Leafs Could Target Other Lightning Players

It has been talked about for what seems like ages. The Toronto Maple Leafs bringing in the hometown boy, Steven Stamkos. It has been talked about so much that, for some, it’s a foregone conclusion. But what if it isn’t?

Stamkos and the Tampa Bay Lightning have been eliminated from the playoffs after making it to the Eastern Conference Finals for the second straight season. Of course, it was not long before people were asking if it was the last game Stamkos had played with the Lightning.

He is definitely going to get a raise and will probably end up with a cap hit somewhere around the $10.5 million that Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane have. Whether the Lighting want to put up that kind of money to keep Stamkos is their choice. Normally, this would be an easy choice. I mean, why wouldn’t an NHL team want to keep their superstar player.

All you have to do is look at the Lightning’s contract situation to see what kind of trouble the Lightning are in. Stamkos is the only notable UFA this offseason, but Alex Killorn, Vladislav Namestnikov, Nikita Kucherov and Cedric Paquette are all set to become restricted free agents on July 1. Next year, Victor Hedman and Ben Bishop are UFA’s while Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Jonathan Drouin and Andrei Vasilevskiy will be RFAs. Something is going to have to give.

This is where the Leafs come in. Obviously, the biggest target would be Stamkos. However, it seems that both he and the Lightning want to get something done. The Leafs own need for Stamkos might have even dampened with the winning of the draft lottery. So who else could the Leafs target? While Drouin would definitely fit in with the age of players the Leafs are bringing in, it looks like tensions have eased with Tampa in Drouin’s camp.

Who Gets Moved?

Should the Lightning re-sign Stamkos, the best player for the Leafs to target is whichever goalie the Lightning elect to move. Whether it’s Bishop or Vasilevskiy, the Leafs should at least inquire about the possibility of bringing one of them in. Vasilevskiy is probably a better fit in terms of age and being a long-term solution. Bishop would be more of a stop-gap option, allowing to Leafs more time to develop a goalie of their own.

Ben Bishop
(John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports)

It’s more likely that the Lightning will keep Vasilevskiy. He’s preformed well when called upon. Perhaps more importantly, he’ll probably be cheaper. In the long run, Bishop is probably the easiest core player to sacrifice, seeing that they have a great replacement in Vasilevskiy. They can even recoup some assets by trading him now.

The Leafs have those assets. The Leafs could possibly make a deal that’s similar to the Michael Grabner deal. They probably have a few prospects that they could move on from. Stuart Percy is a possibility because of waiver eligibility. He and another prospect or two could be sent to Tampa along with a conditional draft pick, where the draft pick gets better if the Leafs re-sign Bishop. Let’s face it, Tampa can’t bring in much salary in a return when it comes to all the players they have that are due raises.

Of course, if the Leafs were to bring in Bishop, they would also probably have to find a way to trade Jonathan Bernier. That is probably best for both parties as it just hasn’t worked out well in Toronto for Bernier. It’s time to move on.

It will be easier for the Leafs to move on with Bishop. He’ll probably be one of the best goalies on the market with the only competition being Frederik Anderersen should the Anaheim Ducks decide to move him. The free agent crop isn’t exactly the best this offseason.

Of course, if the Leafs get anyone from the Lightning, fans want it to be Stamkos. Should that not happen though, the Leafs could do much worse than to acquire to Ben Bishop.