TAMPA — With captain Steven Stamkos just three days from being the most coveted unrestricted free agent in years, there will be no shortage of suitors likely offering more annually than the Lightning.
Tampa Bay is still in the mix, though it would seem to have a better chance if it can sign Stamkos, 26, before Friday's opening of free agency, when it loses a key economic advantage.
Aside from being seemingly the best on-ice fit, the Lightning, which is believed to have offered Stamkos an extension worth $8.5 million annually, holds a couple x-factors over other suitors — there's no state income tax in Florida and the Lightning is the only team that can offer him an eight-year contract (others only seven).
As a Tampa Bay Times analysis in January showed, Stamkos could net nearly the same annually after taxes in Tampa Bay at $8.5 million as $10 million in New York (Rangers, Islanders), presuming he'd be a New York City resident; Stamkos would make more over the length of the deal in Tampa because of the extra year. Stamkos would net $500,000 less annually than a $10 million deal with Detroit, another strong suitor, but, again, more over the length of the deal.
And Stamkos' hometown Maple Leafs, due to a 53.53 percent combined federal/provincial tax rate, would have to offer him $12.37 million annually over seven years to net the same as he'd make over eight years at $8.5 million in Tampa, according to national sports tax guru Robert Raiola, the director of the Sports and Entertainment group at PKF O'Connor Davis, who has professional sports clients throughout the country.
Quebec (53.31 percent), where Montreal plays, has almost the same combined tax rate as Toronto; British Columbia (where the Canucks play) is 47.7 percent. Of course, Toronto likely offers more endorsement opportunities.
The key, however, is that eighth year, and the Lightning loses that advantage on July 1, when all teams — including Tampa Bay — can only offer seven years.
Under a seven-year deal in Tampa Bay, Stamkos would net $32 million, less than other suitors, including $4 million less than in Detroit and Boston.
Money isn't the only factor in Stamkos' decision, the All-Star center saying he wants to stay in Tampa Bay and have a chance to win his first Stanley Cup. But other teams are expected to make big splashes to woo him. One is Buffalo, where general manager Tim Murray talked openly about being able to win paying one player an average of $10 million to $12 million a season.
What if the Sabres offer Stamkos $12 million over seven years? The Lightning, over an eight-year deal, would have to offer $9.7 million annually to net the same after taxes. That would be a sizable bump from the reported offer from Tampa Bay, which is cap crunched and likely unable to go much higher. The highest-paid players in the NHL are Blackhawks' Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews ($10.5 million annual average).
Teams in states with no state income tax make sure to sell that.
"In my mind it's a factor you always look at," said agent Steven Bartlett, who represents Lightning wing Ryan Callahan. "I know some of the big stars get hung up on the number because it's almost an egotistical thing — and I'm not saying it's this way with Stamkos. I'm just saying a guy feels like, 'He gets 10 (million), I need 10 (million). I need nine just to validate.' But if you're smart you realize, 'I have to run the calculation.' It isn't always just the number that's thrown out there that's the real number.
"And, believe me, the teams that have the advantage are more than willing to point that out to you, too."
Just getting to this five-day interview window likely made it more challenging for the Lightning to sign Stamkos, now that there's more bidders. And in three days, it'd lose one of its biggest financial recruiting tools.
It just hopes it won't lose the face of its franchise.
Contact Joe Smith at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.