The Case For Signing Steven Stamkos

John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

For the past year, there’s been a Wall of Sound about Steven Stamkos that would do Phil Spector proud. The discussion on this blog has been extensive, and I've seen people coming down all over the map on the issue in comments. I thought it would be good to lay out the case in favour of signing him as thoroughly and completely as possible.

My goal was to do each section in detail, with the result that this post is extremely long even by my standards. At the end of each section, I've tried to sum things up, so that if you don't want to go down into the weeds with me on each issue, you can follow the thread into later sections. The whole argument is summarized in the final section.

  1. Why We're Talking About This
  2. An Overview Of Stamkos
  3. Stamkos' Goals
  4. What Happened In 2015-16 And Why
  5. What If He Gets Old?
  6. What If He Gets Hurt?
  7. The Dollars And Cents
  8. The Leafs That Could Be
  9. Next Season And Beyond
  10. The Case For Signing Stamkos

1. Why are we talking about this?

Because the Leafs are eliminated. But more specifically:

  1. Steven Stamkos is, whatever your exact opinion of him, a very good player.
  2. Stamkos has been in a position to sign an extension with his current team, the Tampa Bay Lightning, since July 1st, 2015. He has not done so.
  3. Stamkos was allegedly offered an eight-year, $68,000,000 contract by the Lightning, as reported by Elliotte Friedman in January. Given that no deal, on those terms or others, has subsequently been announced, it seems likely negotiations stagnated after that offer was made; they may or may not have picked up again. While Stamkos is out at the moment (see below), the Lightning are currently a bit preoccupied.
  4. Stevie Stam comes from Toronto and comes back here in the summer.
  5. People talk about it. A lot. For example, this and that and also this and furthermore this and ahhhh oh my God somebody make it stop.
That's why it's a topic of discussion. Now, a cold shower.

I have no idea whatsoever what Stamkos is actually going to do. He could easily sign an extension to stay in Tampa once their offer goes up or his price comes down. He could sign with one of the twenty-eight teams in the NHL that are not Tampa or Toronto. Thus far, the only team with which Stamkos has negotiated is the Lightning. (If the Leafs have actually attempted to negotiate with Stamkos before now, that is tampering, and illegal, and the kind of illegal the league actually takes seriously. Barring any evidence of it, which would be catastrophic news for the organization, we should assume there hasn't been anything of the sort.)

So, there is no highly persuasive reason to believe Stamkos is going to sign with the Leafs. If you're betting on it, right now you would have to bet it's more likely he doesn't sign with us than he does. This article isn't about why Stamkos should want to come to Toronto.

This about why the Leafs should want to sign him.

2. An Overview of Stamkos

Steven Stamkos, if you're a time traveler who woke up in 2016 reading a hockey blog, is a centre for the Tampa Bay Lightning, though he sometimes plays wing. He turned 26 on February 7th. He's listed at 6'1" and 194 lbs. He is currently making $5.5M in real dollars and $7.5M against Tampa's salary cap. As of July 1st, unless he signs a new contract beforehand, he will be an unrestricted free agent. Here are his basic statlines for his career, in a way that I'm sure will format incorrectly when I publish it:


Wouldja lookit that. Before we move on: Stamkos missed 45 games in 2013-14 with a broken tibia. This will come up a million more times, so just keep it in mind whenever you see his numbers from that year.

The most salient point with Stamkos is that he's very good at scoring goals. He takes a lot of shots--he's tenth in the league in total shots since the start of 2009-10--but more than that, he has an unparalleled ability to score on the shots he takes. In that same timespan, since 2009, he's first in shooting percentage among anyone who's played at least one full season, with a whopping 17.7%, with no season lower than 16%. Shooting percentages that would scream regression-is-coming for any other player are completely sustainable for Stammer. Further, he's a finisher; he's only had more assists than goals once in his career, in 2010-11--and it was one more (45 goals, 46 assists.)

(In using a timespan of "since 2009-10", I am throwing out Stamkos' rookie season, when he was 18, still developing, and coached by a combination of Rick Tocchet and Barry Melrose. I feel this is a legitimate use of cutoffs considering how his numbers change radically thereafter, but if you like, include in The Case For Why Fulemin Is An Idiot in the comments.)

Here are Stamkos' goals and goals per game for each season he was in the NHL, accompanied by his leaguewide rank in each stat for that year (among players with a minimum 30 GP.)

  • 2008-09: 23 goals (85th in the NHL), 0.29 goals per game (91st in the NHL)
  • 2009-10: 51 goals (T-1st in the NHL), 0.62 goals per game (3rd in the NHL)
  • 2010-11: 45 goals (2nd in the NHL), 0.55 goals per game (3rd in the NHL)
  • 2011-12: 60 goals (1st in the NHL), 0.73 goals per game (1st in the NHL)
  • 2012-13: 29 goals (2nd in the NHL), 0.60 goals per game (2nd in the NHL)
  • 2013-14: 25 goals (T-43rd in the NHL), 0.68 goals per game (1st in the NHL)
  • 2014-15: 43 goals (2nd in the NHL), 0.52 goals per game (T-3rd in the NHL)
  • 2015-16: 36 goals (T-7th in the NHL), 0.47 goals per game (T-6th in the NHL)

Here's our starting spot: Steven Stamkos is a very, very good scorer, even after a slightly down year (yes, I know, I'll get to talking about it.) Over the last seven seasons, Stamkos has 289 goals in 490 games--second only to Ovechkin (306 in 515), and fifty goals ahead of the third-place scorer (Corey Perry, 239 in 518.) If you look at goal-scoring this decade, there is Ovechkin, there is Stamkos, and there is everyone else, and it isn't close. We'll come back to this in more detail.

Moving on: Stamkos isn't quite as spectacular in raw points as he is at goal-scoring, though he's nothing to be sad about (since 2009-10, 516 in 490, good for 4th in the NHL.) During his better seasons, he's gone as high as 2nd in points (in 2012-13) and often been in the top five, but the last couple of seasons, not so much (14th in 2014-15 and 25th this year.)

