boil it down. If A happens, then B results. This can apply to complex issues, or simple everyday items.
In this case, the state unemployment rate in Florida is the "cause." The "effect" is a housing crisis the likes of which few states can match.
According to CNBC.com, Florida is the seventh-highest state for foreclosures with one in every 451 households being foreclosed upon. In April 2011, 19,649 homes and families were affected.
See why I think that the 87 percent attendance rate is actually pretty impressive?
Run an Internet search about new construction condo fraud in Florida and you will get the idea of how deeply in trouble the state is when you look around at credible news and sources.
So if a large amount of people do not have jobs and are losing their homes at record rates every month, how on earth can Tampa keep Steven Stamkos?
Photo courtesy of blogs.miaminewtimes.com
In their short history, the ownership situation of the Tampa Bay Lightning has been shaky at best. Fans hope and believe that Jeff Vinik will change that.
According to his profile at Lightning.NHL.com, Vinik graduated in 1985 with a master's degree in business administration. A 2010 Boston Magazine article lists Vinik as the 31st-richest Bostonian, with a new worth of $515 million.
All of that schooling and wealth was not able to stop the team from losing a reported $30 million according to Forbes despite last season's successful run: "If Vinik wants to turn a profit he will have to sell get (sic) more gate and sponsorship revenue during the regular season."
I will tell you one way that you can sell sponsorships and advertising and all the bells and whistles that a team needs to compete and excel: Steven Stamkos.
We have not yet begun to realize his potential in terms of marketing. Wait until the Crosby/Ovechkin-type hype machine starts behind this kid. It will be even more fun to watch than it is now.
Especially because there is no way that Jeff Vinik is going to let his team's prize asset leave, no matter what the cost. I'm guessing one does not make half a billion dollars by foolishly letting assets that few others in the world can claim go for a couple of stinking draft picks.
Maybe it seems far-fetched to put all your faith as a Bolts fan into one man—such is the case with Vinik. In essence, though, that is what any team is doing by signing Stamkos to an offer sheet.
They would be putting their faith and millions of dollars into Steven Stamkos' ability to take their team to the promised land.
Rest easy, Tampa Bay fans; Stamkos will be wearing the Bolt in 2011-12 and likely for many, many years beyond that. The real question should be how could the Lightning not afford to keep Stammer?
Photo courtesy of Lightning.NHL.com