Superstars Steven Stamkos and Anze Kopitar are a year away from unrestricted free agency, but have yet to re-sign with their current clubs. 

Why no new deals yet for Stamkos and Kopitar?

Steven Stamkos has yet to re-sign with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Steven Stamkos has yet to sign a new contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

ESPN.COM: Craig Custance reports contract negotiations have yet to start between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Steven Stamkos, while talks between the Los Angeles Kings and Anze Kopitar are only in the preliminary stage. One reason for the delay could be the contracts of Chicago Blackhawks stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane (eight years, $84 million) are seen as comparables. Another is concern over what could be a sluggish rise in the salary cap, thanks to the declining value of the Canadian dollar. Managing their cap space is also to be a concern for both clubs.

THE TAMPA TRIBUNE: Martin Fennelly doesn’t believe Lightning followers should panic because Stamkos hasn’t been re-signed yet, but he is wondering what the delay could be in getting a deal done.  Fennelly believes uncertainty over Stamkos’ status creates an unnecessary distraction for Stamkos, his teammates and the team. He acknowledged a new contract for Stamkos will mean the Lightning could be forced to lose a player via trade or free agency down the road. He also noted the speculation suggesting Stamkos might bolt to Toronto next summer and join the Maple Leafs, but doesn’t think that’ll happen.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: If this was a few summers ago, when teams could heavily frontload deals to ensure a lower long-term cap hit while enjoying annual increases of $6 million in the salary cap, Stamkos and Kopitar would be under contract by now. That’s no longer the case. Both clubs have to take into account the impact those new contracts will have upon their cap payroll. Their respective managements already know it’ll cost a lot to retain those stars, so they’ll try to negotiate a a deal which will give them as much cap wiggle room as possible. It won’t be easy. Stamkos could easily get over $11 million annually on the open market, while Kopitar could get over $10 million. 

The Kings already have a number of high-salaried players on their roster. Paying Kopitar a big raise will certainly put the squeeze on their future cap space, especially with superstar defenseman Drew Doughty in need of a new contract four years from now.  They’re already facing a situation where they won’t have much space to add or re-sign the valuable depth players every successful club needs.

The Lightning will feel the hit of Stamkos’ new deal in 2016, when Nikita Kucherov, Alex Killorn and Cedric Paquette will be due significant raises. They can still afford to re-sign that trio, but things get more difficult the following year, when Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Ben Bishop and Victor Hedman will need new contracts. Those four will prove far more expensive to keep.

As for the talk of Stamkos joining the Leafs next summer. I readily admit anything is possible. However, I just don’t see the sense in that move for him. Why leave a potentially perennial Cup contender, one that is willing to pay you top dollar, to play for your rebuilding hometown club that isn’t even close to being a playoff contender? Heck, why spurn other potential Cup contenders willing to pay big bucks for your services simply to “come home” to a team that is nowhere close to ending its almost 50-year championship drought?  Homesickness? Masochism? A quixotic quest to succeed where four decades of NHL stars (Sittler, McDonald, Salming, Gilmour, Clark, Sundin, Kessel) failed? I can’t think of any NHL superstar, in his playing prime, who’s made that move in recent years. Maybe Stamkos will, but I doubt it.