Latest on the Lightning, Penguins, Senators and Devils in your NHL Rumor Mill. 

The Stamkos Watch.

Another day, another round of speculation over the future of Lightning captain Steven Stamkos.

Another day, another round of speculation over the future of Lightning captain Steven Stamkos.

THE GLOBE AND MAIL: James Mirtle believes Steven Stamkos could bolt the Tampa Bay Lightning via free agency in July. He cites the apparent dislike between Stamkos and Lightning coach Jon Cooper, who was recently re-signed to a contract extension. He also noted Stamkos last week “liking” a tweet linking to a TSN panel discussing if the Toronto Maple Leafs should pursue the Lightning captain if he becomes available. Mirtle also claims it’s widely believed Bolts GM Steve Yzerman investigated the possibility of trading Stamkos before his no-movement clause kicked in this past July, though it’s uncertain how serious or how far that search went.

TORONTO SUN: Mike Zeisberger also weighed in on the Stamkos speculation, though he noted one of his colleagues pointed out Stamkos signing with the Maple Leafs in July isn’t a certainty, suggesting a number of teams could willingly pony up big bucks to sign him next summer.

TAMPA BAY TIMES: Joe Smith reports Lightning GM Steve Yzerman says he’s not planning to make any blockbuster deals this season. He notes rival clubs are currently leery of taking on players with term remaining on their contracts. Recent injuries have also made it difficult to fully assess his roster. “We like our team; we like our players,” Yzerman said. “We’d like to keep everybody if we possibly can.”

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Take Yzerman’s comments for what they’re worth. If he hopes to move Stamkos at the trade deadline, the center’s no-movement clause significantly limits the potential trade partners. I still think it’s possible for Stamkos and Yzerman to hammer out a deal, but much will depend upon the club’s performance this season and how much the salary cap could actually increase for 2016-17. It also depends upon Stamkos’ relationship with Cooper. If they’re truly not getting along, this could very well be Stamkos’ last season with the Lightning.

If so, however, there’s no guarantee Stamkos joins the Leafs. For that matter, there’s no guarantee the Leafs pursue him. Sure, they’ll have plenty of cap space, but if the front office remains intent on drafting and developing their own stars, rather than pursuing free agent talent, they could pass on signing him. For that matter, Stamkos could prefer joining a potential Cup contender instead of a rebuilding team.

 For now, it’s still only December, and a lot can happen between now and July. The only certainty is what I’ve said for months: the longer Stamkos remains unsigned, the more we’ll see his name in the rumor mill. 

Updates on the Penguins, Senators and Devils.

ESPN.COM: Now that the Pittsburgh Penguins have undergone a coaching change, Pierre LeBrun speculates GM Jim Rutherford could have “another trade or two up Rutherford’s sleeve before all is said and done this season.” After that, however, the Penguins window of opportunity to win another Stanley Cup could be closed if those deals fail to pan out.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: I think the Penguins’ window of opportunity closed two years ago. They lack quality blueline depth, and apart from the oft-sidelined Olli Maatta,none of those highly touted young defensemen blossomed into NHL talent. As for potential trades, Rutherford doesn’t have many pieces left to deal. Does he swap Maatta for a more experienced, healthier rearguard? Trade the promising but little-used winger Daniel Sprong? Give up on disappointing young d-man Derrick Pouliot? Ship out the Anaheim Ducks second-round pick that they got from Vancouver in the Brandon Sutter deal? Move one of their core players? Rutherford’s moves as Penguins GM haven’t exactly inspired a lot of confidence that he can swing a deal that magically pushes the Penguins into Cup contender territory. 

OTTAWA SUN: With the NHL’s holiday trade freeze (Dec. 19-27) fast approaching and the Senators facing a pivotal part of their schedule, Bruce Garrioch reports the time may be now for GM Bryan Murray to make a deal. However, the trade market “is soft and tough to deal.” Garrioch claims there are teams interested in struggling defensemen Patrick Wiercioch and Jared Cowen, but Murray needs to get something back that helps his team.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The respective struggles of Wiercioch and Cowen certainly doesn’t help their trade value. Neither does their respective contracts, with Cowen earning $3.1 million annually and Wiercioch $2 million. With so many NHL teams currently lacking cap room to take on additional salary, it’s tough to move guys like that right now. It’ll have to be a dollar-for-dollar swap or as close to one as possible. There are teams in need of blueline depth (Pittsburgh, Toronto, Edmonton, Philadelphia, Colorado and Arizona all spring to mind), but landing players who can help the Sens is another matter. 

YAHOO SPORTS: Josh Cooper reports New Jersey Devils GM Ray Shero isn’t seeking rental players to help his surprising club clinch a playoff berth this season. “Where we are with New Jersey, we have to retain our assets. And any trade we’re making are not really for rental players. They’re really hockey trades, and those are difficult to do as we know.”  Unlike his tenure as Pittsburgh Penguins GM, Shero is being fiscally prudent with the Devils, drawing upon his experiences working with small-market teams in Nashville and Ottawa.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Shero doesn’t appear to be ruling out deals which help his club beyond this season. That’s worth keeping in mind when the trade deadline approaches in February. Wouldn’t surprise me if he tries to land a player or two who can bolster the Devils over the long term.