By Bobby Bauders
Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman is in quite a predicament with Steven Stamkos. Obviously losing talent like that can be a hard pill to swallow, especially if he walks for nothing.
Currently without Stamkos, Tampa’s cap situation sits at round $19 million. That doesn’t seem so bad. The problem isn’t this year, it’s next year. The following players will need to be re-signed next offseason, and it’s safe to say they’ll all want substantial raises: Tyler Johnson (RFA), Ondrej Palat (RFA), Jonathan Drouin (RFA), Victor Hedman (UFA), Ben Bishop (UFA), and Andrei Vasilevskiy (RFA). Although it’s safe to say Bishop will probably be dealt soon or by the next trade deadline, given the expansion situation. All these re-signings, plus a rumored $8.5 million cap hit for Stamkos will make it impossible to keep every single player.
This poses another question: Is it worth it to keep Stamkos? Stamkos was sidelined in April due to blood clots, and missed all playoff games except for Game 7 against Pittsburgh. The Bolts made the Eastern Conference Final, and had the eventual Stanley Cup Champions on the brink of elimination without Stamkos. So why should you break the bank and break up the group of players who have proven they can win together? Obviously Stamkos makes Tampa Bay better, but they’ve proven they can survive, and even thrive without him.
SO let’s assume Yzerman does re-sign Stamkos. Some key players, including Stamkos, will have to be moved either at the deadline or next year’s draft. Yzerman isn’t very keen to the idea of letting any quality player walk for nothing. If any Stamkos deal is to be done, it would likely be at next year’s draft in order to sign the core of the Tampa squad.
Stamkos is very aware of the cap situation next year. This is likely the reason a deal hasn’t been reached yet: he knows he’ll probably be moved next offseason. If he walks he can at least choose where he plays. Obviously a contract would have some sort of no movement clause, but even with a list of acceptable teams provided by Stamkos, Yzerman will still make the final decision.
Steven Stamkos becomes an UFA on July 1st, and teams can start contacting him on June 25th. If a deal isn’t worked out Tampa by the draft, expect Stamkos to test the free agent waters.
As for whoever signs Stamkos, they’ll be a lucky team. Rumored interest comes from the Montreal Canadiens, Buffalo Sabres, Toronto Maple Leafs, Detroit Red Wings, and a few other dark horses.