Looking at relative possession: at even strength, Stamkos has ranged from slightly negative (his career low in RelCorsi was -0.9, this season) to positive (4.2 in 2012-13, but this looks like an outlier; he's usually very close to even on one side or another.) In this decade, in raw terms, he's ranged from 49.1% to 52.5% in raw CF% at EV, usually with slightly favourable zone starts. He's generally been a middling possession presence on decent possession teams.

Odds and ends: Stamkos has cut down a penchant for minor penalties he had earlier in his career, and is now fairly typical in that regard for a player of his ice-time (19 minors this season, which ranks him 59th among forwards.) He's a resolutely average faceoff man, having finished between 49.00% and 50.00% in each of the last four seasons. He's been the Lightning's captain since March 2014, if you're into that sort of thing. If you care about +/-, he's +5 for his career, but that includes a -13 in his rookie season, so he's +18 if you accept my Barry-Melrose-Sucks cutoff. Also, don't care about +/-.

While he's competent in every aspect of the game and a good playmaker, I think it's fair to say that the argument for Stamkos lives and dies by his goal-scoring. That's what sends people into raptures when they think of him coming to Toronto, and that's what anyone who pays from him will be paying for.

This may seem obvious, but goals are important for hockey. They are the ultimate primary point, and the ability to produce them in bulk is highly significant. Let's look at how Stamkos gets them.

3. Scoring With Stamkos ;)

The meme on Stamkos is that he's essentially a PP demon. The stereotypical Stamkos goal is him standing just below the top of the circle and mashing a PP one-timer past a hapless goalie. He does indeed do this, and it is very fun. Have a look. His ranks in powerplay goals each year show it as a strength.

  • 2009-10: 24 PPG, 1st in the NHL
  • 2010-11: 17 PPG, 2nd in the NHL
  • 2011-12: 12 PPG, 8th in the NHL
  • 2012-13: 10 PPG, 2nd in the NHL
  • 2013-14: 9 PPG, 25th in the NHL
  • 2014-15: 13 PPG, T-6th in the NHL
  • 2015-16: 14 PPG, T-4th in the NHL
He scores on the powerplay. A lot. (If you're wondering, the Tampa Bay powerplay has a whole has been all over the map in this period, being as high as 6th in the NHL and as low as 29th. I don't read too much into this, but there's the info if you care.) I'm not bothering with PP G/60 ranks because we start getting into nightmarishly small samples, and I don't think people need too much convincing Stamkos is good at scoring powerplay goals. He is. We all agree. And this is a good thing: powerplay specialists age better (see Part Five) and while people tend to treat PPG with some disdain, being one of the best in the world at scoring them is a hell of a useful skill.

I think, though, that people overstate how much Stamkos relies on the powerplay. For example, in the last seven years, Stamkos was 2nd in goals, as discussed above. He was also 2nd in even strength goals, with 187 to Ovi's 189 (Perry is 3rd with 170.) Let's break down his even-strength goals by season:

  • 2009-10: 26 EVG, 8th in the NHL
  • 2010-11: 28 EVG, T-3rd in the NHL
  • 2011-12: 48 EVG, 1st in the NHL
  • 2012-13: 19 EVG, T-1st in the NHL
  • 2013-14: 15 EVG, T-77th in the NHL
  • 2014-15: 30 EVG, 2nd in the NHL
  • 2015-16: 21 EVG, T-24th in the NHL

Putting aside 2013-14, where he was injured and missed 47 games, Stamkos was more or less just as good at even-strength scoring as he was at scoring generally, and sometimes better--until this season, where he was his usual dynamite self on the powerplay but seemed to be suffering at EV. For four of the previous five years, though, Stamkos was a spectacular even-strength scorer.

"But I like 5v5 G/60 to normalize for ice-time!" (Thanks for reading, scrambles!) Here we go (minimum 30 GP):

  • 2009-10: 1.23, 18th in the NHL
  • 2010-11: 1.35, 10th in the NHL
  • 2011-12: 1.89, 1st in the NHL
  • 2012-13: 1.25, 17th in the NHL
  • 2013-14: 1.51, 4th in the NHL
  • 2014-15: 1.37, 9th in the NHL
  • 2015-16: 1.12, 24th in the NHL

All very good and sometimes excellent. And here's the thing about 5v5 G/60: in any given season, it can toss up individual players who are having a really flukey year, even with the minimum 30 GP cutoff. Here are some players who have finished ahead of Stamkos in this stat, during these years: Eric Fehr (6th in 2009-10), Robert Earl (15th in 2009-10), Antoine Roussel (9th in 2012-13), Jason Zucker (2nd in 2014-15), and Brandon Pirri (7th in 2014-15.) All five of these guys combined have 281 goals in 1451 career games. Stamkos has 312 in 569, by himself.

This isn't to argue against rate stats, which I think are useful and cool; just to contextualize them. Once you look at the lists with a critical eye, I think you find that in 5v5 G/60, Stamkos gives way to Ovechkin and very few others over the course of his career. And again, this is at even strength. now purports to track the shot types used by each player on his goals, going back as far as 2010-11. Let's see how Stamkos makes bank, and how he's developed over time. I'll also note the percentage of Stamkos' goals that the shot type made up.

  • 2010-11: 45 goals--12 wrist shots (26.7%), 10 snap shots (22.2%), 8 slap shots (17.7%), 8 tips (17.7%), 4 deflections (8.9%), 1 tip (2.2%), 1 wraparound (2.2%)
  • 2011-12: 60 goals--32 wrist shots (53.3%), 8 slap shots (13.3%), 8 snap shots (13.3%), 6 tips, (10.0%) 5 backhands (8.3%), 1 wraparound (1.6%)
  • 2012-13: 29 goals--12 wrist shots (41.3%), 6 slap shots (20.6%), 4 snap shots (13.7%), 4 backhands (13.7%), 2 tips (6.9%), 1 deflection (3.4%)
  • 2013-14: 25 goals--9 wrist shots (36.0%), 6 slap shots (24.0%), 6 snap shots (24.0%), 2 tips (8.0%), 1 backhand (4.0%), 1 wraparound (4.0%)
  • 2014-15: 43 goals--22 wrist shots (51.2%), 9 slap shots (20.9%), 5 snap shots (11.6%), 5 tips (11.6%), 2 backhands (4.7%)
  • 2015-16: 36 goals--17 wrist shots (47.2%), 11 slap shots (30.5%), 3 snap shots (8.3%), 3 backhands (8.3%), 1 deflection (2.8%), 1 tip (2.8%)

I think the only safe takeaway from the percentages here is that Stamkos, like the vast majority of forwards in the NHL, relies on his wrist shot to make most of his money. The percentages bounce around considerably, and I wouldn't want to get carried away relying on the classifications the NHL makes. But as beautiful as that one-time slapper is, in any given year, it is a minority of the goals Stamkos produces.

