By Bobby Bauders
Steven Stamkos is probably done in Tampa Bay, unless General Manager Steve Yzerman can somehow get a deal worked out and still be able to re-sign his massive load of impending free agents next offseason. More info on that here: Where’s Steven Stamkos going?
Given the likelihood of Stamkos hitting the open market, let’s explore where the 26-year-old center may end up. We’ll look at the front runners, and then some surprising dark horses.
Toronto Maple Leafs:
First of all, Stamkos will not sign with the Leafs. Sorry Toronto fans, but you’re getting your future number 1 center in Auston Matthews. If Stamkos hits the open market he’s going to be the most sought after free agent in recent memory, including teams who are MUCH closer to the Stanley Cup than Toronto. The Maple Leafs are rebuilding, they’re not in win-now mode, and won’t be for a few years. Stay patient Leafs fans, your time will be here soon. Now the Maple Leafs would be able to offer Stamkos a very lucrative salary with the Phaneuf cap dump, but I just can’t see Stamkos signing with someone who is as far away from the Stanley Cup as Toronto is. As wonderful of a fairy tale story this may be to bring hometown boy Stamkos back to Toronto, I just don’t see it happening.
Detroit Red Wings:
With the departure of Pavel Datsyuk back to Russia, the Detroit Red Wings are going to need a first line center. The Red Wings are significantly closer to the Cup than the Maple Leafs are, being that they were just in the playoffs whereas Toronto posted the worst record in the league. Still, with the cap situation, it may be difficult to get a deal worked out with Stamkos. Detroit is still liable for Datsyuk’s contract until next year, which carries a $7.5 million cap hit. Unless the Wings find a way to trade Datsyuk’s contract, which will cost them valuable draft picks/prospects, Stamkos will not be coming to Detroit. Not to mention that Stamkos is still fairly young, and the Red Wings are showing many signs of slowing down, and may not be in contention much longer.
The Montreal Canadiens have emerged as another front runner. I can’t really imagine why as they’d be in cap hell. Before re-signings that would occur, they currently have about $7 million in cap space. That in itself isn’t even enough to sign Stamkos as he’ll require at least $8.5 million. Not to mention that Alex Galchenyuk is a RFA next season and will want more than what he’s currently making at $2.8 million. The only way if the Habs sign Stamkos is if they trade either Andrei Markov or Jeff Petry or both, but I don’t see many GMs knocking down Marc Bergevin’s door in order to acquire either of them.
This is another interesting option. Stamkos should be interested in Buffalo because of their ability to pay him and their bright future, but I don’t see why Buffalo would be inrested in Stamkos, quite frankly because of their bright future. They have offensive prospect after offensive prospect in the Sabres system. Buffalo should stay patient with their current crop, which will bring them a lot of success in the future. Overloading on one position hardly ever works in the long run, as it really strains a team’s cap situation. I don’t see the point in this franchise log jamming the center position with Ryan O’Reilly, Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, and Zemgus Girgensons. Yes some of those players can play on the wing, including Stamkos if you think about it with his sniping ability, but Buffalo already has plenty of forward prospects. But you know what, if Tim Murray has a plan for how Buffalo will deal with this log jam, I say go for it. It’s not easy to not offer Stamkos a contract when he’s there for anyone’s taking. Should they sign Stamkos, Buffalo will have to decide on their number 1 and number 2 centers, and then either trade the rest or move them to the wing.
I know I said that Stamkos won’t want to sign with Toronto because of their distance from the Cup, and the Coyotes may look just as far away, but they’re not. Without Stamkos, I predicted they’d be in the playoffs in 3 years. Not saying they’re winning the Cup in 3 years, but they’ll be a serious threat. Adding Stamkos to the mix? Wow. The Coyotes recently hired a new GM who will be eager to place his stamp on the team. What better way to do that than signing Steven Stamkos? I’m not saying he’ll sign with the Coyotes, it’ll be a tough sale given their shaky arena situation, but they do have a selling point in their prospect pool. And they have the cap room, around $30 million currently available. GM John Chayka should at the very least contact the Stamkos camp and gauge their interest when talks can start on June 25th.
Now the Bruins are quite loaded at the center position with Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, but Stamkos will likely listen to offers. That’s why I’m including them: they’re one of the only decent teams with anywhere near enough cap room. They currently sit at around $18.5 million, but have to think about re-signing Loui Eriksson. But that’s a whole different story, as Boston and the Eriksson camp have been talking for months reports say that there hasn’t been any progress. So if Boston decides to let Eriksson walk or trade his rights, hello Stamkos?
Tampa Bay Lightning:
Tampa Bay is the definition of dark horse in this situation. I don’t see how they can re-sign Stamkos, it’s just not realistic given next year’s cap situation. Steve Yzerman would have to work a miracle. The reason I’m listing them is because Tampa is still trying to figure out how they can re-sign him, but it doesn’t seem likely at this point.