With this summer's unrestricted free agent market drying up and the NHL off-season heading into the “dog days,” the status of Steven Stamkos' contract talks with the Tampa Bay Lightning has dominated hockey news.
The fact Stamkos, one of the NHL's top stars, remains unsigned in mid-July has not only given rise to speculation over his status, but has also stoked rumors he’ll either receive an offer sheet from a big market team such as Toronto or Philadelphia, or be traded if the Lightning fail to re-sign him soon.
The Globe and Mail recently offered four reasons why Stamkos and fellow RFA Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings probably won't receive offer sheets.
The piece cited prohibitive cost (salary and the compensation of first round draft picks to the Lightning), fear of retaliation, the potential for “bad blood” between GMs (former Anaheim GM Brian Burke's memorable feud four years ago with former Edmonton GM Kevin Lowe was over the latter's signing of Dustin Penner) and the fact offer sheets rarely succeed in prying a player away from their team.
Despite assurances from Lightning GM Steve Yzerman he'd match any offer sheet for Stamkos, plus the denials he's received trade offers, rumormongers continue to align Stamkos with the Kings (for Doughty), Maple Leafs, Flyers and Sabres.
However, Stamkos signing an offer sheet or Yzerman trading his star pivot are two unlikely scenarios.
Under the current CBA we've become accustomed to teams re-signing their superstars quickly, either during the regular season, or prior to July 1.
Under the previous CBA, however, it wasn't unusual for contract negotiations with RFA stars to drag out into the summer and sometimes into the fall or early weeks of the season.
Stamkos' negotiations likely won't go on that long, but it's obvious there are factors his agent and Yzerman still need to work out.
Salary is one, as Stamkos is expected to command around $7.5 million per season.
Term is likely another. Yzerman would hope to sign Stamkos to a long-term, front- or back-loaded deal that would result in a friendlier cap hit.
Stamkos' agent, however, might push for a shorter term for the 21-year-old center so he can take advantage of the potential riches of unrestricted free agency in four years, when Stamkos can become eligible for UFA status.
Yzerman also must take into consideration the fact he already has more than $17 million tied up in three forwards (Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St-Louis and Ryan Malone), plus the uncertainty over the impact the next CBA will have on payrolls.
Still, Yzerman knows Stamkos is his franchise player and isn't about to let a rival club attempt to sign him away, nor will he seriously consider trade offers which, quite frankly, won't replace Stamkos’ star power and skills.
THIN FREE AGENT CROP TRIMS DOWN FURTHER
The summer's UFA market lacked depth in quality talent on July 1, so it took only a matter of days for the best players to be signed up.
The Globe and Mail's James Mirtle recently compiled a list of the notable players still available. Topping it was Teemu Selanne, Vinny Prospal, Scott Hannan, Bryan McCabe, Brendan Morrison, Ray Emery, Sergei Samsonov, Cory Stillman, Ty Conklin and Nikolay Zherdev.
Of Mirtle's top 10, it's obvious Selanne will either re-sign with the Anaheim Ducks or retire, so forget about his returning to the reborn Winnipeg Jets to finish his career.
Prospal, Morrison and Emery have struggled with injuries in recent years, although Emery looked good in a backup role with the Ducks this past season.
McCabe, Samsonov and Stillman are fading talents. Hannan should still have value for teams seeking defensive depth and leadership. Conklin still has value as a quality backup and has been linked in recent weeks to the Detroit Red Wings.
Zherdev, 26, is the youngest of this group, but may be too one-dimensional and enigmatic for most clubs.
Rumor Roundup appears Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Foxsports.com and Eishockey News.