Don Cherry went on quite the Twitter rant about Steven Stamkos yesterday. He questioned Jon Cooper’s usage of the star forward during the Stanley Cup Final, and then proceeded to opine about the potential for Stamkos’s departure from Tampa. Rather than summarize, I’ll let you read the whole thing here:
"My thoughts on Stevie Stamkos in the finals where he remained goalless: I’ve been watching Stevie since he played for the Markham Waxers. I think the world of him. I feel for coach Cooper who is up for candidate as coach of the year and when a team reaches the finals he must be doing something right. And I must say he did a great job to get Tampa to the finals.
But I have to give my opinion.
I know he feels lousy losing in the finals. I should know, I’ve done it twice after being so close. But I feel Stamkos was not handled the way a super star should be handled. It all started when the coach seemed to favour and fall in love with the little guys. And I guess rightly so because Johnson was terrific but at Stamkos’ expense. Stevie some games played around only 15 minutes. He was not on the ice when the goalie was out with one goal down. Don’t give me he just finished a shift.. Stamkos tired is better than anybody on the team.
But I think the final insult came when he was send over to serve a team penalty. To see Stevie Stamkos sitting in the penalty box hurt. I know Stevie is going to protect his coach as that’s the type of guy he is. But the final game was ridiculous. Stevie led both teams with 8 hits. Now when you have your 60 goals scorer lead in hits it’s absolutely asinine. His job is to score.
Also where was his patented slapshot from the left side? I never saw it. Yes, the combo of less ice time, not on when a goalie is out, serving a penalty, means trouble for the Lightning when free agency arrives for Stevie. I feel now Stevie will listen more closely to offers that arrive. I am trying to put this as delicately as I can, but I feel unless this is straightened out, Stevie will be gone."
— Don Cherry (@CoachsCornerCBC)
That's copied word for word.
Without meaning to sound too harsh, I’ll just casually point out that Cherry’s days as an expert are probably long gone. This is a guy who consistently calls Roberto Luongo by the name “Lalongo” whenever the Florida Panthers goaltender warrants mentioning. It’s true that he’s seen Stamkos play for a long time, but I’m not sure that he’s overly in tune with the Lightning captain’s inner desires. Moreover, I'm not sure that he expected Stamkos to respond:
Stamkos on Don Cherry's comments. "Everyone is entitled to their opinion. everyone in here knows what goes on. There's no issues in here"— Joe Smith (@TBTimes_JSmith) June 17, 2015
Even so, it’s not like Cherry will be the only one to muse about Stamkos’s future in Bolts blue over the next few weeks and months. Stamkos has one year left before hitting unrestricted free agency during the summer of 2016. Lightning GM Steve Yzerman has consistently stated that signing his captain to an extension this summer is a priority. The question now is whether or not that can happen.
Here’s the thing: If Stamkos leaves (and that’s a big, big if), I highly doubt that it will be because he was looking for an extra shift or two during the Stanley Cup Final. Is there a chance that he’s upset? Sure. I’m not in his head, so I don’t know for sure. Cherry isn’t either, for what it’s worth. Is that a good reason to leave? Hardly. 28 other teams, and plenty of other star players, would love to be able to complain about ice time in the Stanley Cup Final.
Instead, I think we’re looking at two options:
1) Winning is the priority. He re-signs with Tampa Bay.
2) Legacy, ego, and going home are the priorities. He leaves.
If he goes, it won’t be because he wanted more ice time in the Final. Even fifteen minutes of ice in the SCF with Tampa is better than the zero he’d be likely to receive in Toronto for at least the next few years (ZING!). If he goes, it’s about something more. It’s about legacy. It’s about wanting to be ‘the guy’ in the center of the hockey universe. It’s about going home.
Tampa can’t offer those things, but Tampa can offer him a decent enough chance to win. Tampa can even offer him the promise of playing more, should the team ever make it back to the Final.
What does he value most? I guess we’ll find out soon enough. Based on his comments today, Lightning fans certainly have reason to be optimistic. Stamkos said that he wants to win a championship with this group. Unless Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, et al plan to move as well, I don't think he'll have a chance to do that in Toronto. Signing Stamkos is the team's number one priority right now. It certainly sounds like signing in Tampa might be a priority for Number-91 as well.
Thanks for reading.