Steven Stamkos will become an RFA on July 1 unless he's resigned before then. (Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)
While the Tampa Bay Lightning face some tough off-season decisions, it doesn't appear re-signing restricted free agent center Steven Stamkos will be one of them.
GM Steve Yzerman told the St. Petersburg Times his club will increase payroll for next season, though he wouldn't elaborate by how much, while Stamkos said he didn't foresee any problems in coming to terms with the club.
It’s expected Stamkos' new contract will be worth around $7 million per season. If he's still unsigned by July 1, he would certainly become a tempting target for an offer sheet from a rival club, but Yzerman is unlikely to let things get that far.
Stamkos' comments should also put to rest silly Internet rumors linking him to the Toronto Maple Leafs. He's the Lightning's franchise player and, at only 21, has yet to reach his prime. He wants to stay put and the front office wants to keep him, so Stamkos will be suiting up with the Lightning for a long time.
Yzerman also said he's willing to explore the opportunity of bringing back the current goalie tandem of Dwayne Roloson and Mike Smith, both of whom are unrestricted free agents. The pair expressed their willingness to return next season, but their contract demands are still unclear and will have an impact on the team’s decision.
Speculation over how/if Philadelphia Flyers GM Paul Holmgren will upgrade his goaltending this summer continues to fuel rumors he’ll shop center Jeff Carter to free up the necessary cap space to add free agent Ilya Bryzgalov or Tomas Vokoun.
Craig Custance of The Sporting News suggested trading Carter and his 11-year, $58-million contract would be the simplest solution, though not an easy one.
While there undoubtedly would be clubs interested in adding a potential 40-goal scorer, that big contract - with an annual cap hit of $5.27 million - would also scare off some teams.
Holmgren also said he likes the core of his team, which Carter is a part of, so the GM might be hesitant to consider this type of trade.
It's widely recognized Dallas Stars center Brad Richards will be the top player available in this summer's UFA market - unless he’s re-signed first - and the New York Rangers are considered to be his destination of choice if he becomes a free agent.
But if Richards either re-signs with the Stars or signs with a team other than the Rangers, that would leave GM Glen Sather with the difficult option of turning to the trade market for a top-line center.
Larry Brooks of the New York Post recently wondered if Sather would be interested in Florida Panthers center Stephen Weiss should Richards become unavailable.
Weiss, 28, has two more seasons remaining on his current contract, with a cap hit of $3.1 million per season, plus a no-movement clause. If the Panthers were willing to move Weiss, he'd certainly be a more affordable option than Richards, who is expected to command around $7 million on the open market.
Weiss has said he'd prefer to remain with the rebuilding Panthers, but Florida GM Dale Tallon hasn't declared him “untouchable.” Still, it's believed Tallon would prefer to keep Weiss on the roster.
Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero has kept quiet for the most part on the status of his pending unrestricted free agents, but recently told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette center Mike Comrie and right winger Alex Kovalev won't be back.
Shero said the 30-year-old Comrie was “leaning toward retirement.”
Kovalev's star has been fading in recent years and he was a disappointment in his short return to Pittsburgh this season, with only nine points in 27 games, playoffs included.
The Penguins GM didn't rule out re-signing other UFAs such as Pascal Dupuis, Maxime Talbot, Michael Rupp and Craig Adams. Talks with Adams are currently ongoing.
Rumor Roundup appears Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Foxsports.com and Eishockey News.