NHL: The Backcheck 12-29-15

NY Rangers versus NJ Devils

Every week, Sportsnet’s  Eliotte Friedman writes a column called “30 Thoughts” and it’s basically the NHL article I look most forward to, as it gives—you guessed it—30 tidbits about the goings on the NHL based off of info Friedman has gotten from his sources.

In the past, former TheScore.com writer Justin Bourne wrote the second article I most looked forward to, “Thoughts on Thoughts” in which Bourne picked his five favorite Friedman thoughts and elaborated.

Unfortunately for those who loving reading Hockey articles—but fabulously for Justin Bourne himself—Bourne was hired by the Toronto Marlies as their video coach and so his article has ceased to exist.

However! As is the American way, I shall not let a good idea go to waste!  So for this column, “The Backcheck,” I am going to rip off Coach Bourne and basically co-opt his idea for TheThreeFour.com’s purposes.

Each week, following Elliotte Friedman’s wonderful piece, I will go back (get it? Backcheck?) through—however many—tidbits that interested me and give my opinion on them. It may be five, like Bourne’s; it may be 1, who knows? Whatever topics need to be elaborated on shall be.

This week’s 30 Thoughts: The NHL’s rocky road to a women’s outdoor game:

8.Lightning owner Jeff Vinik met with Tampa-area reporters Monday as his impressive “Community Heroes” program reached $10M in donations. Asked about Steven Stamkos, Vinik re-iterated his confidence in getting something done. Over the Christmas break, I remembered an ages-old conversation with former Texas Ranger Ivan Rodriguez. Paraphrasing here, but, in 1997, Rodriguez was a pending free agent. There was little progress on a new contract, so the team traded for Jim Leyritz days before the deadline. Rodriguez walked into the team president’s office and re-started the process. He said he asked what the team wished to pay, explained that he wanted to stay, moved up the number (“a little,” he said with a smile) and handed talks back to his agent. Days later, the deal was done. (He became the highest-paid catcher in baseball history at the time.) As I’ve written/said before, I believe Stamkos’s first choice is to stay. And I wonder if this an approach to consider. One way or another, he’s going to learn what the Lightning truly think. That forces everyone into the decisions that must be made.

Being back in Leaf land over the holiday break, I heard a lot of the Steven Stamkos talk (in case you haven’t heard, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ fanbase would love Stamkos to go to Free Agency) but most of it is centered on what Stamkos might be thinking. With all that being heavily reported on, I tried to get myself in the mindset of two gourps. 1) Steve Yzerman, the Lightning GM, and the Lightning organization, and 2) the folks over at Newport Sports, Stamkos’ agency.

If I’m Steve Yzerman and the contract talks with Stamkos really are at a stand-still, here’s how I’m handling the situation. I’m contacting every other GM in the NHL and asking them what they would offer me for Steven Stamkos, assuming Stamkos will not resign with that team in the offseason. From those, I’m taking any of the offers that I like and asking Stamkos if he’d waive his no-trade clause to go to any of those teams. If he’s willing to go to any of the teams with good offers, I go back to those teams—probably  ask them to sweeten the pot if they can—and I act. If Stamkos doesn’t want to waive his no-trade to any of those teams, then I go back to all the GMs of the offers I didn’t like, and ask them to redo their offers and go through the process again.

If I get no offers that I like, or Stamkos won’t agree to move, then I ride with Stamkos into the playoffs and either let him walk at the end of the year, or reopen negotiations after the playoffs. I don’t think it’s smart to lose a player for nothing, but if I’m the GM of the defending Eastern Conference Champs and I have a captain who doesn’t want to negotiate or cooperate, I’m not going to let him hold all control. I say, “Steven, we have a list of x teams with offers we like. If you don’t want to go to any of them and you don’t want to resign with us, then we’re shelving negotiations and you can come to us if you want to stay. We have a playoff push to think about.”

This brings me to Newport Sports. As a fan, I think you have to accept that there is a great deal of backroom talks going on in all sports. Let’s say that Stamkos has decided he doesn’t want to go back to Tampa next year, and the team he wants to go to is a contender this season. You’d be naïve to think that someone from his agency hasn’t gone to that contender and said, “Trade for Stamkos. He wants to resign with you next year and can help you in the playoffs this year.” If said contender decides that, yes, they do want to trade for Stamkos this season, then the agency is going to go to Tampa and say, “Hey, make sure you don’t get swindled on this deal because Stammer is going to resign with this team in the summer.” You have to remember that Agents have to keep friendly with every organization; they represent more than one team.

This is what kind of makes me believe that Stamkos might end up at a current non-contender next year (which is why Leafs’ fans are salivating) or back in Tampa. Stamkos’ agency isn’t going to go to a non-playoff team and tell them to send players/picks to Tampa to get Stamkos for the rest of this year. They’re going to tell them to hold off because they can get him in the summer for nothing (in this case, nothing refers to physical bodies or picks; not money. He’s still going to cost a lot), and Stamkos is going to much rather participate in the playoffs this season than not. We haven’t heard anything about any team trying to trade for Stamkos, and I know Steve Yzerman is a notoriously quiet GM—he doesn’t talk about any goings on—but that doesn’t mean every organization operates this way. You just figure at some point we’d get a sniff about a deal being pushed.

Yet, all is quiet on the Stamkos front. So that leads me to believe that either a) Newport has told whatever team Stamkos wants to go to, to hold off;  b) everyone is over reacting about the quietness surrounding this whole thing, because let’s be honest: Yzerman is a notoriously quiet GM. He and Newport could be ironing this all out behind the scenes; us fans just haven’t heard anything about it. Or c) Yzerman will be on the phone soon asking for offers on Stamkos. Just because I believe Stamkos is either going to be on a non-contender or back in Tampa doesn’t mean the Lightning aren’t looking to make moves. They have to cover all their bases.

Regardless of what Stamkos is thinking about this situation, you have to believe the Lightning aren’t sitting pretty about the whole ordeal. Even if Stamkos wants to return to Tampa, if he’s taking too long on negotiations, or asking for too much money, Yzerman will have to look to get return on the asset if nothing happens soon.

I know this doesn’t really clarify anything on the whole situation, but my point is, a lot of the decisions and opinions are known to each party; fans just aren’t in on it yet.

What do you think?