NHL Rumor Mill – September 25, 2023
Could the Lightning and Steven Stamkos part ways following this season? Check out the latest speculation in today’s NHL Rumor Mill.
SPORTSNET: Luke Fox weighed in on Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos’ disappointment with the lack of contract extension talks this summer with Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois. He believes the 33-year-old forward “dropped the biggest bombshell of training camp.”
Stamkos, 33, is slated to become an unrestricted free agent next July. He told reporters last week that he had preferred working out an extension before the start of the season. BriseBois, however, indicated that he preferred to wait until the end of the season to begin negotiations.
Fox wonders if BriseBois is “truly this cutthroat” to be playing hardball with the Lightning star. He also mused over what effect Stamkos’ frustration could have on his play this season.
Elliotte Friedman considered Stamkos’ remarks last week “a big, big shot across the bow”. He added that some of the players close to the Lightning captain believe “that Tampa wouldn’t be crushed if he left.”
Friedman believes that the Lightning want Stamkos to finish his career with them. However, it won’t be at a salary number that they consider unreasonable.
The Stamkos standoff factored into Ryan Dixon pondering whether this is the beginning of the end for this version of the Lightning. He isn’t writing off the club this season given the depth of talent and the potential benefit of a longer-than-usual offseason. However, he believes “we’ve clearly entered a new phase of their arc.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: It all comes down to salary cap space for the Lightning. They have over $12.3 million in projected cap room for 2024-25 with 16 players under contract. Zach Bogosian, Calvin de Haan, Tyler Motte, and Haydn Fleury are among their other notable UFAs but they can be easily re-signed or replaced.
Stamkos, however, will take up a big chunk of their cap room, leaving little space to bring in players to bolster their roster. The average annual value of his current contract is $8.5 million. Given his performance in recent years, he’d be justified in seeking the same amount again. Even with the cap projected to increase in the coming years significantly, BriseBois might not be comfortable investing that much for too long in an aging asset.
As I’ve stated before, it’s unlikely that BriseBois will trade Stamkos or that the latter will request a trade if they don’t have a contract extension in place by the March 8 trade deadline. The Lightning’s season would have to really go off the rails for either side to consider that option.
Defenseman Victor Hedman and winger Nikita Kucherov will likely be watching the outcome of Stamkos’ contract talks. Hedman is eligible for UFA status in 2025 and Kucherov in 2027. If the Lightning cut ties with Stamkos at the end of this season the clock could begin ticking on their tenures in Tampa Bay.