On a leaguewide basis, these shot-type numbers are all over the map. For example, in the leaguewide rankings of wrist-shot goals, during these six seasons Stamkos was 52nd,1st, 7th, 129th (remember the injury), 1st, and 23rd--yes, that's him leading the league in wrist-shot goals twice. In slap shot goals over the same time period, he was 7th, 8th, 5th, 17th, 5th, and 3rd. So in other words, he does score a lot of slap shot goals, especially for a forward (the slap shot goal ranks often feature a couple of defencemen, particularly Shea Weber.) But he also just scores a lot of goals of every type, because he's really good at scoring.

So: Stamkos is good at powerplay goals. Stamkos is good at even strength goals. Stamkos is good at wrist shot goals. Stamkos is good at slap shot goals. If you comment on this article about how Stamkos is a one-dimensional power-play fiend, I will hunt you down and beat you with a sock full of nickels.

4. So What The Hell Happened This Year?

"Okay Foolaman," snarls not norm. "You've made your case that Stamkos was the second-best goal-scorer in the NHL from 2009-2015. But this past year isn't nearly so rosy."

"I'm getting to that," I reply.

"I have other objections to signing him that you aren't mentioning yet, you damned Papist whelp. Why are you putting words in my mouth?" NNU fires back.

"Because it's my fanpost and I'm using you as a narrative device," I cackle maniacally.

While I wait for norm to come and murder me, let's look at that gruesome year I made him talk about. That boxscore isn't much fun to look at for the pro-Stamkos crowd:

36 goals (T-7th in the NHL), 28 assists (T-112th in the NHL) 0.47 goals per game (T-6th in the NHL), 21 EVG (T-24th in the NHL), 14 PPG (T-4th in the NHL), 64 points (T-24th in the NHL)

This is still the statline of a top-shelf goalscorer, but it's not worth paying eight figures for. If this is a vision of Stamkos' future, someone is going to seriously overpay for him. Conversely, if we want to argue in favour of signing Stamkos, we need an explanation for why this year happened and why it isn't going to happen again, at least for a while. Stamkos continued to be one of the deadliest men in the world on the powerplay this year, but his even-strength offence slipped back to "solidly 1C" from "spectacular." He also set a post-rookie career low in assists per game.

Let's zoom out for a second. For any player's offensive numbers to change, at least one of four underlying numbers has to change:

  1. How many shots the player is getting;
  2. How many shots the player's teammates are getting while he's on the ice;
  3. How many of the player's shots are going in;
  4. How many of the player's teammates shots are going in while he's on the ice
Let's look at these in turn and see if we can figure out what the hell is going on.

1. Shots

2008-09: 2.29 shots per game
2009-10: 3.62 shots per game
2010-11: 3.31 shots per game
2011-12: 3.70 shots per game
2012-13: 3.27 shots per game
2013-14: 3.35 shots per game
2014-15: 3.27 shots per game
2015-16: 2.81 shots per game

Gack. Stammer had the worst season for shots per game since he was a rookie. The 5v5 shots/60 suggest something similar (courtesy of HA and scrambles):

2008-09: 7.63 EV S/60
2009-10: 8.52 EV S/60
2010-11: 8.74 EV S/60
2011-12: 8.84 EV S/60
2012-13: 7.94 EV S/60
2013-14: 7.34 EV S/60
2014-15: 8.86 EV S/60
2015-16: 6.55 EV S/60

This is the worst year of Stamkos' career in EV S/60. That's bad. And yet, you'll notice something odd: this was immediately after he posted the best number of his career by that metric. As the death dealer put it, "That's a little too erratic to be a natural aging curve."

2. Shooting percentage

Stammer's shooting percentage for the year was 16.7%. That's a career year for most of the league, but for Stammer it's below his career average of 17.2% (or his post-rookie average of 17.7%.) Still, this isn't an enormous difference; normalizing his shooting percentage only buys him a goal or two more.

3. Team's shots-for

Stammer's EV SF/60 numbers were at the low end, by his standards, but not insanely so. His team was getting 28.1 shots for per 60, compared to 29.2 against; perhaps more worryingly, Stamkos' impact on his his team's percentage of the shots--normally either slightly negative or slightly positive--was -3.2%, his worst since his rookie year.

4. On-ice shooting percentage

Stamkos' on-ice shooting percentage is unusually low by his weird standards, which might help explain that unpleasantly low assist total (because Stamkos is such an outlier in shooting percentage personally, it's hard to compare his on-ice shooting percentage to anything but his own past.) At EV, it's worth noting the last two years have seen on-ice shooting percentages of 9.1% this season and 9.4% the season before; working backwards, the percentages before that were 11.5%, 10.4%, 12.5%, 10.1%, and 11.3%.

So: Stamkos is getting fewer shots, his team is getting fewer shots with him on, and his teammates seem to have gotten worse at scoring on the shots they get. Hmm.

What's going on with his linemates? Scrambles was kind enough to look into Stamkos' most frequent linemates by points per 60 minutes over the last four seasons. By way of explanation, this is the points per 60 minutes Stamkos produced at even strength while playing with each player on the Bolts' lineup; his P/60 with himself is just his overall number.


