When Julien BriseBois left Steven Stamkos off the list of “untouchable” players for potential trades in October, there was a lot of speculation as to whether the captain would be moved or not. While the Tampa Bay Lightning trading away their captain is certainly nothing new – they swapped captains with the New York Rangers during the 2013-14 season – the likelihood of the Lightning shipping Stamkos off is very low. However, especially in today’s NHL, you never know when a fan favorite will be moved to make room for the future of the organization.
At the time of writing this article, there are six teams that could afford to take on Stamkos’ $8.5 million contract under their current cap. That would ideally be enough for BriseBois to afford to sign the rest of the Lightning’s restricted free agents without having to make too many other moves to finalize the roster for the 2020-21 season.
Atlantic Division: Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa Senators
While it is never a good idea to strengthen a team within your division – especially in a shortened season that could put more emphasis on divisional play – two teams that have cap space to afford Stamkos are the Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa Senators.
The Wings are a team that has been mentioned often when talking about potential trades the Lightning are looking to make this offseason. BriseBois has a long history with Wings GM Steve Yzerman and the two could certainly work out a deal that could see Stamkos in the Winged Wheel. A lot of finessing would need to take place but Stamkos would instantly add life and leadership to a team that is in desperate need of it during their current rebuild. Stamkos would slot into the top-six on the Wings and could wear the captain’s ‘C’ for a team that has been without one since Henrik Zetterberg was forced to end his career early due to injury.
The other current division rival – that is until the NHL figures out the alignment for the 2020-21 season – that can afford Stamkos is the Senators. Unlike the Red Wings, the Senators have much more in the way of cap space to afford players.
In fact, the Senators could afford to take on Stamkos and Tyler Johnson’s contracts, creating more than enough cap space for BriseBois to sign his restricted free agents and allowing greater roles for players like Anthony Cirelli. Stamkos would instantly slot in on Ottawa’s top line – one of the worst-rated top-lines in the NHL – and would help bolster a young team that lacks a lot of experience and depth.
Stamkos would have a significant impact with both the Wings and Senators, even more so with the shortened season approaching, and add leadership that both teams are desperately lacking while their organizations are rebuilding.
Metropolitan Division: Columbus Blue Jackets and New Jersey Devils
These two Metropolitan Division rivals are on opposite sides of the spectrum – the Columbus Blue Jackets are a playoff team while the New Jersey Devils have been committed to their rebuild over the past five seasons.
The Blue Jackets are in the same cap situation as the Wings but, with the addition of Stamkos, Columbus would have to be considered a contender for the Metropolitan Division. Stamkos could be plugged into any combination of the Blue Jackets’ top-six forwards and the thought of Stamkos on the point of the power play with Pierre-Luc Dubois, Nick Foligno, and Oliver Bjorkstrand – or his off-wing with Boone Jenner, Max Domi, and Seth Jones – gives the opposition a severe disadvantage should they take a penalty.
New Jersey has been in the middle of their rebuild for what feels like forever and have little to show for it – only Detroit and Ottawa finished with fewer points in the Eastern Conference during the 2019-20 season. The Devils also have the most salary cap room to play with – a little over $17M – which could easily fit Stamkos and Johnson. Even if they were to only focus on Stamkos, the Devils could put him on a line with either Nico Hischier or Jack Hughes to help further the development of their young centers. The additional presence of Stamkos complementing P.K. Subban in the locker room would add years of experience and leadership to a team that is still not quite where they would like to be.
Western Conference: Los Angeles Kings and Nashville Predators
In the Western Conference, the Los Angeles Kings and Nashville Predators both have the salary cap space – around $13.6M and $12.9M, respectively – to afford a player like Stamkos. The Kings’ top-six forwards are starting to get up in age – Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, and Jeff Carter will all be over 33 years old when the 2020-21 season begins – and the club seems to be focusing on getting younger.
A short-term situation could be in the interest of the Kings to land Stamkos for the 2020-21 season, especially if Quinton Byfield cracks the opening day lineup, creating an opportunity for Stamkos to mentor the 2020 first-round pick that grew up 30 minutes north of him on the 404.
The Predators are an interesting story, having qualified as a six-seed for the playoffs before losing to the Arizona Coyotes in four games during the Qualifying Round. They have plenty of cap space and could certainly benefit from landing a forward like Stamkos, but with only three rostered players younger than 25 years old, the Predators will likely look to go the more youthful route. However, with the majority of their team under contract for the next two seasons, Nashville is still in a position to make a push for the Stanley Cup and Stamkos’ experience and leadership could be that extra push they have been looking for.
While the six teams mentioned above can certainly afford to take on Stamkos’ contract, it is extremely unlikely that any team will be quick to help the Lightning alleviate their salary cap woes. The upcoming abbreviated 2020-21 season and potential division realignments, not to mention the preparation for protecting players in the 2021 Seattle Expansion Draft, will likely see Stamkos return to Tampa Bay in a Bolts’ jersey – for now.
Born and raised in Michigan, Kyle Knopp started playing hockey when he was 3 years old. Knopp has played, coached, or worked at every level of ice hockey — including three seasons in the Ontario Hockey League and two seasons with the Detroit Red Wings where he was part of the Stanley Cup Championship team in 2008. He covers the Washington Capitals and Detroit Red Wings for The Hockey Writers and is the editor of THW’s Morning Skate newsletter. You can follow him on Twitter @THW_Knopp.