TORONTO (Dec. 11) — The circus is coming to Air Canada Centre Tuesday on the same night the arena is booked for a hockey game. That’s because the Tampa Bay Lightning — with cause celebre, Steven Stamkos — visits Toronto for the first time in the 2015–16 season. And, no one is altogether sure which NHL jersey ol’ Steve will be wearing when T–Bay next soars into town.
As such, an infantry will descend on 40 Bay St. mere hours after the Lightning lands at Pearson Airport from its Monday–eve skirmish in Columbus — affording coach Jon Cooper a wondrous opportunity to cancel the morning skate, and Stamkos an air–tight alibi for remaining secure in his downtown hotel room. If No. 91 decides to show, the media horde will be akin to an East Room announcement at the White House.
For, until Steven Stamkos signs a contract extension with the Lightning, the notion/fantasy that he’ll wear a different shade of blue and white can only escalate. Though scuffling, by his lofty standard, with just 11 goals and 20 points (56th in league scoring) as of Thursday, Stamkos long ago carved his niche as one of the most gifted shooters on the planet. And, he’s from Markham, Ont. — northeast of Toronto. That the Leafs would make a power–move toward him in unrestricted free agency next July is not up for debate. What needs to be determined is whether Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman can get the 26–year–old’s John Hancock on a new deal before the Feb. 29 NHL trade deadline. Otherwise, all bets are off.
(NOTE: Tampa Bay’s next visit to the ACC is on Feb. 29. Can you imagine?)
Infusing hockey business with rationale is a fool’s gold. But, I’ll give it a try.
Stamkos is undoubtedly the face of the Tampa Bay franchise; it’s feature attraction and most talented commodity. To suggest that losing him in his mid–20’s would sound a death–knell for hockey on the Gulf Coast of Florida might be a stretch, but perhaps not significantly. Though Wayne Gretzky comparisons are always fraught with peril, Stamkos leaving Tampa Bay (via trade or free agency) would be somewhat the equivalent — 28 years later — of the Great One being dealt from Edmonton to Los Angeles. Stamkos and Alex Ovechkin are considered the two most gifted shooters in the game. With the Lightning, Stamkos has compiled seasons of 60, 51, 45 and 43 goals. His best scoring year may well have been 2013–14, had he not sustained a broken tibia during a Nov. 11 matinee at Boston. He finished with 25 goals in just 37 games.
On any list of hockey’s best players, Stamkos ranks in the top five.
In 1988, the Oilers withstood the loss of Gretzky because Canadian teams in the NHL have abiding resiliency. Whether a southern–U.S. franchise could absorb a similar blow today remains open to question. You might therefore conclude that Tampa Bay owner Jeff Vinick will move heaven and earth to ensure Stamkos remains property of the Lightning. As part of that movement, logic would dictate that Vinick has lengthened the contract of a coach Stamkos will continue to play for. Much has been made of the supposedly tepid relationship between Stamkos and Cooper, who inked a multi–year extension last week. Could that have occurred without some form of approval from the franchise’s most valued possession?
We’ve also apparently learned that Mom and Dad Stamkos have moved (or are planning to move) from Toronto to the Tampa area. Would they become snow–birds if their son was planning to head north?
On the flip–side is conjecture that Stamkos has not yet determined whether he wants to leave Tampa. What is he waiting for — a Gulf tsunami? He’s been with the hockey club and in the region more than long enough to decide whether it is suitable for the prime juncture of his NHL career. If he still isn’t sure, wouldn’t you think he’s leaning toward free agency next summer? It’s difficult to imagine money or term being a complicating issue. No matter where he signs, Stamkos will be among the top five players in salary.
So, again… what’s the hold–up?
And, who’s to say what goes on behind closed doors?
Anyone that believes tampering does not regularly occur in professional sport is naive. The dots that connected Brian Burke from Anaheim to Toronto in 2008 played out like a script. Was anyone really shocked — after the months of chatter and speculation — that Mike Babcock wound up behind the Maple Leafs’ bench this season? Perhaps, a grand plan was long–ago hatched on the Q–T: Babcock would commit to Toronto and Stamkos would follow as the franchise’s 100th–year center–piece.
Stranger stuff has happened in the NHL.
If I’m Stamkos, I sleep in next Tuesday.
FUTURE LEAF TEAMMATES?
Intriguing, perhaps suggestive cover of THE HOCKEY NEWS Jan. 4, 2016 issue. Whad’ya think?
THE NIKON FILE — PART 1
Several photos I have taken of professional sports venues from the air and the ground.
CLIMBING OUT OF PEARSON AIRPORT FOR OTTAWA DIRECTLY OVER DOWNTOWN TORONTO. YOU CAN SEE THE ROGERS CENTRE (HOME OF THE BLUE JAYS) NEXT TO THE C.N. TOWER. THE AIR CANADA CENTRE (HOME OF THE LEAFS AND RAPTORS) IS AT FAR–RIGHT NEAR THE BOTTOM. AND, THE SEMI-CIRCULAR TORONTO CITY HALL IS IN THE EXTREME UPPER–RIGHT.
ON FINAL APPROACH TO PHILADELPHIA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT — THE SPORTS COMPLEX SOUTH OF DOWNTOWN. AT TOP, THE RED–BRICK CITIZENS BANK PARK, HOME OF THE BASEBALL PHILLIES. BOTTOM–LEFT, THE WHITE FACADE OF THE WELLS FARGO CENTER, HOME OF THE FLYERS AND 76ers. AND, AT RIGHT, THE GREEN SEATS OF LINCOLN FINANCIAL FIELD, HOME OF THE NFL EAGLES.
FLYING OVER THE CHANNEL–SIDE DISTRICT OF DOWNTOWN TAMPA BEFORE TURNING BACK TOWARD THE INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT. AMALIE ARENA, HOME OF THE TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING, SITS ADJACENT TO THE TAMPA MARRIOTT WATERSIDE (AT LEFT) AND THE EMBASSY SUITES HOTEL. FLAT, WHITE STRUCTURE NEAR TOP IS THE TAMPA CONVENTION CENTER.
AMID THE CANYON OF TOWERS AND SKYSCRAPERS IN MID–TOWN MANHATTAN IS THE CIRCULAR MADISON SQUARE GARDEN (MIDDLE–RIGHT), HOME OF THE NEW YORK RANGERS AND KNICKS. THE EMPIRE STATE BUILDING CAN BE SEEN ADJACENT TO (AND THREE BLOCKS EAST OF) THE GARDEN.
THE RIGHT–FIELD UPPER–DECK AT ANGELS STADIUM OF ANAHEIM, HOME OF THE BASEBALL LOS ANGELES ANGELS. THE ORIGINAL A-SHAPED SCOREBOARD OF ANAHEIM STADIUM WHEN IT OPENED IN 1966 SITS IN THE ADJACENT PARKING LOT.