Player TOI P/60
KILLORN, ALEX 1264 2.23
HEDMAN, VICTOR 1235 2.09
CALLAHAN, RYAN 1168 2.06
CARLE, MATT 1090 1.93
ST. LOUIS, MARTIN 796 2.56
SUSTR, ANDREJ 670 1.97
BREWER, ERIC 508 2.83
PALAT, ONDREJ 436 2.34
GUDAS, RADKO 427 2.53
SALO, SAMI 398 2.11
MALONE, RYAN 241 1.99
AULIE, KEITH 161 2.61

It certainly stands out that the forward with whom Stamkos was the most offensively productive was future Hall of Fame set-up man Martin St. Louis. The two of them made beautiful music together. Stamkos has since spent a lot of time with Alexander Killorn and Ryan Callahan, neither of whom will be in the Hall of Fame. Killorn is a very nice young man who scored 40 points in 81 games this season, meaning he was six points ahead of Peter Holland's pace. Ryan Callahan used to be the king of leadergrit, but his production crawled into a hole and died this season, with a miserable 28 points in 73 games. A closer look at Stamkos' P/60, and more particularly S/60, with various linemates in just this last year suggests that Callahan's decline has been hurting his numbers--and his shot totals. Again, courtesy of scrambles:


Player TOI P/60 S/60
STAMKOS, STEVEN 1100 1.69 6.5
HEDMAN, VICTOR 439 1.77 6.3
KILLORN, ALEX 436 2.20 6.7
CALLAHAN, RYAN 402 1.49 5.4
STRALMAN, ANTON 398 1.66 5.7
386 1.71 8.6
COBURN, BRAYDON 295 1.83 7.1
285 1.27 6.3
SUSTR, ANDREJ 284 1.48 6.3
282 1.07 7.2

It's easy to draw the conclusion that playing with the remains of Ryan Callahan so much has hurt Stamkos, exacerbating the feeling of decline that comes from losing Martin St. Louis. Callahan hurts his P/60 and craters his ES shot rate. I think that this also goes a lot of the way towards explaining his relatively low on-ice shooting percentage, and by extension his low assist rate; Callahan was quite decent last year, but this year took a hard decline. This makes sense; Stamkos did well despite his lack of Marty in 2014-15, but took a hit when Callahan couldn't keep up anymore.

Do the deeper numbers bear out a serious decline on the part of Callahan? Yes. Callahan's ES G/60, ES P/60 and ES ice-time per game are all the lowest they've been in six years. (Callahan had a brutal year at even strength in 2009-10; his numbers now look like they did then.) His ES CorsiRel is the worst it's been since 2007-08, clocking in at an unimpressive -2.3% with slightly favourable zone starts. More prosaically, Callahan is a player of the type and age that might be expected to be declining: he plays a physical game and he just turned 31. He's missed at least three games every year since 2008-09, and in a couple of those seasons (2010-11 and 2013-14) he missed 17+ games. This is what wear and tear looks like.

Putting Stammer with better linemates would go a long way towards fixing his ES shot problem.

Here's another thing. I broke Stamkos' 77-game season down into rough quarters (19 games in the first three bins, 20 in the fourth) and looked at shots per game.

Games 1-19: 2.47 s/g

Games 20-38: 3.00 s/g

Games 39-57: 3.05 s/g

Games 58-77: 2.70 s/g

He tailed off, but not horribly so, at the end. But something mighty funky was going on in the first part of the year. It's tempting to attribute this to Stamkos' moves back and forth from centre to right wing, and Stamkos has himself said he prefers centre; but I don't think that factor is nearly as pronounced as you might think. This article suggests he was centre during that early-season slump, and given he won the Rocket Richard while playing centre, he probably knows how to score while doing it.

The bigger thing just seems to be that for the first part of the season, the Lightning were not very good offensively. Maybe it was a hangover from getting to the finals. Maybe it was a coaching overadjustment. But the Lightning as a team, and Stamkos as an individual, had an unusually poor offensive stretch that they subsequently began to come out of.

I think this gives a fair picture of what happened. Stamkos' struggles with shot generation this year are not generalized: they're much more pronounced during two time periods--the time at the start of the season where the Bolts couldn't find the O-zone with a compass, and the time he spends skating with Dusty Ryan Callahan. More to the point: when a player has shown an ability to produce sustainable offence, barring a serious injury, we should not expect him to suddenly lose that skill at age 25. He recovered so well from his tibia injury that I don't think it's a tenable argument that that's ruined him; the blood clot will be addressed below, but I feel the same way about that, to put it shortly. Age comes for us all, but expecting it to come this early and suddenly is taking the adulation of youth too far.

One final illustration: Alex Ovechkin's worst year in shots per game happened in his age-26 season, when he put up a for-him-subpar 3.88 shots per game. This was also his worst year in goals per game, by far. It spawned a bunch of "What's wrong with Ovechkin?" articles darkly intimating his time had passed. Alex Ovechkin has since won the Rocket Richard four times.

If Stamkos can get his linemates in order--whether as a C or a RW--he's going to be just fine.

5. What Would Seven Years Look Like?

Okay, we've reviewed the past in detail. Let's look at the future.

As per Article 50.8(b)(iv) of the CBA, the maximum length for any contract is seven years, unless the player signing the contract was on the team's reserve list as of the most recent trade deadline. As Stamkos was on Tampa's reserve list on that date, the longest contract to which the Leafs could sign Stamkos would be seven years.

(Elliotte Friedman recently had a tweet that seemed to imply Tampa might try to trade Stamkos before July 1st, with the bidding advantage of being able to offer an eighth year as the incentive to trade for a player whose deal would be expiring in a few weeks. By my reading of the article above, Tampa cannot transfer that privilege to another team, so the trade would be pointless, but Friedman generally know what he's talking about. I've assumed seven years for this exercise.)

Stamkos was born February 7th, 1990, and is currently 26. A seven-year contract would take him through his age-26, age-27, age-28, age-29, age-30, age-31, and age-32 seasons. He would be 33 and five months old at the conclusion of the deal.

A lot of work has been done on aging curves for forwards. You'll often hear that forwards peak in scoring at 24, quoting Eric Tulsky's standard analysis, and that's the standard I'll use. Having said that, this is variable, and there are some surprisingly optimistic analyses out there, like this one, which suggests that forwards maintain 90% of their production up to age 32 and that elite forwards age even better. (For when someone reads that and finds they also looked at +/- and is outraged, remember that they're looking at career-size samples, where +/- has a better chance in which to normalize.) I'm not going to rely on this analysis, but I think it's worth a nod to the fact there's some positive stuff out there, contra the prevailing idea that forwards essentially die in their late 20s. (I should add that people quoting Tulsky's findings out of context tend to be a lot more absolutist in their pro-youth obsession than Tulsky himself ever is.)

