Steven Stamkos. (Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)
Steven Stamkos is still without a contract and is heading into the final year of his deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning. There was reportedly some trade talk involving Stamkos around the draft, and the longer he goes without a contract, the more his name will continue to pop up in the rumor mill.
With training camp fast approaching, the contract status of Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos is garnering more media attention. In June, Lightning GM Steve Yzerman claimed re-signing the 25-year-old center was a top priority. However, Yzerman recently told The Tampa Tribune's Erik Erlendsson he had nothing new to report about the situation.
Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman believes it could cost the Lightning around $10.5-million annually to re-sign their captain. He notes Stamkos' role could be an issue, as the Bolts could prefer shifting him from center to the wing. Another factor is several key players (Ben Bishop, Victor Hedman, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov) must also be re-signed over the next couple of years.
Friedman also reports a rumor recently made the rounds claiming there were trade talks involving Stamkos before the 2015 NHL Draft, but they didn't go far. He says some sources claim a few teams made inquiries, while others believe the Bolts were testing his market value. Some of Friedman's sources feel the Buffalo Sabres were among the interested parties.
Some Toronto fans hope Stamkos, a Markham, Ont native, will one day join the Maple Leafs. However, Friedman claims there's no indication they were among the possible suitors.
As Friedman notes, there's plenty of time for the Lightning and Stamkos to reach an agreement before training camp. For that matter, the two sides have until next July to hash things out. Still, as with every superstar entering the final season of a contract, the longer Stamkos remains unsigned, the more his future becomes a topic of conjecture.
Assuming Lightning management could seriously consider trading Stamkos if unable to reach agreement on a new deal, such a move seems remote at this point. He has a full no-movement clause for the upcoming season, giving him complete control over any trade scenario. While his salary for 2015-16 is $5.5 million, his annual cap hit is $7.5 million, making it difficult to find teams with sufficient cap space capable of taking on his contract.
Of the clubs that could afford to make a pitch without freeing up cap space, only four were playoff teams in 2014-15 and they're not among the top Stanley Cup contenders. It simply doesn't make sense for Stamkos to accept a trade from a potential champion to a rebuilding team like the Sabres. As for his hometown Maple Leafs, they can't afford to take on his cap hit, plus they have little that could entice the Lightning right now.
NOTABLE RFAs STILL UNSIGNED
As training camp nears, several restricted free agents remain unsigned. CBS Sports' Adam Gretz lists Chicago Blackhawks center Marcus Kruger, Florida Panthers left winger Jonathan Huberdeau, New York Islanders center Brock Nelson and Calgary Flames winger Micheal Ferland among the notables.
Kruger still hopes to re-sign with the Blackhawks and they want to keep him, but they must shed some salary first. He could still become an offer-sheet target, though that seems unlikely at this point.
Gretz cites the Miami Herald's George Richards claiming the Panthers and Huberdeau have agreed on term, but still have to work out the dollars. The Calgary Sun's Randy Sportak reports Flames GM Brad Treliving said term and dollars still had to be worked out with the Ferland camp, but the two sides will continue working on an agreement.
Nelson's status could be the most interesting. Gretz notes the Islanders' policy is they will sit for the season any RFA not re-signed before the start of training camp. Newsday's Arthur Staple says the deadline is Sept. 16.
Unless Nelson seeks a ridiculously high pay hike, the Isles have sufficient cap space (around $8 million) to re-sign him. This could become a fascinating stare down between the the Isles and Nelson as training camp approaches.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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