The latest on Steven Stamkos (again!), Eric Staal, Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien and Vincent Lecavalier in your NHL rumor mill. 

The Stamkos Watch.

Steven Stamkos liking a tweet set the Toronto media abuzz.

Steven Stamkos liking a tweet set the Toronto media abuzz.

TAMPA BAY TIMES: Lightning captain Steven Stamkos “liking” a tweet regarding a recent TSN panel discussing the merits of the Toronto Maple Leafs pursuing him via free agency set the hockey world (or rather, the Toronto media) abuzz yesterday.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Toronto media embarrassed themselves yesterday by turning this non-story into a major headline. Stamkos subsequently “unliked” the tweet and claimed he liked it by accident. Wouldn’t surprise me if he was just messing with people.

TSN 690 (via TODAY’S SLAPSHOT): Bob McKenzie shot down speculation the Toronto Maple Leafs might offer up less than the league maximum for Stamkos but then try to get their corporate sponsors to kick in an extra $5-$6 million to bring him in. McKenzie points out Stamkos is already pulling in a lot of money from sponsors. “So I don’t think that’s going to be the defining thing that would say, ‘Oh, I can get 16 or $18 million and circumvent it.’

I the Leafs (or another team) trying to circumvent the cap like that, you can bet the league will be quick to crush that action if it’s discovered a sponsorship deal was dependent upon Stamkos signing with a certain team. That’s tampering, folks, and the league takes a dim view of those shenanigans. 

TSN 1150 (via TODAY’S SLAPSHOT): Pierre LeBrun doubts the Maple Leafs will make a trade pitch for Stamkos, especially since they could bid for him via free agency if he hits the open market next July. He also doubts Lightning GM Steve Yzerman will trade Stamkos, as Yzerman still hopes to re-sign him.

I agree with LeBrun’ take that the Bolts won’t trade Stamkos at the deadline. Unless Stamkos demands a trade, Yzerman will do all he can to re-sign him.

Nothing new on Staal.

TSN: Bob McKenzie reports the long-awaited meeting between Carolina Hurricanes GM Ron Francis and the agent for Hurricanes captain Eric Staal resulted in the two agreeing to postpone contract discussions into the New Year. McKenzie doubts the Hurricanes will re-sign Staal at his current cap hit ($8.25 million) or salary ($9.5 million for this season). Given the decline in Staal’s performance, the Hurricanes front office must decide if he still has a future with them or if they’re best served moving on without him. If the ‘Canes decide to cut ties with Eric, McKenzie wonders if they’ll do the same with brother Jordan, who’s under a long-term deal worth $6 million annually.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: I expect Eric Staal will be dealt by the Feb. 29 trade deadline. Jordan’s contract, however, makes him very difficult to move. I doubt he hits the trade block. 

Updates on Ladd, Byfuglien and Lecavalier.

WINNIPEG FREE PRESS: Ed Tait examines the pros and cons of the Winnipeg Jets re-signing or trading pending UFAs Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien. Among the pros for trading them is the returns they could fetch, while among the cons is the expense of re-signing them.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: No indication if the Jets are shopping either guy or if they’re any closer to re-signing them. This could ultimately depend upon where the Jets are in the standings by late-February. 

COURIER-POST: Dave Isaac reports little-used Philadelphia Flyers forward Vincent Lecavalier has no intention of retiring and will continue to wait for opportunities to get into the lineup. Isaac notes Lecavalier’s contract makes him almost impossible to trade.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: I think the long-delayed buyout of Lecavalier takes place next June. Unless Flyers GM Ron Hextall can get creative, I can’t see any club willingly taking Lecavalier off their hands via trade. It’s a sad end to the career of a player who, less than five years ago, was considered among the league’s elite stars.