The Steven Stamkos Toronto homecoming speculation has continued to run rampant over the last week, with everything from favorited tweets and generic comments about Toronto from the Stamkos camp fueling the fire. Whether LeBron James or the slow news month of July is to blame, Steven Stamkos has been the hottest topic in hockey, and he still has two years left on his contract in Tampa Bay.
Had a certain NBA star not returned to his hometown team at the beginning of July, it is likely that Toronto’s Stamkos dreams would not have surfaced until the final year of his current contract. But, since every star player born in Canada must one day return (or not, as most choose to do), and Steven Stamkos couldn’t possibly enjoy playing in Tampa (it doesn’t even snow there!), Maple Leafs fans are already planning the Welcome Home Stamkos parade. It would likely follow the same route as the annual Stanley Cup parade Toronto Maple Leafs fans have been planning since 1967.
Why are Stamkos / LeBron comparisons being made in the first place? LeBron James grew up in Akron, got drafted first overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers, and then turned his back on his hometown by taking his talents to Miami to win two championships. Steven Stamkos was born in Markham, drafted first overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2008 entry draft. Had LeBron been drafted by Miami, and then returned to Cleveland, the Stamkos comparisons would be fair.
What people are missing is that LeBron returning to Cleveland is more than just a homecoming; it’s the righting of a wrong, it’s a city showing forgiveness, it’s an owner and a player mending past wounds. None of this would have to take place for Stamkos to decide to play in Toronto.
If we are really looking for a comparison to LeBron in hockey, it would have taken Jagr returning to Pittsburgh after playing for the Flyers or Rick Nash returning to Columbus after leaving the team for the Rangers. While neither of these are homecomings in the sense of a player returning to his birthplace to play, both cases would require the player and fan to put the past behind them. When compared to Stamkos returning to Toronto both would be more compelling stories and require the mending of several relationships in order to take place.
Toronto Maple Leafs fans are free to dream of Stamkos signing with Toronto in two seasons, perhaps by that time the Leafs will be legitimate contenders and they will be a viable landing spot for Stamkos. As it stands right now, the Tampa Bay Lightning have the depth and supporting cast around Stamkos to be considered contenders over the next few seasons. Stamkos is not the first star player destined to return home to Canada, and he won’t be the last. History has shown us that Toronto fans shouldn’t get their hopes up. If Stamkos is going to leave the Tampa Bay Lightning in two seasons, it is going to be to play with a guaranteed Stanley Cup contender. After he wins two or three Cups with his new team, then we can start a fresh stream of LeBron comparisons of when Stamkos will return to his rightful home…the Tampa Bay Lightning.