As training camp approaches, the respective contract statuses of Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos and Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar continues to generate interest.

Steve Stamkos could be king of Toronto if he signs with the Maple Leafs.

Steve Stamkos could be king of Toronto if he signs with the Maple Leafs.

SPORTSNET:  Damien Cox fantasizes over how Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos could become “king of it all in Toronto” if he decides to join the Maple Leafs next summer as an unrestricted free agent. Despite the lack of talent on the Leafs, who are in the midst of a long-overdue roster rebuild, Cox suggests the deep pockets of the club’s ownership, the hirings of Mike Babcock as head coach and Lou Lamoriello as GM and the additions of promising youth like William Nylander and Mitch Marner might be enticing to Stamkos.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: On the other hand, there’s the fishbowl existence of life as a Leaf in Toronto, the nearly 50 years since the franchise last won a Stanley Cup, the uncertainty over how long the rebuild could take and how successful it will actually be, the opportunity of playing for a perennial Cup contender in Tampa Bay and the fact no NHL superstar in his playing prime has signed with a Canadian team as an unrestricted free agent, unless you count Curtis Joseph jumping from Edmonton to Toronto in 1998. 

Now, if Stamkos really wants to return to Toronto, the Leafs will happily pay him whatever he wants if the Lightning won’t. As Cox points out, the longer Stamkos remains unsigned, the greater the speculation about his future. It’s going to cost the Lightning around $10.5 million annually to re-sign him, they have to ensure sufficient cap room to re-sign other key free agents over the next couple of years and they probably have concerns about the low value of the Canadian dollar slowing the rise of the salary cap.

By the sound of things, however, negotiations with the Lightning are ongoing. There’s a long way to go between now and next July, and no guarantee Stamkos will hit the UFA market when July 1 rolls around. If he’s still unsigned when the playoffs end in June, then I’ll buy into the possibility he’ll bolt to Toronto.

Luke Fox reports Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar isn’t panicking over the fact he hasn’t yet re-signed a new contract. “I’d like to stay an L.A. King, and I’m pretty sure the Kings would like me to come back,” said Kopitar. “We’ll see. We’ll work on it. The talks are still ongoing, just maybe on a little bit of a slower pace than everybody expected.” The center adds he’d like to sign an extension before the start of the season, expressing confidence it can be resolved.  Like Stamkos, Fox believes the longer Kopitar is unsigned, the more he’ll be talked about.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Kopitar’s future isn’t receiving quite as much hype as Stamkos, but in my opinion it’s no less notable. The problem for the Kings is limited cap space and Kopitar’s likely asking price, which could be $10 million per season. He reportedly doesn’t want to talk contract during the season, so expect speculation over his future to increase if he hasn’t inked a new deal when the season opens next month.

ESPN.COM: Craig Custance speculates new contracts for Stamkos and Kopitar will impact the value of New York Islanders center John Tavares when he becomes eligible for UFA status in 2018. The Isles can open contract talks with Tavares in July 2017, whose current annual cap hit is $5.5 million, while his actual salary over the next three seasons is $6 million.

SPECTOR’S NOTE:  Tavares will easily double his money, be it with the Isles or another club, by 2018. If he leads the Isles into Cup contention, his asking price could go higher. Of course, that’s still three years away, and a lot can happen between now and then.