NHL contract grades: Steven Stamkos brings championship legacy to Nashville (2024)

The contract

Nashville Predators sign forward Steven Stamkos to a four-year contract with an $8 million AAV.

My first thought with Stamkos to Nashville is how he’ll look in a Predators uniform after spending the first 16 years of his NHL career with the Tampa Bay Lightning — because that’s what happens when one player plays his entire career in one organization, wins two championships, scores 1,137 points in 1,082 games and builds what is almost certainly going be a Hall of Fame career. It’ll look odd seeing him in gold, navy and white. It’ll take getting used to seeing him lining up for that patented one-timer from the faceoff circle and realizing it’s not Victor Hedman dishing him the puck from the point or Nikita Kucherov making the pass across the seam. In some ways, it’s not all that different from Patrick Kane moving on after a lifetime as a Chicago Blackhawk, starting over in New York as a Ranger and eventually settling in with Detroit.

But odd is not necessarily the same as bad. In fact, when the Lightning made the decision to move on from Stamkos, there was almost no better landing spot for him than Nashville. He can play either center or left wing. Once you get past the top line in Nashville, there’s a need for help in both spots. (The projected No. 2 left winger, before Stamkos signed, was Mark Jankowski.) Beyond filling a need, it’s a player-friendly organization, with Barry Trotz running the show as GM and Andrew Brunette a coach willing to let offensive players play.

Stamkos will miss Kucherov and Hedman feeding him the puck for all those one-timers on the power play, but with Roman Josi anchoring the point on the top power play, that’s not a real downgrade there. Probably it’ll be Gus Nyqvist deployed as the pivotal pass-first forward on the PP (Nyqvist had 19 assists with the man advantage last year). So not at Kucherov’s level, but if Stamkos gets to join a unit that features Filip Forsberg and Ryan O’Reilly, that should still look pretty good. Nashville was a middle-of-the-pack team on the power play last year (16th) and 10th overall in scoring — not bad, until you consider how dramatically it fell off after the top four players. Tommy Novak was fifth in scoring with 45 points. So, the Predators flat-out needed to improve their high-end talent — and Stamkos gives them that.

NHL contract grades: Steven Stamkos brings championship legacy to Nashville (1)

Now for the sobering financial reality. Stamkos is 34 and turns 35 in February. Though he’s coming off a 40-goal season, no contract that extends four years is going to age well. On the plus side, Stamkos is one of the fittest players in the NHL; he’s of the first to work with fitness guru Gary Roberts. His relentless commitment to staying in shape should fend off the aging process longer than it might for a player who doesn’t share the same commitment to conditioning that Stamkos does.

Ultimately, fit becomes the deciding factor in evaluating a signing, because it’s always an overpay for the top talents flying off the board. Stamkos just feels like a fit in Nashville — for the culture and the market. Under Trotz, the Predators have been aggressive in acquiring players who are winners and who compete. Financially, that’s a difficult thing to put a price on because it goes beyond pure statistical numbers. But Stamkos brings a championship legacy to Nashville, a franchise still searching for its first Stanley Cup, and will help set an example for the younger forward prospects coming through the organization. Nashville was unexpectedly competitive a year ago and made the playoffs with 99 points. Organizationally, the Predators are trying to walk that fine line between a rebuild, which would require them to take a step backward, and a reload, which suggests they’re prepared to go full steam ahead. Retaining Juuse Saros obviously contributes to that. This feels like another positive step in the right direction. Sure, it’s too much money and too much term for the long run. But in the short term? It’s the right player in the right place at the right time.

As part of the big picture work Nashville did — also adding Jonathan Marchessault and Brady Skjei — there’s no team in the first hours of free agency that did more to help themselves get better, and get better in a hurry.

Contract grade: B-
Fit grade: A

(Photo: David Kirouac / USA Today)

NHL contract grades: Steven Stamkos brings championship legacy to Nashville (2)NHL contract grades: Steven Stamkos brings championship legacy to Nashville (3)

Eric Duhatschek is a senior hockey writer for The Athletic. He spent 17 years as a columnist for The Globe and Mail and 20 years covering the Calgary Flames and the NHL for the Calgary Herald. In 2001, he won the Elmer Ferguson Award, given by the Hockey Hall of Fame for distinguished hockey journalism, and previously served on the Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee. Follow Eric on Twitter @eduhatschek

NHL contract grades: Steven Stamkos brings championship legacy to Nashville (2024)

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