Zooming in on Stammer: Stamkos' peak season, in goals and points, was 2011-12, when he put up 60 goals and 37 assists to total 97 points. People may understandably be skeptical of using the 60-goal year as a peak to base projections on, pointing out that Stamkos hasn't come close to 60 since--although Stamkos ought to get some credit for being the only person not named Ovechkin to score 60 goals in a season this century. Even though it contradicts the meaning of the word "peak", maybe it makes more sense to use 2010-11 as a baseline (46G, 45A, 91P) or if you're pessimistic, 2014-15 (43G, 29A, 72P.) If you really want to keep your hopes down, you can use 2015-16, but I think the previous section gives good reasons not to do that, and I'm not sure using Stamkos' worst year since he was a rookie is any more reasonable than using his best one. I'm going to use 2010-11, 2011-12, and 2014-15 as different baselines to try and project a range of outcomes, but considering we're trying to figure out the future of one specific player, it's worthwhile to try and look at the specific factors that apply to him as well as the general curves.

Jeffgm linked to one of Eric Tulsky's analyses of forward aging, which suggested that percentage shooters (of whom Stamkos is the king) age somewhat worse than volume shooters (a la Ovechkin), although the difference isn't too big:

The same analysis also suggests that goals decline somewhat faster than primary assists (secondary assists are noisy.) Again, this is the part that's too bad. Stamkos is a percentage shooter, and he scores a lot of goals. If you're terrified of the aging curve, here's your moment.

Now let's start with some good news. The first bit of good news is that power play scoring declines less rapidly than EV scoring. This is good, because Stamkos is really good at powerplay scoring. If anyone says "but anyone can score on the PP", go back to Part Three and remember that Stamkos can lead the league in PP goals. That ain't nothin', kid.

The better, and more important news, is that Stamkos is 26. For a UFA, that is really young. For a UFA of Stamkos' calibre, it's damn near unprecedented (see Part Seven.) Eric Tulsky's analysis of 5v5 P/60 suggests that forwards maintain 90% of their peak production through age-29, and 80% through age-31. Stamkos' age-32 season would be the last one in the contract.

There are quite a few twists to add to this analysis. You might note that this is P/60, and goals decline somewhat faster than assists; but also that Stamkos produces well on the PP. You can speculate as to what impact Babcock's coaching--and his magical ability to shelter players he feels require it--or certain prospective linemates, might have, and how that would alter things. You can also make arguments as to how much of Stamkos' scoring is based on his phenomenal shooting ability, and whether that might age better or worse. After a certain point, it's overfitting the model when applying a general trend to an individual, and my thinking is that the best we can do with an aging curve is a guideline for expectations. I'll take the three years described above and treat each of them as "100%" production, covering scenarios for highly, moderately and not-at-all optimistic.

Stamkos Age Projections

High Peak (2011-12)

Good Peak (2010-11)

Low Peak (2014-15)

Year (Est. % of peak)

Goals (60)

Assists (37)

Points (97)

Goals (45)

Assists (46)

Points (91)

Goals (43)

Assists (29)

Points (72)

2016-17 (95%)










2017-18 (92%)










2018-19 (90%)










2019-20 (90%)










2020-21 (85%)










2021-22 (80%)










2022-23 (75%)










That's a lot of goals. Keep in mind the era of the NHL we're in: 40-goal scorers are very, very rare. Four guys cleared 40 this season--Ovi, Kane, Benn and Tarasenko. The latter three had never hit 40 in their careers before (yes, seriously.) Stamkos has done it four times and been on pace to do it twice more, and even in his most recent down season, he managed 36. I think the general decline in offence over the past decade has let people underrate how special Stamkos really is. Oh, and if you want to attribute the 60-goal year to the league having way more offence that year, guess again; the difference in goals per game per team between then and now is a measly 0.02.

This isn't to say that Stamkos will (or won't) score at any of these rates. It's to suggest that it's entirely realistic to think a player with his track record should continue to produce. Again, the better part of a seven-year contract would be paying a player in his 20s with phenomenal scoring ability.

Aging is frightening to contemplate, and it would be nice to assemble a superstar team of 23-year-olds. I think, though, that the statistical consensus towards valuing youth has led to narrative overkill. A bad season is not the inevitable harbinger of decline, and you can be in your late 20s and, you know, still pretty good at hockey.

6. The Scary Part

Marc Savard retired last month. He hadn't played in the NHL since January 2011, after future Maple Leaf boat anchor Matt Hunwick gave him his second concussion in eleven months. The first, and much more infamous, concussion was dealt to Savard via a blindside hit by Matt Cooke, on March 7, 2010.

In the season and a half prior to the Matt Cooke hit, Marc Savard had 121 points in 123 games. After, he played 32 games (combined playoffs and the following season) in which he put up 11 before his playing career ended. And that was it. Listen to Savard's description of post-concussion syndrome if you want to feel awful.

Marc Savard signed a seven-year deal on December 1, 2009, that began in 2010-11. On the date he signed, he was one of the best playmakers in the world. By the time the first year of the contract was over, he was incapable of playing hockey. This is the worst-case scenario, and it's always there. Long-term contracts have an inherent risk to them, even for the best candidates.

In brutally cynical terms, the Leafs could accommodate a permanently-injured Stamkos on injured reserve, as they have done with Nathan Horton. But there's another bad scenario: something like what's happened to Pavel Datsyuk. Datsyuk remains a very talented and fun player to watch; over the last three years he's scored at a 71-point pace. The problem is that in those three years he's missed 72 games. Leafs fans have seen a similarly depressing example in recent years with Joffrey Lupul, who this year declined from "he's good when he's healthy" to "he's never healthy or good." I'm stating this risk as fully as I can, because I think it's only fair to the other side to do so. I'm in favour of signing Stamkos and the idea of him suffering the fate of either Savard or Lupul scares the shit out of me.

So is Stamkos an especially large risk of injury?

Until a month or so ago, the answer was an easy no. Stamkos is 26. He has had one serious injury, a broken tibia, in 2013-14, from which he recovered the same season, and which he followed up with a great year in 2014-15. Other than that he was an iron man, playing full seasons in five seasons out of six between 2009-10 and 2014-15. His style doesn't seem conducive to injury, and certainly he's been a paragon of health-is-a-skill up to now.

