Lebrun: Why Some Nhlers Are Bucking Trend of Fleeing High-Pressure, High-Tax Canadian Markets

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TORONTO — Steven Stamkos certainly made a splash this past week when he shared his frustrations about not having been approached this summer about a contract extension from the Tampa Bay Lightning.

But it also elicited an interesting response from a Western Conference front-office person when we texted about it. His point was that Stamkos’ comments sent way more tongues wagging north of the border than they probably did in his actual market.

No doubt about it. Hockey is king in Canada, and that Stamkos quote was a juicy headline up here.

I very much doubt anyone is going to bother Stamkos about it that much in Tampa for the rest of the season. Here and there, sure, but it won’t be a constant narrative like it would be up here.

Which is among the many reasons he re-signed for eight years and $68 million with Tampa in the summer of 2016 after briefly using the unrestricted free-agency speaking period to meet with the Buffalo SabresSan Jose SharksMontreal Canadiens and, of course, his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs.

At which point, before a scheduled meeting with the Detroit Red Wings the next day, he slapped himself in the face and realized he didn’t want to leave Tampa, where life was great, the organization was built for long-term success and people left him alone. The meeting with Detroit never happened. He had already re-signed with the Lightning.

So you get why he wants to sign another extension in Tampa and play his whole career there.

Steven Stamkos is an institution in Tampa — without the attention he’d get in Toronto. (Mike Ehrmann / Getty Images)

The markets that can combine a solid hockey program with warm weather and low to no income taxes are increasingly becoming destinations for NHL players. Last June’s Stanley Cup Final featured two of those teams — the Florida Panthers and Vegas Golden Knights — and the players on each team didn’t hide why they love where they are.

LeBrun: How the Stanley Cup finalists were built — warm-weather markets, aggressive GMs and lax taxes

My favorite comment at the time came from Radko Gudas when asked about the warm-weather markets having an edge.

“I would say 100 percent it’s definitely a big plus to have,” he said. “You know you’re putting your flip-flops on and you don’t have to worry about a cold car. And I would say you don’t think as much about hockey as you would (in) a colder market. You’re able to free your mind more. I would say it’s a big plus.

“Team-wise, winning-wise, tax-wise: Honestly, there’s so many aspects to it that makes it more lucrative for players to play there and for families to live there.”

Cap-strapped Florida couldn’t keep Gudas this summer, but the veteran found a warm landing spot with the Anaheim Ducks, albeit in a state not as friendly when it comes to its income tax.

But it’s not just those things. For some players, it’s also about reducing the white noise as much as possible.

Something Matthew Tkachuk said to me — I just love the guy’s honesty — after his Panthers eliminated the Maple Leafs last May indicated as much. I asked him if he could appreciate what his Maple Leafs pals Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner were going through, as far as scrutiny in yet another playoff defeat.

“I appreciate the fact that it’s tough,” the former Calgary Flames star said. “Playing in Canada is very different with the spotlight and the history. What I’ve noticed in the difference between playing in Canada and Florida is the highs and the lows. So I think for them, maybe, and they’re unbelievable talents, but unless they win the Stanley Cup, they’re basically getting crucified.

“And it’s not their fault; it’s kind of just the way it is. I know that they’re mentally tough enough, and I know them well, and they’ve been able to handle it and have kept getting better and better in their careers in each year.

“But I know, seeing it from afar, nothing against here, but I know I wouldn’t want to deal with it on any given day.”

Bingo.

Tkachuk is a rock star with the Panthers. But he gets to the rink in flip-flops all season without a soul bothering him.

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This matters to a lot of players. But not all.

One of the things I wanted to do at the recent NHL player media tour event in Las Vegas was ask stars about this topic and why some of them bucked the trend.

Case in point: Josh Morrissey, who in September 2019 signed an eight-year, $50 million extension to stay with the Winnipeg Jets, an organization that just saw Pierre-Luc Dubois force a trade (to sunny Los Angeles), has uncertain futures with Connor Hellebuyck and Mark Scheifele and — well, in general — sometimes struggles to lure free agents despite running a solid program.

Source : The Atlantic