Latest on the Lightning, Islanders, Hurricanes, Red Wings and Canucks in your NHL rumor mill. 

What next for the Lightning?

Has Steven Stamkos played his final game for the Lightning?

Has Steven Stamkos played his final game for the Lightning?

ESPN.COM:  Craig Custance believes the Tampa Bay Lightning must settle the Steven Stamkos situation, re-sign Nikita Kucherov to a long-term contract and consider trading goalie Ben Bishop while keeping left wing Jonathan Drouin.

Regarding Stamkos, who’s a pending UFA, Custance believes he’ll have to accept less than market value, maybe a lot less, to re-sign with the Lightning. As for Kucherov, Custance suggests the contract of St. Louis Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko (eight-year, $7.5 million per season)as a comparable, citing Kucherov’s playoff performances and the fact he’s a more complete player than Tarasenko.

Andrei Vasilevskiy’s solid performance in relief of the sidelined Bishop in the 2016 Eastern Conference Final and the possibility of an expansion draft next summer could make it possible to move Bishop this summer. Custance believes teams in need of a quality starter (Calgary Flames, Dallas Stars, Carolina Hurricanes and Toronto Maple Leafs) should inquire about Bishop’s availability this summer.

As for Drouin, his turnaround during the playoffs was amazing. With several players due for raises this summer, Drouin (who has a year left on his entry-level contract) becomes more valuable to the Lightning.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: If you thought the Stamkos watch was nuts over the course of this season, it’s about to ramp up significantly in the coming weeks.  

The Lightning could move Bishop this summer, but they could also hang onto him for one more season. He’s a UFA next summer, which makes him a risky acquisition for an expansion team. They could keep Bishop for one more run at the Cup and then trade his rights before the UFA deadline. Granted, they won’t get as much back as they would by trading this summer, but given how many Bolts players are due for big raises this summer and next, perhaps they won’t want to take on additional salary.

Drouin’s playoff performance certainly bolsters his trade value. However, I think Lightning management will now retain him, especially if Stamkos departs via free agency in July.  

Free-agent options for the Islanders.

NEWSDAY: Arthur Staple wonders if New York Islanders GM Garth Snow might be tempted to pitch a big contract offer to Tampa Bay Lightning star Steven Stamkos if he hits the open market in July. Doing so, however, would also mean re-signing Isles captain John Tavares to a comparable deal, tying up considerable cap space in just a handful of players. Staple also evaluates the pros and cons of pursuing UFAs such as Andrew Ladd,Loui Eriksson, Milan Lucic, David Backes, Mikkel Boedker Jamie McGinn and Viktor Stalberg.


SPECTOR’S NOTE: Of the UFAs Snow could pursue, Ladd or Boedker could be the best bets. Stamkos is tempting, but there could be a lot of clubs pursuing him this summer and no guarantee he’ll want to join the Isles. And as Staple notes, signing Stamkos and re-signing Tavares will take up a huge chunk of the Isles payroll. 

Updates on the Hurricanes, Red Wings and Canucks. 

THE NEWS & OBSERVER: Chip Alexander recently reported Carolina Hurricanes GM Ron Francis intends to meet with goalie Cam Ward’s agent in early-June “to see where we’re at.” He doesn’t rule out re-signing the 32-year-old Ward, who’s completing a six-year, $37.8 million contract. Term and money are the issues Francis believes must be discussed. He’d also like to re-sign RFA forward Victor Rask to a deal comparable to that of Elias Lindholm’s two-year, $5.4 million contract. With the Hurricanes possessing plenty of cap space. Alexander suggests they could pursue a scoring forward via free agency.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Ward will have to accept a considerable pay cut on a short-term deal to re-sign with the Hurricanes. I’m guessing at most $3 million per season on a two-year deal. 

MLIVE.COM:  Responding to reader e-mail questions, Ansar Khan doesn’t rule out the possibility of goalie Jimmy Howard returning with the Detroit Red Wings next season. He cites the limited number of teams in need of a starting goalie and Howard’s contract (with its $5.2 million cap hit) among the factors that could hinder trading him this summer. If the Wings decide to add a forward via free agency, he lists Chicago’s Andrew Ladd and St. Louis’ Troy Brouwer as their top targets. He doesn’t believe they’ll bring back Jiri Hudler.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Howard also has a modified no-trade clause, meaning the Wings can leave him unprotected in an expansion draft next summer. If there’s not a lot of depth available for goalies in that draft, Howard could be targeted by an expansion club.

TSN 1260 (VIA TODAY’S SLAPSHOT): Darren Dreger believes Vancouver Canucks GM Jim Benning isn’t done shopping this offseason after acquiring defenseman Erik Gudbranson from the Florida Panthers. He speculates Benning could have interest in Dallas Stars defenseman Kris Russell if he enters the UFA market this summer.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: I still think the Gudbranson addition means Dan Hamhuis could be a goner via free agency. Russell is a shotblocking specialist and could be a good addition to the Canucks blueline, provided they don’t overpay to get him.