TAMPA — Well, it has started.
You know the story around these parts, the young superstar player below the Sunbelt wilting away in the heat just biding his time to return home to a starved hockey market. No way these kind of players would actually want to play in a non-traditional hockey market.
No, this is not another retread story about former Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier and the allure of returning to Montreal to play for his beloved hometown Habs.
Instead, this is about the future captain of the Lightning, Steven Stamkos, and the presumed intention he will return home to Toronto to play for the Maple Leafs, the team he grew up watching and idolizing.
It started with a column in The Toronto Star last week laying the groundwork for a pursuit of Stamkos in the summer of 2016, when he is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent.
This feeling, apparently, comes from the presence of Tim Leiweke, who left a high-profile position in Los Angeles to take over as president of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, a position that comes with a specific sort of glare in Canada’s largest city and sports market.
Leiweke, the brother of Lightning CEO Tod Leiweke, already has made a splash in the city by bringing in U.S. soccer star Michael Bradley on a costly transfer agreement to play for MLSE-run Toronto FC of Major League Soccer.
With the stir created around David Clarkson returning to his hometown team last summer — Clarkson left New Jersey as an unrestricted free agent — can you imagine what kind of splash would be created in Toronto if Stamkos did the same?
Well, you will only be able to imagine it, because just like in the summer of 2011, when Stamkos was a restricted free agent and hit the market on July 1, he’s not going anywhere.
In that three-week period, which became known in social media circles as Stammergeddeon, Toronto fans went to bed each night dreaming of an offer sheet from the big-market Leafs that Tampa Bay would refuse to match and allow the high-scoring Stamkos to return home.
There was talk of Stamkos heading to Philadelphia, as well, as the Flyers contemplated extending an offer sheet for Stamkos.
Of course, who wouldn’t want to have Stamkos on their team? He’s a tremendous talent on the ice but is a better person off the ice, and that adds up to somebody who can be an ambassador for the game and his team. Just as we’ve seen for five years in Tampa.
But you can take this one to the bank, and I’m 99.91 percent sure on this: Steven Stamkos will not reach the free-agent market.
In January 2015 — as soon as it is allowed — negotiations for a contract extension will begin in some capacity. They might drag on a bit, and something might not be done before the season is out, but by the time Tampa Bay opens training camp in September 2015, the ink will have dried on a long-term extension that will keep Stamkos in a Lightning uniform for a long time.
That means Stammergeddeon 2.0 will never reach the market.