The Tampa Bay Lightning find themselves in a weird spot. They’re 14-13-5, one point back from a wild-card spot, and behind two other teams outside of the current playoff picture, and have largely been wildly inconsistent. With the new calendar year closing in, talks of trades will pick up. In recent seasons, the Lightning have made key deals that have helped them to three consecutive Stanley Cup appearances, including two wins. But are they going to be buyers this season? One of the key names that may be dealt is Lightning Captain Steven Stamkos.

Lightning Captain Steven Stamkos and the Potential of a Trade

Let’s open by saying this: logically, trading Lightning Captain Steven Stamkos feels very unlikely. Not only that, but the Lightning have built a strong fan-base in what many consider a weak market over the years. For the fans, Stamkos is the face of their growth. A Stamkos trade could bring the ire of those fans, and new fans may be drawn away from the Lightning, favouring their neighbours, the Florida Panthers, who have seen more success this season. That would be damaging to a growing, and young, fanbase. Julien BriseBois certainly knows this as well, which makes it all the more unlikely.

Aside from the fanbase, the Lightning still have their core locked up. Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Victor Hedman, and Andrei Vasilevskiy are all still here. Throw in the surging Brandon Hagel, Mikhail Sergachev, Anthony Cirelli, and Erik Cernak, and you have a team who should still be Cup contenders. Meanwhile, they remain above .500, despite Vasilevskiy having played just 10 games. With Vasilevskiy just recently returning from a back surgery, them staying afloat is impressive. So, why trade their captain?

Stamkos And His Contract

The reason why, of anyone, the Lightning seem likely to trade Stamkos is the drama surrounding this past off-season. Stamkos has just one season left on a team-friendly deal. When he signed that deal, there were tons of rumours that he was actually on his way out the door. But, he stayed home, and benefited greatly for it. But this off-season, it’s a little different. Stamkos expressed his disappointment that he was not already offered an extension. He made it very clear that he was upset about the situation. That’s what sparked the discussion of a potential trade.

Add to all that drama, take away the context for just a second. Without the legacy and love he has within the Tampa community, he is a 33-year-old forward, with six of his 15 goals and 11 of his 16 assists, coming on the power play. That’s 17 power play points out of the 31 total he has scored. At five-on-five, he is seventh amongst Tampa forwards in expected goals (4.7), and ninth in expected goals for per 60 minutes. Additionally, Stamkos has just two high-danger shots on goal at five-on-five, which ranks 12th amongst Tampa forwards.

The Lightning and the Empty Prospect Cupboard

Additionally, selling off any pieces during a struggling season, in the Lightning’s case, could be smart. The Lightning are missing their 2024 and 2025 first-round picks and a 2024 fourth round pick. They have also been ranked 29th in Last Word’s team prospect rankings. Their top-three prospects are Ethan Gauthier, Dylan Duke, and Niko Huuhtanen. Overall, they lack a star, and they lack depth. Not a good combination for future outlook.

So, with the drama of Stamkos’ contract, his age and struggles at five-on-five, and the bare cupboards when it comes to picks and prospects, there is precedent to add to that if the situation calls for it. Again, it feels unlikely for all the reasons listed above, and no one who follows and loves the Lightning wants to see it. But, if there’s talks, it is our job at Last Word to at least give you something to expect. What could a possible package look like in regards to Lightning Captain Steven Stamkos?

Would Not Be The First Time

Situations are different, certainly. But the Lightning bought-out captain Vincent Lecavalier in 2013, after 14 seasons and a 2004 Stanley Cup. But it came four seasons after he signed an 11-year contract. It was due to injuries taking games away from him over the last couple seasons before the buy-out. Then, the Lightning traded franchise legend Martin St. Louis, in the 2013-14 season, the same year he was named captain. He had 61 points in 62 games the season he was dealt, but St. Louis had requested a trade. His relationship with then-GM Steve Yzerman had deteriorated at that point.

Even though it was not the same situation, as Stamkos has not (at least publicly) requested to be dealt, what did they get for St. Louis? The Lightning dealt their captain along with a conditional second round pick, in exchange for Ryan Callahan, a 2014 conditional first, a 2015 conditional first, and a 2015 seventh round pick. Callahan was in his third year as Rangers captain, and had 25 points in 45 games before the deal. He would go on to be a key cog on the Lightning penalty kill for five more seasons after the deal. Ultimately, those conditional picks finalised as a 2014 first, a 2015 first, and a 2015 seventh.

Other Historical Examples

Outside of Tampa Bay’s history, there have been notable trades in the past. In this piece, we will look at two in particular, and then use current day examples of what that trade would look like today. Those two trades are Claude Giroux, from Philadelphia to Florida, and Jarome Iginla, from Calgary to Pittsburgh. Let’s start with the Giroux trade.

