It has been a while since a big-named player has reached July 1 as an unrestricted free-agent. But on July 1, 2016, Tampa Bay Lightning captain, Steven Stamkos could be hitting the free agent market as the biggest name available in years.
Stamkos, 25, was the Lightning’s 1st overall pick in the 2008 National Hockey League Entry-Level Draft. He was drafted out of the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League, where he scored 58 goals, had 105 points, and was the top-rated player available in the draft.
In his rookie season, Stamkos only put up 46 points, (23 goals, 23 assists), but took off the next season with 51 goals and 44 assists in all 82 games. Stamkos won the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy for the most goals in the NHL as a 20 year old kid.
Two seasons later, Stamkos would win the “Rocket” Richard Trophy again after scoring 60 goals and 97 points in all 82 games.
In 516 career games with the Lightning, Stamkos has 287 goals and is averaging nearly a point per game. Stamkos was named captain of the Lightning after former captain, Martin St. Louis was traded to the New York Rangers during the 2013-14 season.
Before the 2011-12 season, Stamkos signed a five-year extension with the Lightning, which would pay Stamkos an average of $7.5 million per season. Stamkos is in the final year of his current deal, and has not yet signed an extension to stay with the Lightning in Tampa.
Reports have indicated that general manager, Steve Yzerman and the Lightning were trying to get a deal done before the 2015-16 season, and wanted a deal done before the first game against the Philadelphia Flyers. However, the deal never got done, and a deal may not get done until the end of the season.
If the Lightning make it to the playoffs, and go deep in the playoffs, Tampa Bay may not have enough time to make a deal with Stamkos to keep the captain in the Sunshine State. The last thing the Lightning want to do is have Stamkos hit free agency and sign elsewhere without getting anything in return for Stamkos.
It happened before, especially to the Buffalo Sabres, where a franchise player hit the free agent market and the player signed a new deal elsewhere. Chris Drury and Daniel Briere both were franchise players for the Sabres in the 2006-07 season, and both left the team to sign bigger deals with different teams. The Sabres got nothing in return for both players, and the franchise began a downward spiral that has continued throughout the years.
With that in mind, the Lightning are going to have to make a tough decision come the NHL Trade Deadline on February 29 this year. If Stamkos is not re-signed to a long-term extension, does Steve Yzerman trade Stamkos?
Stamkos does have a no-movement clause in his contract, which means he would have to waive his no-movement clause in order accept a trade to another team. Right now, it would seem crazy to think Stamkos would waive it to go anywhere. However, what if the trade deadline comes, and it seems like the Lightning cannot get Stamkos to sign an extension, maybe he would waive the no-movement clause to go to a team that could contend for a Stanley Cup, and maybe a team that would be willing to re-sign him to a long-term deal.
The return for Stamkos in a trade would be a boat-load. Most likely, a team in a trade would have to give up a first round pick or two, a top player, and maybe another asset or two. It would be one of the biggest blockbuster trades the NHL has seen in a long time.
If the Lightning do not trade Stamkos, Yzerman better have a good plan to get Stamkos signed before July 1, 2016. In the mean time, Yzerman should be feeling the pressure, and feeling the heat from his bosses above him.
If Stamkos is not signed, hits the free agent market, and leaves the Lightning, Yzerman could be looking for a new job.
If, and when Stamkos signs a new contract, he will most likely be the highest paid player in the NHL. The highest paid players in the NHL right now are Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane with identical contracts paying them an annual average salary of $10.5 million. Stamkos is going to want an annual average salary of that, or higher, probably near the $11 million mark.
With the Lightning taking that high of a cap hit, they will have to make some sacrifices to its roster, which already has key players who will need new deals at the end of this season. Alex Killorn, J.T. Brown, Vladislav Namestnikov, Nikita Kucherov, and Cedric Paquette are all due for new contracts as restricted free agents. Braydon Coburn, who the Lightning traded a first round pick in last year’s trade deadline, will be an unrestricted free agent along with Stamkos.
Other players like Victor Hedman, Tyler Johnson, and Brian Boyle will need new contracts come the end of the 2016-17 season.
If Stamkos is re-signed, some of these notable names, especially on offense, could be wearing new uniforms come the 2016-17 season.
But if Stamkos is going to test the free agent market, he will gain a lot of attention from other teams. One of those teams, that is creating attention, is the Toronto Maple Leafs. Toronto has been interested in Stamkos for a while now, and the fans and media are beginning to salivate at the idea of him in a Leafs jersey.
Toronto would have pieces to acquire Stamkos in a trade at the trade deadline, and would make the cap space to sign Stamkos at the end of the season.
Stamkos would be the top-line center the Leafs have been looking for since losing Mats Sundin to free agency in 2008. Stamkos is also a native of the Greater-Toronto Area, Markham to be exact, which has many wanting Stamkos to come home and play for his hometown team.
Let us be clear though, until Stamkos is actually in Maple Leaf blue and white, please stop making jerseys with his name on the back and stop with fantasizing about Stamkos. The talk has been around for years, and it is getting very old and senseless. Remember the famous saying when people assume things? Well Toronto, do not get caught doing that, or else you may find yourself getting snake bitten in the end.
Back on track now, there are a couple other teams that have been rumored to be in on a possible Stamkos trade.
The Sabres have been rumored once or twice to be in on the Stamkos sweepstakes. Before the NHL Draft this June, there was a report that indicated that Buffalo and Tampa Bay were in discussions for a trade that would send Stamkos to the Sabres. In return, it would have been likely that the Sabres would have given up the second overall pick in the draft, which was Jack Eichel, and more assets including more future draft picks. Could trade talks between the Sabres and Lightning re-kindle? Maybe, but at this point, the Sabres have already traded away a lot of future assets to acquire players like Evander Kane and Ryan O’Reilly. Stamkos would only make the Sabres an even more dangerous team, but Buffalo would eventually get themselves in cap trouble if they wanted to sign him to a long-term deal.
Another team that has been rumored to make a deal with Tampa Bay is the Calgary Flames. Last season, Calgary was a surprising young team that made the playoffs out of a weaker Pacific Division. Guys like Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, Sam Bennett, Josh Jooris, T.J. Brodie, and Dougie Hamilton have this team projected to be an offensive powerhouse for years to come. But just imagine if the Flames were to add Stamkos to the lineup, that would be an unstoppable force in the Western Conference.
But the price to get Stamkos on the Flames may be high. In a rumored report, the Flames would have to give up one of its younger assets in Bennett, along with other assets including future draft picks. Stamkos would be a very nice addition for a Flames team with a lot of upside in the upcoming future. However, at the cost of adding Stamkos, it may turn the Flames away from making the trade. Plus, Calgary may have some salary cap issues down the road with money tied up in the defense, and the team needing to eventually re-sign their younger players.
People can spread all the rumors they want, but if the Lightning cannot either sign or trade Stamkos before the trade deadline, the Lightning could be in trouble with trying to get Stamkos signed before season’s end. If the Lightning let Stamkos walk, there should be some moves which includes Yzerman getting the pink slip.
Tampa Bay cannot just let its franchise player, and its captain walk out on the team without getting anything in return. To let him go in free agency would be a complete failure of management, which would be enough of an excuse to make a change.
However, Yzerman seems like a smart hockey guy, and to think that he would let Stamkos just walk seems unimaginable. It seems like there will be some sort of resolution by the time July 1, 2016 rolls in. Yzerman will either get Stamkos the deal he wants, or find a team that will give him a nice return for Stamkos, and give Stamkos the chance to get a contract with a new team. But if no trade is made, or no deal is signed before the free agency period, Yzerman will definitely be in hot water.
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