Steven Stamkos: How Much of an Upgrade Would He Be for the Red Wings?
In case you haven't heard from literally every media outlet in hockey, Steven Stamkos is probably going to test unrestricted free agency. The Lightning can't keep Stamkos and expect to fit all of their young talent under the salary cap next offseason. Steve Yzerman knows this and also recognizes that sacrificing two or three of his superb young players just to keep Stamkos is a losing strategy. To quote Bo Schembechler, "No man is more important than The Team." Yzerman's keeping his team intact, even if it means letting Stamkos hit free agency.
Anyway, what can Steven Stamkos realistically offer the Red Wings? We won't lose any Tyler Johnsons or Victor Hedmans next year by inking him to a huge contract, after all. The team won't be sacrificed to accommodate him, at least not to the same degree as in Tampa. How much better is he than the current crop of forwards we have? And is that difference enough to justify paying him $10M+ per year?
Stamkos At A Glance
Below is a table with Stamkos' year-by-year statistics, including the playoffs. The second image is Stamkos' HERO Chart.
HERO Chart Note: The performance tiers are made up using his past performance from 2013-14 to 2015-16. These past results are weighted differently, as you can see specified on the chart. Chart from Own The Puck
What Does He Bring to the Table?
Stamkos is a shoot-first player and he's mastered his craft to the tune of 312 career goals in 569 games played. This year, a down year for him offensively, he still managed to net 36 goals and tack on 28 assists for 64 points in 77 games. In his 8 years of NHL experience he's averaging 39 goals per year. That's insane and exactly what the Red Wings should be looking for in free agent forwards. Physicality is nice and so is having a strong defensive game, but the Red Wings already have a lot of two-way forwards and don't really need to add a lot of "grit" if you ask me.
We didn't lose games this year because our offense wasn't big enough or as defensively-responsible as they needed to be. The offense lacked a killer instinct, our forwards never seemed to be able to finish with much consistency. We need guys who can bury the puck into open nets regularly rather than sending it wide or into the glove of an opposing goalie. Say what you will about his possession statistics, Stamkos is good for 35+ goals on any team because he doesn't miss (as often) on those types of chances. The objective of the game is still to score more goals than the other team and Stamkos is one of the best at doing just that.
Something else I think he brings to the Wings is stability. The lines were a mess last year because Jeff Blashill initially struggled to find combinations that produced. But by constantly juggling things up, he didn't allow any chemistry to form between players. Blending the lines, which he did to help the situation, actually made things worse. Stamkos is going to play 1C regardless of what happens and he's going to produce no matter who you play him with (he spent most of 2015-16 with Alex Killorn and Ryan Callahan, to give you perspective). I'm not sure how much this added stability would help the team, but it would help in some capacity. Maybe everything would fall into place and the Wings would finally get the usage of their youth right because they'd have a consistent 1C to depend on. Who was the Wings' top line center these past few years? Zetterberg or Datsyuk? One saw his point totals evaporate, the other didn't have his whole heart in Detroit and suffered what should have been a career-ending ankle injury. Stamkos brings some steadiness to the position that's been lacking recently.
How Does He Compare to What We Already Have?
Before we get into direct comparisons, I'd like to say I'm a firm believer that you should never pay a player for what they've done in their career, you should pay them for what you realistically think they can do in the future. What scares me about going after Stamkos is that his famous 60 goal season was in 2011-2012. That was 4 years ago. Paying players for what they did X amount of years ago is how the Red Wings have worked themselves into cap hell with the Ericsson, Zetterberg, Kronwall, and Franzen contracts. You can't build a team trying to win last year's Cup; you can't pay players based entirely on what they've done. The Wings could be falling into that very same trap all over again with Stamkos.
Also, keep in mind NHL forwards peak in scoring at age 24-25 and Stamkos just turned 26 in February. That's not to say he won't improve, pairing him with quality linemates instead of Callahan and Killorn might help his cause, but history isn't on his side. If the Red Wings want to sign Steven Stamkos they'd better do it because they are sure he can be a point-per-game player throughout the majority of his 7 year contract, not because he scored 50 or 60 goals a few years ago and might do it again.
Anyway, how does he compare to the Red Wings' current group of forwards? The answer might surprise you. He put up more points than any one of our forwards did this year, but that's ignoring the fact that he logged more TOI per game than every Red Wing forward this past year. I've chosen three Red Wings to compare Stamkos' scoring rates to so we can account for the differences in TOI. These four players are labeled A, B, C, D. Can you guess who is whom based on their 5v5 statistics from this past year? How would you rank these four players from best to worst?
Data from Corsica.Hockey
Players A and C outperformed their expected GF%, had a negative impact on the team's CF% but scored the most and third-most points out of the four players, respectively. Players B and D had great years, possession-wise but didn't keep pace in GF%. What's disconcerting is that none of these players is really that much better than the others. You'd think a player who's asking for $10M+ would be statistically-superior to similarly-aged players. That's not the case here.
From A to D we have Dylan Larkin, Gustav Nyquist, Steven Stamkos and Tomas Tatar. Larkin is still on his ELC, Nyquist makes $4.75M per year and Tatar makes $2.75M per year. Stamkos is looking to get more than double Nyquist's salary and he's not much of an upgrade over him when it comes to possession and scoring rate statistics. Hard to believe? It certainly was for me when making the table.
Rather than spend a ton of money on one player, the Wings could probably just play Zetterberg, Abdelkader, Glendening, etc. less, scorers like Larkin, Nyquist, Tatar, Athanasiou, Mantha more and invest money and assets in the defense. Why add a forward when you already have three just like him and a defense in shambles? A side-by-side comparison of Larkin and Stamkos really drives this point home. Steven Stamkos is good, but he's not otherworldly good.
Look at the similarity between the two of them! Essentially what we're discussing is paying a player who's statistically just like Dylan Larkin $10M per year. I don't know about you, but I wasn't impressed enough by Larkin's year to pay him $10M right now.
All in all, I'm not sure how much of an upgrade Steven Stamkos is compared to our current crop of forwards. It's always good to add someone who can play top-line minutes, but if you sign him you're going to be paying him more than just what a first liner makes. You're paying him to score 50 goals a year and flirt with 100 points. He was that player at one point in his career but he hasn't been in at least two seasons. He was torching the NHL up until that broken leg in 2013-14 and he's been good, but not nearly as good, since. Do I want Steven Stamkos in a Red Wings jersey next year? Of course. It would be so much fun to see him out there donning the winged wheel. The fan in me would lay down in traffic on I-75 to see Stamkos play for Detroit but the finance student in me sees the risks associated with signing him and is a bit more apprehensive.
Because Ken Holland's already cleared the cap space for the move and I don't think the alternatives (besides Kyle Okposo, who plays wing and has his own flaws) are nearly as good (even if the Red Wings have to pay Stamkos $10M per year) the Wings should try to bring Stamkos to Detroit. That doesn't mean he's the savior of the Red Wings or that he's going to turn us into a Cup contender overnight. But he is a very good hockey player who has a lot of his career left to play.
To clear the cap space and strike out will be far worse than to sign him to a large contract and see him only score 70 or so points a year if you ask me. In that same vein, to sign someone like David Backes, who is 32 and whose career-high in points came in 2010-11 when he put up 62, would be a disaster. The defense still needs a lot of work and the Wings need to develop more of their young forwards, but if you can bring Stamkos to Hockeytown for $10M per year, go for it. Just don't sacrifice the future to bring him here, that's just what Steve Yzerman is trying to avoid in Tampa. The Team, The Team, The Team, Ken Holland. No player is bigger than our Detroit Red Wings.