According to Bob McKenzie on TSN Thursday night, he believes the Buffalo Sabres, and not the Toronto Maple Leafs, are Steven Stamkos' first choice.
This contradicts months and months of speculation that Stamkos will bolt, excuse the perfectly placed pun, from Tampa Bay and go to Toronto. Darren Dreger also said he does not believe Stamkos will go to Toronto, but added that a break up with Tampa seems likely, and could come as soon as the trade deadline.
There are many reasons Stamkos to Buffalo makes sense.
1. The Pegulas
The ownership in Buffalo is among the tops in the league. They're committed to spending money to have a great team, pay a premium for big stars. If Stamkos came to Buffalo, the Pegulas likely wouldn't flinch to make him the highest paid player in the league.
2. Proximity to hometown
Stamkos is from Markham, Ontario just outside Toronto. Buffalo is just a quick ride up the QEW to his hometown, as opposed to the multiple hour flight from Tampa.
If being close to home is important to Stamkos, but he doesn't want to be the only good player on a team, Buffalo fits much better than Toronto. The Leafs are years behind the Sabres development. Eichel, O'Reilly, and Kane make a good set of players to play with Stamkos. Toronto's best forwards to play with him right now are Leo Komarov, Mitchell Marner who's still in juniors, and William Nylander who is still in the AHL.
What would a contract look like for Stamkos in Buffalo? It would surely be a 7 year deal, worth $97 million. That is a max contract in the NHL. A cap hit of $13.8 million for the Sabres. Stamkos would be the highest paid player in NHL history.
It's now up to Tim Murray to decide whether he wants to trade for Stamkos. A trade would likely guarantee he signs with you long term, but you'd be giving up enormous value. If you don't trade for him, you run the risk of any other team swooping him up. The greatest scenario is signing him in free agency and giving up nothing. Or Tim Murray could trade for him after the season to get exclusive negotiating rights. Any of these are possible.
Stamkos could make the Sabres so much better for the short term and the long term. Here is a line combination with him on the team: