Steven Stamkos (Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
Tampa Bay Lightning sniper Steven Stamkos will be an unrestricted free agent following next season and his UFA status has the rumor mill buzzing. Stamkos will command big money and it could hurt the Lightning's depth down the line. Meanwhile, Mike Babcock's hiring in Toronto could change the direction the Maple Leafs go this off-season, meaning both Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf could be back for 2015-16.
While superstar Steven Stamkos tries to help the Tampa Bay Lightning reach the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, speculation is brewing over his long-term future with the club. Stamkos' eligibility next summer for unrestricted free agency and the Lightning's efforts to re-sign him could dominate NHL headlines this summer.
The Boston Globe's Fluto Shinzawa reports of chatter wondering if the high cost of re-signing Stamkos might prompt Lightning management to trade their 25-year-old captain. Shinzawa believes Stamkos could seek a deal comparable to the identical eight-year, $84- million contracts signed last summer by Chicago's Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. He also speculates uncertainty over the salary cap in the future and the Lightning's depth in young talent could factor in determining if they can afford to keep their franchise player.
While Shinzawa acknowledges the notion of a Stamkos trade this summer “is a wild thought,” he raises important points that cannot be ignored. Keeping Stamkos means his new contract could be worth an annual cap hit between $10-$12 million. Should the salary cap continue its recent trend of modest increases in the coming seasons, his new deal will make it increasingly difficult to keep their talented core intact.
Goaltender Ben Bishop, defenseman Victor Hedman, centers Tyler Johnson and Alex Killorn, left wingers Ondrej Palat and Jonathan Drouin and right winger Nikita Kucherov are among those who'll need new contracts within the next two years. At their current rate of development and performance, all will command substantial raises.
That creates a potentially difficult choice for Lightning management. If they re-sign Stamkos, his massive new contract could hurt their efforts to maintain their roster depth. If they trade him, it could leave a significant void in their lineup they can never adequately fill.
BABCOCK HIRING COULD CHANGE LEAFS’ PLANS
The Toronto Maple Leafs hiring Mike Babcock as their new head coach has many pundits pondering how his addition could affect their off-season plans, particularly for scoring star Phil Kessel.
It's been widely assumed for months that Kessel, as well as captain Dion Phaneuf, will be traded at some point this summer. However, the Toronto Star's Damien Cox suggests it might be in the Leafs' best interest to retain the 27-year-old right winger.
Cox believes Kessel's reduced production, concerns over his physical conditioning and his reputation as a “coach-killer” probably has his trade value at an all-time low. He feels playing for Babcock might improve Kessel's performance, making him a more attractive trade chip.
Kessel's contract, with seven years remaining at an annual cap hit of $8 million plus a modified no-trade clause, is another significant stumbling block. Even if he improves under Babcock, it will be difficult finding a club willing to pick up the full remaining value of his deal.
It's possible Kessel might not improve under his new coach, which will surely do more damage to his trade value. Then again, if he does play better, the Leafs could have little reason to move him.
VISNOVSKY HEADING TO AUSTRIA?
Austrian news outlet Kleine Zeitung has reported Lubomir Visnovsky and EC KAC could be close to agreeing on a two-year contract that would see the blueliner leave the NHL for Austria’s EBEL next season.
The 38-year-old defenseman has spent the past two seasons with the Islanders, and split time in 2012-13 between New York and the KHL’s HC Slovan. Visnovsky is an unrestricted free agent heading into this off-season and is coming off a season in which he made $6 million with the Islanders, and money is reportedly not an issue.
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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