5 Reasons Steven Stamkos Is Not as Close to the Cup as He Thinks
Steven Stamkos ended all of the speculation of Steve Yzerman trading him or dealing with an offer sheet from a team coveting arguably the best young center in the NHL. Stamkos signed a 5 year, $37.5 million deal to stay with Tampa Bay.
After coming within one goal of going to the Stanley Cup Finals this year by surprising everyone in hockey with their quick ascent from not going to the playoffs, to being in the final four, the future seems bright for the Lightning.
Or at least Steven Stamkos thinks so.
Here are 5 reasons why Steven Stamkos is farther from the Stanley Cup than he thinks he is.
1. Lack of Defensive Youth
Victor Hedman is the only Lightning defenseman who is under 25. Pavel Kubina, Mattias Ohlund and Brett Clark are 34, Marc-Andre Bergeron (an offensive defenseman and power play specialist) is 30, Eric Brewer is 32. How many more years do these guys have left to be capable NHL defenseman?
The Lightning signed Matt Gilroy, the Rangers' 7th defenseman, and Bruno Gervais this offseason. Gervais is very underrated and as a Rangers fan and resident of Gilroy's hometown (I played in his dad's basketball league), I can tell you that Gilroy is shaky on defense. He can be an offensive threat but relying on him for defense is a risk.
Victor Hedman has been shaky at times as well, but he is young and has an upside.
So then you ask if they have anybody coming up from the system to replace the older guys. And the answer, according to Hockey's Future, is no. They list the weakness of the Lightning's system to be a lack of young defenseman.
The Lightning have the 17th best system, according to the same website, and their top 5 prospects are all forwards. That doesn't bode well for the foreseeable future with players such as Lecavlier and Stamkos already there.
Well then who is going to replace the older defenseman when the time comes? Which leads to my 2nd point...
2. Self-Imposed Salary Cap
The Lightning struggle financially, even after making an appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Lightning ranked 18th in regular season attendance, according to ESPN, but the ranking doesn't really mean much because of the various sizes of buildings (for example, Edmonton sells out all of their games but is ranked 19th because capacity is smaller). The more alarming number for Tampa Bay is 87.4, which is the percent of capacity filled. Not selling out games is a loss of revenue.
So how do you reduce losses, cut back on expenses. Right now the Lightning are about $5 million below the salary cap, which is great if a team can afford it. Can the Lightning spend that extra $5 million to strengthen their team, or is that money going to be used for other things?
The good thing for Lightning fans is they have an owner who truly cares after going through so much ownership troubles. Jeff Vinik is putting a lot of money into this team by renovating the arena. This is a good sign for Lightning fans and the success of their team, but if the team doesn't start making money (which it has been reported that the Lightning have lost money by Forbes) how long can this last?
It is hard enough to build a contender, but doing it with a constrained budget will make it even worse.
3. Goaltending Problems
The Lightning have a 41 year old goalie to start this year. So many things can go wrong for this year, whether it's an injury or fatigue for Roloson.
Losing Mike Smith certainly did not help either.
Do they have a suitable replacement for Roloson after this year is the real question for Steven Stamkos though. Roloson was arguably the steal of this year when Yzerman took him from the Islanders, but what i the long-term answer? Hockey's Future says the group of young goalies is "underrated" but until one of them rises out of the group, it is still a big question to be asked.
4. His Other Cast of Characters
Brett Connolly is the 8th ranked prospect in all of hockey according to Hockey's Future. He will be a good NHL player and a good help for Stamkos. They have other prospects as I mentioned before, with Hockey's Future ranking all of their top 5 prospects as forwards.
Martin St. Louis had 99 points last year, the most on the team. St. Louis is also 36 years old and has 4 more years on his contract with a cap hit of just over $5 million (thank God there is capgeek). So the question is how long can he keep this up for?
Stamkos is a blossoming star and I will bet that his 91 points this year will not be his career high. The sky is the limit for this kid. But everyone needs a supporting cast. Lemieux needed Jagr, Gretzky needed Messier, Crosby needs Malkin and Stamkos needs someone for the future too.
Vinny Lecavlier will continue to be a point per game player for a couple of more years because he is only 31. But after that, is Teddy Purcell really the answer? Ryan Malone would have gotten at least 60 points if he was healthy last year, and the intangibles he brings to the Lightning is immeasurable. But can you count on Dominic Moore getting 32 points again and being a playoff hero?
Is it possible? Yes of course it is. But it could be that the Lightning caught lightning in a bottle (I am so sorry but I couldn't think of another way to say it) with these players. A lot would have to go right for the Lightning to be like last year's team in the future.
5. They Are No Longer a Surprise
The Lightning were really easy to root for last year. People did not expect them to go as far as they did, myself included. They play an up-tempo style and try to outscore people rather than sit back and protect leads.
Guy Boucher was a great story. The first year coach turned around a team from nothing to something in only one year. And the great Stevie Y showing his magic again, this time from the front office. Last year was special for Tampa Bay.
But now people realize that they aren't going away. They have talent, and while most felt that Washington would win the division, Tampa Bay never collapsed. They always held in for a fight.
Now Tampa Bay will have a target on their backs. People won't be surprised by the Lightning. The 1-3-1 defensive break-out formation will be figured out by coaches when they play the Lightning and there is no doubt they will have to adjust. The defense is sketchy, the goaltending is a fragile situation and sometimes the bounces on offense don't go your way.
The future is bright, but maybe not that bright.
The Tampa Bay Lightning needed to sign Steven Stamkos. If the franchise had lost him, the fans may not have come back. While there was a lot of speculation, there was little to no chance that Stamkos was actually leaving Tampa Bay.
Stamkos is one of the top five players in the NHL, a cornerstone for a franchise. The sky is the limit for him and he is the type of player that can put a team on his back and carry them for stretches of time. The Lightning also signed him for a reasonable price.
But before we look at Tampa Bay and talk about how bright the future is for them with Stamkos at the helm, let's be cautious about it because there are still some problems they will need to solve.
The Lightning could almost taste the Stanley Cup this year and Stamkos is probably really optimistic about the future. My words of advice to him: the best may have been last year.
Feel free to comment and thanks for the read.
As always, keep the military in your thoughts and prayers.