Steven Stamkos and Anze Kopitar are due for new contracts, but if the Lightning and Kings don’t step up, respectively, two of the games brighter stars could be heading out the door in July 2016. In Detroit, goaltender Jimmy Howard could be heading into one of his final seasons in Hockeytown as youngster Petr Mrazek threatens to take the starting role.
With less than a month remaining until NHL training camps open, Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos and Los Angeles Kings pivot Anze Kopitar remain unsigned. The duo are eligible for unrestricted free agency next July.
ESPN.com's Craig Custance reports there's been only preliminary talks between the Kings and Kopitar, while negotiations have yet to being between Stamkos and the Lightning. Custance notes both players are eligible for big raises, with Chicago Blackhawks forwards Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane (eight-years, $84-million each) likely seen as comparables. He also points out both clubs must carefully consider the impact those new contracts will have upon their respective salary-cap payrolls.
The Tampa Tribune's Martin Fennelly believes Lightning fans shouldn't panic over Stamkos' contract situaiton, but notes his status could become an unwelcome distraction for the club the longer their captain remains unsigned. The same can also be said of Kopitar and the Kings.
Both players will undoubtedly receive top dollar on the open market next summer. Stamkos could get offers of over $11-million annually on a long-term contract, while Kopitar could receive $10 million. Even if the salary cap increases marginally for 2016-17, there will be general managers with cap space who will be more than happy to pay big bucks for either guy.
Stamkos or Kopitar pop up in trade rumors if their contract talks drag on into the upcoming season, but it's highly unlikely either player hits the trade block. They remain invaluable to their respective clubs' playoff hopes.
Plenty of time remains for Stamkos and Kopitar to sign new contracts before the upcoming season opens. Still, the longer the duo remain unsigned, the more questions will be raised over their long-term futures.
HOWARD’S TIME UP IN DETROIT?
The coming season will be a crucial one for Detroit Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard. The 31-year-old netminder had a solid first half last season before suffering a groin injury in January. He struggled upon his return and lost the starter's job to backup Petr Mrazek in the Wings' opening-round playoff series against Tampa Bay.
Howard's struggles, his $5.292-million salary-cap hit and Mrazek's solid postseason performance gave rise to rumors at season's end claiming the Red Wings might trade him. GM Ken Holland dismissed the notion, saying he expected Howard to compete with Mrazek for the starter's role in training camp.
Howard is under contract through 2018-19 and Mrazek is a restricted free agent next summer, so it makes sense to move out the pricey veteran in favor of a better, more affordable option. It's also possible they could get an offer too good to refuse during the season from a desperate club.
Mlive.com's Ansar Khan reports the Wings are comfortable carrying Howard's cap hit this season, plus they also want to see if Mrazek can play well through an entire season. If he does and the Wings stay in playoff contention, Khan believes they'll keep Howard as insurance through 2015-16 and try moving him next summer.
Finding a taker for Howard's contract won't be easy, but some suitors will likely emerge at the end of the season. The Buffalo Sabres could seek an established starter if Robin Lehner doesn't pan out, while the Carolina Hurricanes could pursue a new starter if they lose confidence in recently-acquired Eddie Lack. The Edmonton Oilers could come calling if the tandem of Cam Talbot and Ben Scrivens fails to meet expectations. So could the San Jose Sharks if Martin Jones and Alex Stalock fail to carry the load this season.
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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