The Lightning must have some contacts in the Toronto area. Or they know how to use the Internet.
Either way, all the noise about Steven Stamkos possibly, maybe, sort of wanting to play for the Maple Leafs down the road a bit caught Tampa Bay's attention. And before anyone in the Sunshine State could get too worked up about the team's star captain bolting north, the Lightning took to social media to tamp down the rumors:
The funny thing here? These rumors wouldn't have legs if it weren't for Stamkos' own adventures on Twitter.
Since the free-agency return of NBA star LeBron James to Cleveland, there has been plenty of "what-if" talk centered on Toronto-born Stamkos, who will be an unrestricted free agent when his current contract with the Bolts expires after the 2015–16 season. Admittedly, there's every reason to believe that he would want to stay put. Tampa Bay is an up-and-coming organization that, after making significant acquisitions over the summer, is suddenly a legitimate threat to win the Eastern Conference title next season. The Lightning have treated Stamkos fairly every step of the way. They boast some of the best weather in the league and offer a community where he can live in (relative) anonymity away from the rink. And the absence of state income tax in Florida adds up to millions of dollars in his pocket over the life of his contract. He's got a pretty sweet deal.
Of course, most kids grow up dreaming of playing for their hometown team (or at least their childhood favorite), and Stamkos apparently is no different. His official Twitter account favorited a link to a story by Adam Proteau in The Hockey News about a Toronto-born superstar returning home like James.
No one can say for certain that it was Stamkos who favorited the story—though the favorite was later rescinded—but the whole episode sent up some big smoke.
Stamkos came under more scrutiny a couple of days later when his account favorited another tweet, this one imploring Stamkos and fellow Hogtowner John Tavares to come home and play for Toronto. That favorite was also soon rescinded, but not before it was seen by Leafs Nation as further evidence of Stamkos's desire to return home.
And then Wednesday happened.
Stamkos, who was in Toronto for a charity ball-hockey tournament, was asked to comment on the rumors.
"We’ll see what happens. It’s a couple years away," he said. "Right now I’m focused on what I have to do to win in Tampa, and I think we’ve really established ourselves as a team that can compete in upcoming years."
The meat of that quote, as well as the follow-up comments, suggest that Stamkos is perfectly happy where he is and fully committed to leading the Lightning to postseason glory. But those first two sentences ... well, they keep the door propped open, don't they?
The takeaway? Maybe this is all a carefully orchestrated ploy, a chance to establish a James-like narrative in advance of next summer to encourage the Bolts to lock Stamkos down with a huge offer that will make him the highest-paid player in the game. But that seems almost pointless. As the best goal-scorer in the game, he already has all the leverage he needs to get that deal done.
So maybe Stamkos really is a kid that dreams of going home.
Either way, he's committed himself to the will-he-or-won't-he narrative now. And it's going to shadow him like Steve Kasper ... no matter how many feel-good tweets the Lightning issue.