The latest on Steven Stamkos, plus an update on some notable unsigned restricted free agents.
Stamkos still unsigned as training camp nears.
SPORTSNET: Elliotte Friedman reports Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman recently told the Tampa Tribune there was nothing new regarding the contract status of captain Steven Stamkos, who is eligible next summer for UFA status. In June, Yzerman claimed re-signing Stamkos was a top priority but there seems to be no progress yet in negotiations as both sides remain tight-lipped on the matter.
Friedman claims Stamkos’ role could be an issue, as he prefers to play center but it appears that the Bolts want him to play on the wing. Another is the Lightning’s long-term plans, as Ben Bishop, Victor Hedman, Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat will need new contracts over the next couple of seasons.
Friedman also claims there was speculation a couple of weeks ago suggesting Stamkos’ name appeared in trade talks before the 2015 NHL Draft, though they didn’t get far. Some say teams called to look into Stamkos’ status, while some claim the Lightning were checking his market value. It’s suspected the Buffalo Sabres could’ve been among those making inquiries. Friedman claims he’s heard nothing to indicate the Toronto Maple Leafs contacted the Bolts.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Yep, you know it’s September and training camp is right around the corner when the status of the top player in next summer’s UFA market becomes the subject of trade speculation. This was inevitable. The longer Stamkos remains unsigned, the more his future with the Lightning gets brought into question. I believe the Lightning will re-sign Stamkos, but I can acknowledge that doing so makes things difficult cap-wise for the Bolts.
If Stamkos is re-signed, it will cost around $10.5 million annually on a long-term deal. Sorry, Lightning fans, no hometown discount here. That means a salary could be shed (Valtteri Filppula? Matt Carle?) and/or a player due for free agency either traded or allowed to depart via the UFA market (Ben Bishop? Brian Boyle?). I don’t believe Stamkos is interested in moving to a team in the midst of a significant rebuild (Sorry, Sabres and Leafs fans). Maybe I’ll be proven wrong about this, but from a career standpoint, it just doesn’t make sense for him to go from a Cup contender to a team which, at best, could be several years away from that status, just because it’s in or near his hometown.
The whole “he wants to come home” angle raised by some Leafs fans is overblown. It puts me in mind of all the nonsensical stuff about a Quebec-born star wanting to sign with the Montreal Canadiens. In most cases, free-agent superstars of Stamkos’ caliber sign with competitive teams that can afford to pay them top dollar. Many also prefer quieter markets where they won’t be in a media fishbowl. That’s why there’s been no stampede of Canadian-born superstars rushing to Canadian markets via free agency.
List of notable unsigned RFAs.
CBS SPORTS/NBC SPORTS: both published updated lists of notable restricted free agents still unsigned as training camp nears. Topping it are Florida Panthers left wing Jonathan Huberdeau, New York Islanders winger Brock Nelson, Chicago Blackhawks center Marcus Kruger and Calgary Flames winger Micheal Ferland.
Huberdeau and the Panthers have reportedly agreed on term and are working out the dollars.
The Islanders reportedly had an offer on the table for Nelson for weeks, but there’s no indication the two sides are close to a deal. The Isles policy is if a player isn’t signed before training camp, they will sit him out for the season. They have around $8 million in cap space.
Kruger wants to re-sign with the Blackhawks, who are expected to free up cap space via trades or demotions to accommodate him. He could be an offer-sheet target, assuming he wants to sign one.
Flames GM Brad Treliving recently said money and term were the sticking points in negotiations with Ferland, but they intend to keep working on it.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Of the four, the most interesting situation is Nelson’s. Are the two sides prepared for a game of chicken as the start of training camp (Sept. 16) approaches? Could be worth keeping an eye on his status over the next eight days.
If Kruger was interested in an offer sheet, I think he would’ve signed one by now. He seems keen to remain a Blackhawk and they certainly wish to keep him. It would take a significant offer ($3 million annually) to perhaps change his mind, but what team wants to spend that much per season on a fourth-line center? Especially considering the limited cap space most teams now have? I don’t think that’s going to happen.