Last month, however, it transpired that Stamkos was experiencing a blood clot near his collarbone, which would require him to miss one-to-three months, just as the Bolts were gearing up for a potentially deep playoff run. Stamkos had surgery on the blood clot, which was deemed successful. The linked article describes the health issue as "a type of vascular thoracic outlet syndrome called effort thrombosis." I did not have any idea what that meant the first time I read it, but it sounded pretty bad.

News Channel 8 in Florida interviewed a cardiologist about Stamkos' condition, which involves a rib rubbing up against a vein when the patient moves his or her arm. It's apparently common in athletes of other sports, but not so much for hockey players. The surgery for it involves removing the part of the rib that's doing the rubbing, although I haven't actually been able to confirm that was the surgery Stamkos had. While Stamkos' specific prognosis is to be updated in a couple of weeks, the doctor quoted in this article was optimistic, saying about "98%" of patients went back to their professional careers after recovery.

Stamkos was actually not the first Bolt to suffer this usually rare ailment in the past year. Bolts backup goaltender Andrei Vasilevsky experienced the same thing last summer, and had surgery for it on September 3rd. Vasilevsky returned to action in late October and posted a .910 in 24 games this season, apparently none the worse for wear.

Does the effort thrombosis turn Stamkos from an iron man into a glass cannon? In the end, I don't think there's grounds for that. As with any strange ailment, it's frightening to think about. But it's being treated, thus far with total success; the general prognosis is very optimistic; and by the time the Leafs would be looking at signing Stamkos, his recovery should be completed. Looking at the general picture of Stamkos--26, a fitness fanatic, with an excellent health record--I think it's still fair to consider him healthy.

A long-term contract is always a risk. But in Stamkos' case, I think the risk is as low as it can be.

7. Make It Rain

In a way, all the above has been foreplay. Now we'll get down to the real, hot heavy stuff: discussions of salary.

In a world without cap, where the only financial risks were undertaken by MLSE and their insurers, we would all be over the moon at signing Stamkos to whatever he wanted. Sadly, the communists who own NHL teams have triumphed, and the Gilded Age where the Leafs could be the dumbest robber baron in town has passed. Further, to some extent we're flying in the dark here. By my reckoning, no UFA on Stamkos' level has reached free agency since the last lockout, and the most obvious comparables before that (Parise and Suter in 2012, Kovalchuk in 2010) signed deals that would either be illegal now (Parise and Suter) or were deemed illegal then (Kovalchuk.)

Nonetheless, let's look at a few parameters we might or might not want to account for:

  • There's Stamkos' current cap hit, $7.5M. This isn't his actual salary--before this season he made more, this year he made less--but it strikes me as wildly unlikely he's going to accept any deal where that number goes down, and I strongly suspect he'll be able to get it from multiple bidders, blood clots be damned.
  • There's a number where nobody would sign him. The maximum allowable salary in the NHL is 20% of the salary cap at the time of signing; at the moment the cap is $71.4M, which would make the maximum salary allowed $14.28M in a given year. Incidentally, you can't set salary as a percentage of the cap (see 50.6b); the Leafs aren't allowed to offer Stamkos 15% or 20% of the cap instead of a specific dollar amount as a way of sneaking raises into the salary structure. At any rate, I don't think even the most devoted Stamkos fan would want to pay him $14M a season. I've never heard anyone on the blog advocate higher than $12M; if you're willing to pay Stammer $13M, you don't need a novella-length fanpost to persuade you to sign him.
  • There's the contract offer he turned down from Tampa Bay: $8.5M for eight years. It's tempting to speculate about a lot of personal or competitive reasons why Stamkos turned the deal down, mostly as a way to persuade ourselves he's going to come here for less, but the fact remains Tampa is really good right now and is positioned to be really good for the next few years. Florida also has much lower taxes than Ontario, although some of this difference might be offset by the exchange rate (all NHL salaries are paid in US dollars, and at time of writing an American dollar buys $1.28 Canadian.) For the sake of simplicity, let's assume that the (in the long term unpredictable) exchange rate and Florida's lower taxes roughly offset as far as determining a minimum goes--that Stamkos and his agent have a floor of at least $8.5M, and that they probably aren't going under it.
  • Most major contracts these days feature No-Trade or No-Movement Clauses that kick in as soon as the UFA years start. I pretty much guarantee wherever Stamkos signs, he's going to have one, but the terms of it may vary somewhat: he might get a total veto, or he might have a "submit a list" situation where he...well...submits a list. So far as I understand it, usually a player is required to provide an updated list each summer of teams to which he will accept a trade; the number of teams on the list varies. If Stamkos is determined to come to Toronto and stay here, neato for us; being more stringent with the NTC might shave a little off the price tag. Of course, as Leafs fans know all too well, your star centre isn't always willing to waive his no-trade clause when the contract nears expiry.
  • Endorsements. The idea, often mooted around, is that the Leafs and their corporate owners and friends will offer Stamkos a lower face-value contract, but that benefits in terms of endorsements will flow to Stamkos and make it up to him. I'm wary of this line of thought for a few reasons. One, "endorsements" are one of those wonderful hand-wavy ideas that let us feel like we can have our Stamkos and our cap room too, which sounds too good to be likely. Second, if MLSE or anyone acting at its behest (the CBA term is "club actor", and it is defined quite broadly) is caught working to either make a deal with undisclosed terms or circumvent the salary cap, or more likely both (see articles 26.2 and 26.3), the reaction from the league would be apocalyptic. (I'll save space here and just say the Kovalchuk situation was very different.) Third, if the Leafs play by the rules and simply suggest to Stamkos that desirable things might befall him were he to come to Toronto, I doubt that's worth much. Yes, it might be true, and yes, it's a nice thought, but people don't tend to turn down millions in guaranteed salary over nice thoughts. I'm not going to take endorsements into my thinking about what Stamkos might get.
  • Should either the players' union or the league elect to exercise their early termination options under article 3.1 in September 2019, the CBA would conclude in September 2020. I'd like to think that neither side wants yet another lockout, and I'd like to think MLSE wouldn't sign a contract and then count on a renegotiation of the collective bargaining structure to bail them out at the end of it. But...anyway, under a renegotiated CBA, especially if the salary cap were significantly altered, there might be some kind of benefit for teams dealing with expensive contracts. The new deal might include a general salary reduction (as in 2005) or a compliance buyout option (as in 2013.) Either might help the Leafs escape from the end stages of a Stamkos deal, but smart planning is for worst-case scenarios, so I'll ignore it.
  • Stamkos' blood clot condition, as discussed above, may affect teams' willingness to take a risk on him and slightly lower his price. Again, I'm hesitant to count on this having too much of an impact. If Stamkos is reaching the open market, there is going to be a lot of interest, and enough GMs are going to be as comfortable with the risk as I am to bid on him anyway.

