For the better part of the season one of the most talked about question among my circle of hockey friends was what could or should happen to Steve Stamkos. The hockey world has thrived on rumors of trades and postulated the need or replaceability of Stammer for the Lightening. Personally, I was in the camp of trade him to this point but being posed the question now, in the midst of the Lightening’s somewhat unexpected resurgence was interesting to think about again.
Honestly, I didn’t have the time, or the wherewithall to deal with pulling up the season-by-season numbers, especially not the advanced stats that are required for such an analysis but here was my hot take on the subject in our online chat:
I look at this from three different, and important points of view and then once the different contributors are covered it’s about what the relative worth really is compared to the market:
first, there’s the lightening POV which is either a) pay him likely dollars and term to retain him and put themselves in likely salary cap hell and chance losing some of the young core b) Lightening let him walk outright with only the memories or c) they pull sign-and-trade so they get value from letting him leave (while putting him in a position to have the salary & term he wants without the open market battle for it) and he looks like a hero for not putting the team in a learch
second is his POV. What’s more important? a) not withstanding the unknown outcome of this season, possibility to win a cup b) ability to put up league elite numbers for personal accolades c) get paid d) be the loyal soldier and look like a hero to lightening and old skool nhl fans
third is the acquiring team’s POV. A lot of the teams mentioned in this article (sportsbreak.com) as well as other’s I’ve heard pining for specific teams (Puckdaddy, SBNation, THW) are in salary cap hell right now or would quickly become disasters by taking on his salary and term. Who knows if he’s really the piece the Kings, Rangers, etc really need (likely not considering both team’s existing situations) and is that single cup really worth the cap hit + term investment? For the ones who aren’t as hurting there’s the question of how soon their actual window for the Cup will be open if it isn’t already. Maybe Anaheim is the closest. One can debate a couple of the others. Maybe a revamped Toronto or restyled Buffalo could actually turn on a dime the way the early Crosby era Pitt team did. But a lot of that list he’s not going to be the missing piece either would be my guess. Plus, the tail end of the contract is going to see him fall from a multi-purpose first line sniper to a third-line tweener so they need to maximize that huge cap hit as early as possible because even with the rising salary cap he’ll likely still be overpaid by the tail end of the contract unless the next collective bargaining agreement wipes it out. It’s a big consideration and will cost more dollar-to-donuts as free agement compared to the investments of contracts of superstars who have only known one team (Ovi, Malkin, Crosby, Perry, Getzlaf, Giroux, Kane, Toews, Subban, Weber, Lundqvist, Rinne, Rask, Price). You can argue if those players are all worth their hit at the moment but for many over the course of their careers, Cup or not, they were underpaid for their performances as well as being paid out and likely put more butts in the seats through their career than a free agent (think the ROI right now on Parise, Suter, Staal or Kovy back in the day and likely even Kessel to just name a few at the top of the cap-hit list)
Don’t get me wrong, Stammer is a great sniper and only in his age-26 season so supposedly his best years could still be ahead of him assuming the injury bug treats him better luck wise through his late 20s.
The question is how to build a set of comparables to Stammer … he’s played wing and center and the Lightening have needed him for long lengths at both. I’m reticent to pull numbers here but I’ll be happy to make some broad generalizations.
He’s among the elite scorers in the league career-wise but in the modern NHL the gold standard for scoring at any position is Ovechkin. As good as Stammer is he’s no Ovi. Period. Furthermore, Ovi plays wing exclusively (granted both, as necessary) so career wise it’s not apples -to-apples but even isolating Stammer’s wing years to Ovi it’s not even close. Stammers best years at wing he was exceptionally good though but he’s not played it exclusively in a long while. Meanwhile the modern NHL treats centers much differently. Of the scoring centers he’s up against Crosby, Pavelski, Seguin, Tavares where he’s consistently good but doesn’t have nearly the elite separation to say I’d take him strictly over one of those guys on pure scoring at center. As a center there are two major other notes. One is playmaking (we’ll call that primary assists, plus some combination of secondary assists, on-ice corsi for and on-ice SOG for) and the other is defensively (there’s no good way to isolate quantification but we can look at differentials as they relate to corsi, fenwick and SOG and qualify it with a WOWY for the defensive pairings behind the center and SVP of of the related goalies which is all much better than using +/- but still with likely flaws). I didn’t spend a lot of time on this but I don’t get the impression that Stammer is necessarily elite at either. He more than holds his own. He’s definitely among the best in any given year. But he’s not such a definitive difference maker on either that he’s going to change the complexion of his game which is why there is a premium on his scoring from Center.
The interesting thing is you have, in Stammer, a player who can play his on-wing or Center which isn’t very common especially at his talent level. That opens a lot of deployment possibilities, but it also creates a lot of ambiguity. Allowing him to revert to pure sniper on the wing could be intriguing but you chance creating an Ovechkin situation in being a pure scorer and maybe that’s not the best use of his skillset or his ego. On the flip side you can continue to wedge him into the Center role and hope he continues to adapt his wider range of abilities at a near elite level which, in the short term, is what you’re paying him to do but there are very few examples of players who were successful at (likely his is one, but that’s the gamble, isn’t it?). What you can’t do is expect him to do both for now, and I think there’s probably some temptation looking at this list someone would definitely try that to both his and their detriment.
Finally, there are special teams. Many elite centers play both sides. While Stammer has been a huge part of the success of the Lightening Power Play again the gold standard from a scoring perspective is Ovi and he has that spot by a mile even on an elite man-up scorer like Stammer, it’s just not even close. But, if you have to pay for next best he’s the guy to pay although you’re depending on your center to snipe for you PP which means you need to enlist someone else to QB the PP1 unit. In many instances this is your second line center who would normally either play on PP1 in a secondary role or QB PP2 and thus re-arranges your PP2 depthchart. On the flip side, most modern centers are also relied heavily on the Penalty Kill. Stammer has very limited experience on it and was used by the Lightening specifically this year to enliven it with an offensive touch. While adding some scoring to the diamond is nice, do you really want what is likely your most expensive player diving in front of 100+mph slapshots on the regular? Especially given the injury history? It’s likely not, so his PK has to be sparingly and well timed for instances when SHG are possible and Stammer’s unique skating and shot can pilot that. Otherwise, he’s more a defensive liability (for the price) in the PK role.
So, then, knowing all this complexity how does one value Stammer? If I’m his agent, I know how I position him, but a) if I’m stammer what position do I want to play and how do I want to be utilized knowing my own injury history and my own personal ambitions and my own enjoyment and b) if I’m a team what role to I envision the 10million dollar man fulfilling for me and what are realistic expectations on ROI for it (meaning further how am I actually defining ROI? asses in the seats night in and night out which is a certain level of income – particularly from a season ticket sales POV? post season appearances (yearly consistency versus depth of run) and the extra revenue there? levaragability of my TM against the player’s name for revenues? local goodwill by the player? etc etc.
So yeah, kinda hard to know since in my view Stammer is a bit of an enigma