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Steven Stamkos, Lightning should lean toward Crosby’s contract rather than Ovechkin’s deal

Jun 19, 2011, 10:16 PM EDT

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Steven Stamkos AP

As we discussed in the last post, the Tampa Bay Lightning face a rather unusual (and potentially calamitous) negotiation process with young star Steven Stamkos. Although they would retain the right to match any offer a team throws his way, it would still be a huge challenge if he becomes a restricted free agent on July 1.

While star forwards obviously have seen their entry-level deals expire in the post-lockout era, the big guns like Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin signed deals about a season before their deals would have been up. That’s what makes Steven Stamkos’ situation (and to some extent, Drew Doughty‘s as well) so interesting: teams might actually get a chance to send imposing offer sheets his way, ratcheting up the intrigue on the Tampa Bay Lightning’s end. In a way, Stamkos and the Lightning could set a new precedent since their situation is pretty rare.

That being said, Stamkos’ agent and the Lightning will likely look at other star contracts as benchmarks for the budding young star’s second deal. Since Stamkos is rapidly encroaching on their territory already – and each player sports conveniently different contracts – it might make sense to compare his potential deal to the ones enjoyed by Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin.

First, let’s look at each deal.

Crosby’s contract: five years, $43.5 million ($8.7 million annual salary cap hit); contract expires after the 2012-13 season.

Ovechkin’s contract: 13 years, $124 million ($9.54 million annual salary cap hit); contract expires after the 2020-21 season.

From a pure salary cap standpoint, the different between the two deals isn’t that large. That being said, there are some major pros and cons that I believe would make a Crosby-type deal more beneficial to both the Lightning and Stamkos.

Reduced risk for the Lightning

Naturally, imagining 10 years of Stamkos flirting with the 50-goal mark probably seems like a thing of beauty for the Bolts. That being said, injuries are an obvious part of life in the NHL and every once in a while a player just isn’t the same.

It seems like an unsettling point to make, but the Pittsburgh Penguins must feel a little less queasy about Crosby’s cloudy concussion conundrum because he’s only locked up for two more seasons. If Ovechkin was in that situation instead, the Washington Capitals would be facing the frightening possibility of nearly 10 years of uncertainty this summer. Signing players is always a gamble, but longer deals drastically heighten the stakes.

A big unrestricted free agent payday if Stamkos gets even better

While the Lightning reduce their long-term risk, Stamkos can improve his long-term reward. If the league’s salary cap continues its upward climb as Stamkos approaches the unrestricted age of 27, the Lightning star could see an even bigger bump whenever he becomes an unrestricted free agent. He would have less “prime” seasons if he took a 10 or 12-year deal, so his third contract might suffer if he followed Ovechkin’s lead.

A question of motivation

Let me ask you something: if you received a $100 million (or more) contract for a job, would you feel the need to improve? Perhaps, but many people might think that their previous skills – and thus, a few bad habits – opened that door to obscene riches. Why change what made you become a multi-millionaire?

The risk would still be there with a shorter deal, but a 10-year deal almost begs for a few stagnant seasons. Both Ovechkin and Stamkos don’t seem like the types to rest on their laurels, but it’s only natural to lose a bit of steam without that big, dangling carrot of another monster deal.

Splitting the difference?

It’s true that the Bolts might be a bit uncomfortable about him becoming an unrestricted free agent, but that could be remedied slightly if the contract ate up his first unrestricted season or two. If a Crosby-inspired five or six-year deal wouldn’t work, they could always split the difference between the two stars and go for a seven or eight-year pact.

***

Ultimately, the Lightning just need to keep Stamkos in the fold. The only true disaster would be losing him outright. Still, if you ask me, both sides would be better off if they followed the footsteps of Crosby and Malkin-type deals rather than agreeing to Ovechkin or Ilya Kovalchuk-type terms.

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