And now we fish around for comparables. Let's see how that works out.

  • Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane received matching eight-year, $84M contracts from the Blackhawks that kicked in to begin this season, the age-27 years for both of them. The cap hits ($10.5M per year apiece) are the largest in the league by far, and both Toews and Kane are elite players: Toews is a perennial Selke candidate who also produces points, and Patrick Kane may be the most offensively gifted winger in the world right now; plus Kane's probably about to win the Hart. At the time of signing, the two of them had led Chicago to two Stanley Cups, and since signing they led the Hawks to a third. The thing is that these deals were signed five days after the Hawks were able to extend the two players, who clearly wanted to stay together and be part of a winning core. At the risk of stating the obvious, the negotiations were also paired, given that they were identical and signed on the same day. The possibility of Toews and Kane going to free agency was obviously a factor, but that doesn't have the same impact as a bidding war where multiple suitors are actually talking to a player.
  • The closest comparable in the last decade was probably Ilya Kovalchuk, another extremely talented high-percentage sniper. Ilya actually signed with the team he had been traded to at the previous deadline, the New Jersey Devils. As we all recall, the league did not like the deal, and Kovy ended up signing for fifteen years and $100M, at a cap hit of $6.66M; the deal had insanely variable real dollars, ranging from a high of $11.6M in 2015-16 to a low of $1.0M in 2020-21. This is hard to extend to a situation where the Leafs can't sign Stamkos to anything like it.
  • Parise and Suter. Thirteen years, $98M each, signed under a different CBA. This isn't comparable either.
  • Uh...Ovechkin? He signed for thirteen years and a cap hit of $9.538M, starting in know what, forget it.
See the problem? Stamkos has no comparables signed under the current CBA. If you squint really hard, you can try to make an adapted argument for someone like Corey Perry, Phil Kessel, or even Anze Kopitar, but I don't think you really get much out of them you don't get out of the Toews/Kane comparison, and they're what we lawyers call "distinguishable." The parallels just aren't that strong. Should he be unsigned in July, Stamkos' value is going to be determined by a bidding war, and I'm damned if I know how that's going to go beyond a general survey of the factors above.

So here's my best guess: wherever he ends up, I'll be surprised if he comes in under $9M, and I'll be surprised if he comes in over $12M. He will very likely get the maximum term possible. So with that price range...why should we want him?

8. Tomorrow Comes Today

The point of all this is to build a team capable of winning a Stanley Cup. As the aging curves above show, even the most optimistic scenarios suggest Stamkos will be a lesser player at the end of this deal than he is at the beginning. This is regularly presented as an argument against signing Stamkos, an argument that goes something like this:

The Leafs just bottomed out in a rebuilding year, and the team of the future is supposed to be built around players like William Nylander (who will turn 20 on May 1st) and Mitch Marner (who will turn 19 in May 5th.) The Leafs have a 20% shot of acquiring Auston Matthews, but whether they get him or someone else, that'll be an 18-year-old who will hopefully be added to the core. Even the older members of the core--Nazem Kadri (26 in October), Jake Gardiner (26 in July), Morgan Rielly (just turned 22)--are generally younger than Stamkos, with only James van Riemsdyk (27 in May) being a possible exception. I recall our glorious leader, Dictator Scott, saying something to the effect that rather than sign Stamkos, he would like to build a team out of good young players on ELCs. I almost completely agree with him.

The value of players or ELCs--or players on bridge contracts, or players on otherwise below-UFA deals--is that you are getting better talent--offensive, defensive, or goaltending--for less cap space than you would have to pay to acquire it in another fashion. You can then use the cap you have saved to acquire more talent. Ideally, you'll wind up with the most talented team that can be acquired for the maximum allowable salary. Then you will win trophies and wreck shit. All of this is pretty conventional wisdom.

Knowing what we do about aging curves and the salary cap structure, the sweet spot for cheap value on players--especially forwards--is in their early 20s, when they're approaching peak production and are being paid much less than peak salary. This is the time to strike--because you need to exploit that value you're capturing.

As someone has remarked at me when I was off on one of my CBA rhapsodies, there is no prize for the best-managed salary cap. There is no Eugene Melnyk Award for the best cost-per-point. Further, there is no feel-good look-at-the-rebuild-go medal for making the first round a year ahead of schedule and putting up a good fight in a six-game loss. The goal of the rebuild is to win the Stanley Cup, and if you're saving money by having Nylander, Marner, Kadri, Rielly, Gardiner, JVR, or anyone else, the only value of that is so you can spend the money on someone else as soon as you have a decent team.

"But Fulemin, we don't have a decent team. Our team just finished 30th."

People conceive of rebuilds as taking five to ten years. I think this is because the Oilers have been drafting high since the Dubya administration and have performed the managerial equivalent of flinging their own poop. As scrambles and the wonderful Charlotte's Webster has suggested, good teams, who rebuild well, rebuild much faster.

In 2005-06, the Chicago Blackhawks finished 28th overall, and drafted Jonathan Toews with the third overall pick. In 2006-07, they finished 26th, won the draft lottery and drafted Patrick Kane. In 2008-09, the Hawks were a top-six team in the NHL. In 2010, they won the Stanley Cup.

Toews was 22. Kane was 21. And Marian Hossa, whom the Hawks had signed the previous summer to a 12-year, $62.8M contract, was 31. He was a decade older than their stars, on the downslope of the aging curve, and he was a key contributor to them winning. Dale Tallon took the money he was saving, and he spent it to put his team over the top.

