Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning scored his 500th NHL point Monday afternoon in a Columbus Day matinee against the Boston Bruins, his 495th NHL game. Only four active players have reached the milestone faster, placing the Ontario native in elite company, behind Sidney Crosby (369), Alex Ovechkin (373), Evgeni Malkin (413), and Jaromir Jagr (419). At just 25, he joins Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier as the only Bolts to score 500 points with the team. Impressively enough, 278 of his 500 points are goals, putting him at a .56 goals per game average, second amongst active players only to Alex Ovechkin and his .63 goals per game.
All of these impressive stats just beg the question, why haven’t the Lightning renewed his contract yet? He’s currently in the final season of his five-year, $37.5 million contract and is on track to demand the kind of money that was most recently seen in the extensions of Blackhawks stars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Those two signed at the astronomical rate of eight-years, $84 million each. That’s $10.5 million per season!
Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik has been quoted as saying he wants Stamkos skating with a lightning bolt on his sweater for the rest of his career. Reported by TampaBay.com during the Lightning Fan Fest in September, Vinik said, “I love watching Steven Stamkos play, I’m not worried about him. He’s a great player, great leader, great person. I hope he’s with this organization for a long time to come.” He also expressed his confidence that GM and Red Wings legend Steve Yzerman can figure out a deal with the star. Having given Yzerman the “green light” in regards to money, Vinik wants him to sign a deal that he sees as “best for the long-term interest of the franchise.”
Located in a state that is also home to the maligned Florida Panthers, who attracted an average of 11,265 fans per game last season (only 66.1% of their arena’s capacity percentage) and are bottom in the league for attendance figures, holding on to the face of this franchise seems like a good idea. In Stamkos’ first season, the Bolts averaged 85.6% capacity attendance, but that number has steadily risen throughout his career, up to 98% last season. On the back of last season’s playoff push, the Lightning have also sold 3,000 more season ticket packages, and owner Vinik doesn’t want that popularity surge waning under the threat of Stamkos not signing with the team when his contract expires at the end of this season.
With Tampa Bay staff clearly wanting to snag him, what’s holding up the decision? Could the allure of Toronto be too tempting to pass up for the player born just 30 minutes away from Air Canada Centre? The biggest rumor swirling around the star is that he might end up pulled to the mega-center of hockey that is Toronto to play for Mike Babcock and the Maple Leafs. Seen over the snagging fly balls during batting practice for the Blue Jays, Stamkos made multiple visits to the city to cheer on Toronto’s MLB team during their playoff push, and is clearly enamored by the attention he received. Can you imagine how much limelight he’d get leading the maligned Leafs on a playoff charge? The mild hockey fascination in Tampa wouldn’t hold a candle to the bright lights and craziness of The Queen City. Reaching his 500 point milestone certainly gives him the leverage he needs to get the contract he wants – now we just get to wait and see where he ends up.