If center Steven Stamkos fails to re-sign with the Tampa Bay Lightning this summer, it's assumed the Toronto Maple Leafs will be his destination of choice via free agency. However, he could entertain an offer from another major Canadian franchise.
In an interview with Richard Labbe of La Presse, NHL Network analyst and former Lightning GM Brian Lawton said he believes Stamkos would consider a contract proposal from the Montreal Canadiens. He suggests Stamkos' long-time friendship with Habs star P.K. Subban could be among the factors working in Montreal's favor.
Signing Stamkos would significantly improve the Canadiens scoring lines, as well as bolster the shaken confidence of Canadiens fans. However, it'll take more than the presence of his old friend to tempt him into donning a Habs jersey.
Freeing up sufficient salary-cap space will be a significant factor. It could cost around $11-million annually on a seven-year deal to sign him. With only $9.8 million in salary-cap space for 2016-17, the Canadiens currently cannot afford him.
Sportsnet's Eric Engels suggests Habs GM Marc Bergevin could free up the required cap space by shedding some salary. He lists forwards Tomas Plekanec, David Desharnais and Lars Eller, along with blueliner Alexei Emelin, as cost-cutting trade options.
Moving those players, however, could prove easier said than done. The 33-year-old Plekanec's $6-million cap hit through 2017-18 won't attract many takers. Desharnais ($3.5 million for next season) is a small, streaky scorer. Eller ($3.5 million through 2017-18) hasn't blossomed into a reliable top-six forward and probably never will. Emelin's full no-trade clause becomes a partial one on July 1. Like Plekanec, his salary ($4.1 million through '17-'18) could be tough to move.
They could try shopping veteran blueliner Andrei Markov ($5.75 million in 2016-17), but the 37-year-old is past his best-before date and carries a modified no-trade clause. 28-year-old rearguard Jeff Petry ($5.5 million) could garner some interest, but moving him out weakens the Habs defense. He also has a no-trade clause.
NEELY HAS SIGHTS SET ON IMPROVING BRUINS DEFENSE
A week after Boston Bruins GM Don Sweeney staged his port-mortem press conference, Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, team CEO Charlie Jacobs and team president Cam Neely weighed in with their take on another failed season, and the club's future.
The Boston Globe's Kevin Paul Dupont reports Neely considers improving the Bruins D-corps as the priority. He also believes they must bolster their depth at right wing and in the backup goalie spot. CSNNE.com's Joe Haggerty speculates the Bruins could increase efforts to pursue younger defensemen, citing Jacob Trouba of the Winnipeg Jets, Matt Dumba of the Minnesota Wild, and Sami Vatanen of the Anaheim Ducks as trade targets.
Acquiring one of those three, however, could be difficult. While the Bruins have two first-round picks in the 2016 NHL draft plus some depth in prospects, Dupont's colleague Fluto Shinzawa believes they're dealing from a position of weakness. Citing the desperation of the front office to address their issues, he feels management could be pressured into a bad deal.
Addressing their need for a top-six right winger could be expensive. Haggerty thinks pending New York Islanders UFA Kyle Okposo could be a great fit with the Bruins. However, he could end up costing them over $6 million annually on a six- or seven-year contract.
Landing a backup goalie should be easier to address. Worthwhile candidates could include Al Montoya of the Florida Panthers, Jhonas Enroth of the L.A. Kings and Antti Raanta of the New York Rangers.