What The Value of the Giroux Trade Looked Like

Claude Giroux was traded by the Philadelphia Flyers, who was a captain for 10 years, and was one of the best and most underrated players in the 2010s. At the age of 34, Giroux was dealt to the Flyers, along with German Rubtsov, Connor Bunnaman, and a fifth round pick, to the Florida Panthers for Owen Tippett, a first round pick and a third round pick. Giroux was in the final year of his contract, similar to Stamkos. But, the Flyers had less leverage, as they hadn’t been a good team for a bit at that point, and they had already sold off a few of their old core to that point. Additionally, Giroux had 42 points in 57 games at that point, which is below a point per game. Stamkos is still producing at over a point-per-game.

German Rubtsov was 23 at the time, a former first round pick, and a player that had fallen out of favour in Philadelphia. Connor Bunnaman was also 23, but he was a former fourth round pick, with three points in 54 career NHL games, and also wasn’t highly valued at the time. They received Tippett, a former top-10 pick, who, at 22, also fell out of favour with the Panthers, with 16 points in 94 NHL games at that point.

The Giroux Trade Translated to a Potential Stamkos Deal

Stamkos is a year younger than Giroux was when he was traded, and is producing at a better pace than Giroux. Additionally, the Lightning have the leverage, as they aren’t expected to sell assets to start a rebuild. So it can be argued they’d get more back than what Giroux brought, marginally at the least. What would that look like today? One team that is looking to buy would be the Vancouver Canucks. Now, this is solely an example of value, and by no means a mock trade. There is no salary cap consideration in this deal, again, this is just an example of one team who could potentially be interested, and the equivalent of what was given up for Giroux in the 2023-24 season.

That trade could be Steven Stamkos and a mid-round pick, let’s call it a 2024 fifth, for Vasily Podkolzin, a 2024 first and a 2024 third. On the surface, this would not work at all salary-wise for the Canucks, but that’s not the focus. Podkolzin is a former top-10 pick (like Tippett) but had more experience than Tippett at the time (33 points in 118 NHL games) and is younger (21). Is that deal worth it for Lightning fans? Probably not, but that’s roughly the equivalent of the Giroux trade.

What The Value of the Iginla Trade Looked Like

On the other hand, Iginla was captain of the Flames for nine seasons before being dealt, and is considered one of the all-time NHL greats. He was beloved by Flames fans, and is one of the most deserving NHL player to not retire with a ring. At 35, he was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins, after scoring 22 points in 31 games to that point. In exchange, the Flames got Kenny Agostino, Ben Hanowski, and a 2013 first round pick. Iginla was also in the final year of his contract at the time, but was two years older than Stamkos is today, and was producing at a lower rate.

At the time, Kenny Agostino was a former fifth round pick, who had begun breaking out in the NCAA. That year, he had 41 points in 37 games, and was rising up the ranks with his college performances. Hanowski, a former third round pick, was also breaking out in the NCAA, coming off a point-per-game season with 31 points in 37 games the year he was dealt. Agostino was 20, while Hanowski was 22. While it never worked out for either of them at the level the Flames hoped, they were both considered rising prospects at the time.

The Iginla Trade Translated to a Potential Stamkos Deal

Again, Stamkos is two years younger than Iginla was when he was dealt. He, again, is performing at a better point rate than Iginla as well. So, the Lightning likely get a larger return than two rising prospects and a first. Let’s stick with Vancouver for another example of value. A comparable deal could be Stamkos to the Canucks for Hunter Brzustewicz, Arshdeep Bains, a 2024 first and a 2024 sixth. The sixth is additional value added on. Additionally, Bains and Brzustewicz are arguably better than Agostino and Hanowski were at the time.

Brzustewicz is a 2023 third round pick, who is absolutely dominating the OHL to the tune of 55 points in 34 games as a defender. That currently projects as 110 points in 68 games, as a 19-year-old defenceman. Meanwhile, Bains is a 22-year-old undrafted forward, who has had really great years recently. Two years ago, he scored 112 points in 68 games in the WHL. Then last season, he scored 38 points in 66 AHL games, as a rookie. Then this season, he has produced 22 points in 22 AHL games, exactly a point-per-game pace. Bains plays physical and has dynamic offensive traits that have translated well to the AHL thus far. There’s potential there. But again, it doesn’t seem like the deal Lightning fans would be excited about.

The Verdict: Lightning Captain Steven Stamkos Will…

… Stay. Probably. It is so rare to trade a captain. Especially one who is still producing at a high level (power play-induced or otherwise). And especially on a team with talent to compete for a Cup still (they can, on paper). Especially in the middle of a season where their starting goalie just came back. It seems like a backwards move, to trade a beloved star. He’s held highly within the locker room, by the coaches and his teammates. Outside of the locker room, by the Tampa Bay fans and community. From a business perspective, he brings money in the form of ticket sales, merchandise sales and other things. From a roster-building perspective, he brings remarkable leadership and skill to the ice.

With the contract situation, his underlying struggles, and age, it may seem like a proactive move. A proactive move IF the Lightning were not still looking towards another Cup run (as tough as this season has been). Trading Stamkos could be a big blow to the locker room. One the team likely cannot afford in the midst of an already frustrating season that they are trying to turn around.

Main Photo: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

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