The Los Angeles Kings finished 29th overall in 2007-08, and drafted Drew Doughty 2nd overall (just behind Stamkos, actually.) The next year they finished 26th and picked up Brayden Schenn 5th OA. In 2009-10 they finished in the top ten overall. In 2011-12, albeit after underperforming in the regular season, they won.

Doughty was 22. Brayden Schenn actually wasn't with the Kings, though, cause Dean Lombardi traded him. He traded him for Mike Richards, who was an allegedly-troubled star centre for the Philadelphia Flyers, on a 12-year contract with a $5.75M annual cap hit. At the deadline, Lombardi also picked up Jeff Carter, who was on an 11-year deal with a $5.27M hit.

On the bright side, though, the Oilers haven't had a contract over $6M this decade.

The money saved on Nylander, and Marner, and anyone else you care to name is of use only if we take advantage of it. They will be very good, very soon, but they will not be cheap for long. We know from Chicago and Los Angeles that it is possible to go from bottoming out to winning the Cup in four years--which would be shortly after the time Stamkos turns 30.

Why should we spend it on Stamkos? Because as we discovered in the comparables section, the chance to sign him is unprecedented. He is 26 and the second-best goal-scorer of the decade. The chance to get someone of his youth and calibre without drafting them or giving up major assets in a trade is excruciatingly rare.

I want to hammer this point: if we sign Stamkos, that is not ruining the rebuild. That is making the rebuild. The idea that we should build a team of youthful, cheap talent is one I totally support. We should build that team and then position ourselves to win with it. Stamkos is a huge step in that direction.

9. Next Season And Beyond

It is a testament to how surreally competent our management has been lately that the Leafs are actually in excellent financial shape. True, this shape is partly based on an extensive use of the LTIR system, but there's no shame in that. Eighteen months on from having Clarkson (awful deal), Phaneuf (bad deal), and Kessel (good but expensive deal), we're now paying Horton to stay at home, a bunch of spare parts from the Senators, and the Kessel retained salary. (The last bit still sucks, but you can't have everything in life.)

It's quite possible to create a bare bones roster to accommodate Stamkos at $11M a season. Here's a very basic one; the only creative things I did were to LTIR Lupul, which everyone seems to be expecting, and trade Bozak in a salary dump, mostly to get him out of the way. Other than that, this is basically the same team. It has a ton of cap space left to sign other players (for example, we could easily bring back P.A. Parenteau on RW if we want), it's for the most part very young, and I believe it would likely make the playoffs.

Why? Because the Leafs were a pretty decent possession team this season. Stamkos addresses the team's glaring weakness--top-end scoring--and goes a long way towards Mike Babcock's goal of "225 goals on the roster." Improvements from Nylander, and hopefully a strong rookie year from Marner, can get the rest of the way. Bernier has shown signs of rebounding from his punchline status and might be expected to return to something close to his career form. Even if you think this team isn't that strong, it's better at centre than any Leafs team since Sundin left, and it is bursting with potential. The idea of paying a player $11M scares people. It shouldn't. We can make it work.

And after that? This team has Stamkos, Kadri, Gardiner and Rielly locked up long-term. It has Nylander, Marner, and the 2016 1st-rounder on ELCs. And the oldest of them is 27. That is a core.

Finally, I'll touch on something I normally don't focus much on: intangibles. Stamkos is a captain, and he can handle the spotlight. Acha directed me to this Wayne Gretzky quote:

"He’s matured immensely," Wayne Gretzky told Tuesday from his home in the Los Angeles area. "He’s always going to be a goal scorer, he’s always going to be a guy that puts up 50 or 60 goals, and he competes really hard to score those goals. I was really impressed with how hard he played when he wasn’t scoring early in the playoffs, I thought he was playing extremely hard. And he wasn’t cheating the game whatsoever to try and get that offensive opportunity that would sacrifice the hockey club. That’s leadership. The rest of the players are watching that: Your best player is competing and doing other things for his team to make them a better club. I thought he played extremely well in the first couple of rounds, even though he wasn’t scoring at his pace. He’s being rewarded now with goals. He’s also providing a more physical presence than I’ve ever seen before, and he did a nice job. Consequently, his team is rewarded and they’re in the finals."

Acha herself, who knows a lot about Stamkos, backs this up: "I’ve found the leadership part to be very true. He’s the toughest on himself, and has a golden touch with media. He’d actually be a perfect fit in Toronto because he understands that it’s part of his job."

Toronto's spotlight, and a big contract, might wear on a lot of players. Stamkos has shown every sign of being up for it.

10. The Case For Stamkos

So here we are. Summation:

  1. Stamkos is a spectacularly gifted offensive player.
  2. A look at his track record suggests that he continues to possess elite goal-scoring ability, both on the powerplay and at even strength, and that his relative struggles at even strength this past season are likely isolated.
  3. A look at aging curves suggests Stamkos is likely to provide elite offensive production throughout the better part of a seven-year contract.
  4. The evidence suggests Stamkos will be healthy as ever by the time we sign him.
  5. Stamkos can be a part of a potentially Cup-contending Leafs' core within the next four years, and by paying him the Leafs can maximize the value of their young players.
Or in one line, I believe that signing Stamkos at a price lower than $12M per season makes this Leafs team more likely to win a Cup within the next half-decade.


The extensive Stamkos discussions contributed to this post in a thousand ways, so I ought to just thank everybody on the blog. In particular:

-Scrambles provided some awesome statwork in the section on 2015-16 that helped bring together the indictment of Ryan Callahan

-Brigs for commentary also pointing to the linemate issue

-Acha for providing me with a very handy stats link, with the Gretzky quote and with her own quote, and also for being patient beyond words with people lusting after her captain

-jeffgm for directing me to some of the interesting aging curves

-Not norm for making the skeptic’s case against Stamkos—seriously, if this article’s ended up being any good, it’s because I had a good articulation of the other side to think about

-Charlottes Webster and his excellent article on multi-year tanks, which is now linked in the post and which you should read

-Anyone who actually read this whole thing is a fan community that allows members to post their own thoughts and opinions on the Toronto Maple Leafs and hockey in general. These views and thoughts may not be shared by the editor of