Jonathan Drouin and Steven Stamkos (Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Tampa Bay Lightning could have the most interesting trade deadline of any team. There’s still no resolution in the Jonathan Drouin situation, and Lightning captain Steven Stamkos fuelled trade talk with a vague response about waiving his no-movement clause.
For much of this season, conventional wisdom among NHL pundits assumed Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steven Stamkos wouldn't be moved before the Feb. 29 trade deadline. Despite the absence of a new contract for the 26-year-old sniper, Lightning GM Steve Yzerman wasn't expected to put his superstar on the trade block with his club in the thick of the playoff race. Stamkos was also believed unwilling to waive his no-movement clause.
But during an interview last week with Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times, Stamkos gave a vague response regarding his contract status and didn't outright dismiss the notion of waiving his movement clause. By suggesting answers will be provided with the next two weeks, he fuelled conjecture he might be on the move by the deadline after all.
Sportsnet's Chris Johnston wonders why Stamkos didn't once again insist he wouldn't waive his clause when he's consistently done so throughout this season. His agent Don Meehan pointed out that beyond the trade deadline “there's no possibility to move the player or move the asset.” In other words, if Stamkos isn't re-signed before the trade deadline, the Lightning risk losing him for nothing to free agency in July.
Mike Johnston followed up by listing the Detroit Red Wings, Buffalo Sabres, Colorado Avalanche, Anaheim Ducks and Calgary Flames as “potentially good trade partners” for Stamkos and the Lightning before the trade deadline. He acknowledges, however, the Lightning would set a high asking price.
With the deadline fast approaching, it's fun to kick around trade scenarios for Stamkos. Perhaps he and the Bolts could agree to part ways at the deadline, though that still seems a remote possibility. Finding a suitable trade partner, however, is another matter.
If Stamkos agrees to be traded, it's assumed he'll want to go to a contender. That rules out Sabres and Flames, while the Wings, Ducks and Avalanche are barely clinging to playoff berths right now. None of them seem like viable destinations for the Lightning captain.
Even if Stamkos accepts a trade to one of those clubs, they have no guarantee of re-signing him before July 1. It's a huge gamble to give up a big return for a player who could depart a few months later for free agency.
Not everyone's buying into a Stamkos move at the trade deadline. TSN's Darren Dreger reports it's believed Stamkos' intent is to help the Lightning win the Stanley Cup this season. Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman claims if a rival club has sought permission to speak with the Lightning captain or to make a deal at the trade deadline, no one's talking about it.
Some observers are looking ahead to potential destinations for Stamkos via free agency. Sportsnet's 590 The Fan's Dean Blundell cites a source claiming the Toronto Maple Leafs could make a pitch for the superstar's negotiating rights this summer, intending to sign him to an eight-year deal worth between $11-$12 million per season. This is the same source who told Blundell last year coach Mike Babcock would join the Leafs.
The Buffalo News' Mike Harrington suggests the Buffalo Sabres would be a better free-agent destination than the Leafs. He thinks the Sabres are closer to winning plus they already have their core players in place.
If it's all about coming home for the Ontario-born Stamkos, the Leafs or Sabres seem the logical choices. Both clubs also have deep-pocketed ownership and carry lots of cap space beyond this season. But if his desire is to sign with a contender, the Leafs and Sabres will be out of the running.
UPDATE: Yzerman released a statement Monday and said Stamkos "will not be traded" before the deadline, essentially putting to bed all talk that the Lightning captain could be moved at or before Feb. 29.
DROUIN STILL CENTER OF TRADE TALK
Jonathan Drouin seems a more likely trade candidate for the Lightning. The 21-year-old left winger remains suspended awaiting a trade. Reports emerged late last week claiming the Ottawa Senators were the front-runners in the Drouin sweepstakes.
TSN's Darren Dreger believes the Senators “absolutely” have interest in Drouin. However, he suggests the Lightning will want a premium return to move the youngster within the division. Dreger's colleague Bob McKenzie claims the Montreal Canadiens had serious interest in the promising playmaker, but it appears that interest has faded.
Meanwhile, the Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch reports Senators GM Bryan Murray spoke to Yzerman about Drouin but the asking price is too high right now. Garrioch claims Murray isn't willing to part with a top prospect like Thomas Chabot or Colin White. He also believes the St. Louis Blues, Minnesota Wild and Winnipeg Jets are among the clubs interested in the young winger.
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.).
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.