One of the biggest stories entering the season may be the pending fate of Steven Stamkos. One of the league’s most prolific goal-scorers is set to be an unrestricted free agent next summer and could command a massive contract, particularly if he tests free agency.
While Steve Yzerman entered the offseason saying that signing Stamkos was his number one priority, there has yet to be a deal and last week he told The Tampa Tribune’s Erik Erlendsson that there hasn’t been progress.
On Monday, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported that one of the big issues may not be term or money, but position. Stamkos wants to play center and guaranteeing that on Tampa’s end could create a problem.
Stamkos prefers to play centre, which creates a top-six logjam with Valtteri Filppula and triplet Tyler Johnson. It sounds like the Lightning would prefer Stamkos to play on the wing to ease that issue. From what I’ve been told, the discussions were professional, but both organization and player remain searching for common ground.
Money is also going to play a hand here. The team is already at the cap and if they hope to lock up Stamkos long-term, their young core will pose a financial problem. In the next two years they’ve got Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Victor Hedman, Alex Killorn, J.T. Brown, Jonathan Drouin, Vladislav Namestnikov, Nikita Kucherov, Cedric Paquette, Ben Bishop, Anderi Vasilevskiy, Andrej Sustr and Luke Witkowski hitting the end of contracts. A lot of those players — particularly Johnson, Palat, Hedman, Killorn, Namestnikov, Vasilevskiy and Kucherov — will be due raises.
They’ve also got Anton Stralman, Jason Garrison, Matthew Carle, Valtteri Filppula and Ryan Callahan on contract for at least three years each, with each making north for $4 million.
It’s no small task for Lightning management going forward.
The other interesting tidbit to come from Friedman was that since this situation is incredibly complicated and no team could afford to just let a guy like Stamkos walk away in free agency, Yzerman did his diligence, according to Friedman’s sources, and talked trades prior to the draft.
Some sources indicate teams called Yzerman to ask. Others say the Lightning wanted to check the market in case they eventually had to do something. A few suspected Buffalo, because Sabres GM Tim Murray is unafraid to take bold steps. (Via text, Murray declined to answer and another source claimed it never really went anywhere.) The info is out there, but it’s very hard to pin down.
Sounds like there’s not much to that. No one is talking about it because talks went nowhere. But it’s clear that Yzerman has a serious situation on his hands with a team that just made a run to the Cup and one of the league’s most valuable assets having the potential to just walk to another team next summer.
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Dustin Nelson is the News Editor for The Hockey Writers. He’s a contributor to Hockey Prospectus, Hockey Wilderness, and writes a column for Rotowire. He’s also written for Gone Puck Wild, Wild Xtra, InDigest, Electric Literature, The Rumpus, Tiny Mix Tapes, Prefix Magazine & other publications. Have a tip? Email him at dlukenelson[at]gmail[dot]com.