With the July 1 start of the 2016 NHL unrestricted free agency period less than a month away, speculation is ramping up over possible destinations for several of this summer's top free-agent stars.
Heading the list, of course, is Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos. The solid performance of the Lightning in the 2016 playoffs without their 26-year-old captain -- sidelined for all but one post-season game recovering from blood-clot surgery -- raises questions over his future with the Bolts.
TSN's Pierre LeBrun reports both sides remain interested in getting a deal done before July 1. He claims Lightning GM Steve Yzerman told Stamkos during their end-of-season interview that re-signing him remains the club's priority.
LeBrun's colleague Bob McKenzie notes the only known contract offer to Stamkos was for five years at $8.5 million annually. Last summer, it was rumored the Stamkos could seek the equivalent of the eight-year, $84-million deals inked two years ago by Chicago Blackhawks stars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.
If Stamkos hits the open market, the Detroit Red Wings could be among the suitors. Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press, responding to a reader's question, believes they stand a good chance of landing him once they clear Pavel Datsyuk's $7.5-million cap hit for 2016-17. She cites the Wings proximity to Stamkos' hometown of Toronto, as well as the fact they're a more competitive club than the rebuilding Maple Leafs.
Speaking of Datsyuk's contract, TSN's Darren Dreger reports the long-time Wings center is expected to play in Russia next season for family reasons. He claims Detroit GM Ken Holland is working hard to ship out that contract to a club that needs to get to the salary-cap floor. Holland might have to add a sweetener, such as Tomas Jurco or Teemu Pulkkinen, to get it done.
Datsyuk will meet with Holland sometime around June 15 to formally inform the Wings of his decision. Reports out of Russia claim the KHL's SKA St. Peterburg has a contract waiting for him for next season.
Instead of a player, Holland could offer up a second- or third-round pick to get a deal done. It could depend upon where he's trying to move Datsyuk's contract. The Arizona Coyotes, New Jersey Devils and Carolina Hurricanes have the most cap space this summer and must reach the cap floor before October.
The Wings are also reportedly interested in former NHL right winger Alexander Radulov, who spent the past four seasons in the KHL. It's rumored they're willing to offer Radulov a one-year deal worth between $4-$5 million. Dreger claims the 29-year-old seeks a two-year deal worth $7.5-million per season. If so, he can forget about joining the Wings, or any other NHL club for that matter.
LeBrun also reports there's a mutual willingness between the Los Angeles Kings and left winger Milan Lucic in getting a deal done before the end of June. There isn't much discussion of late between the two sides. LeBrun claims Lucic is open to testing the market.
Lucic's hometown club, the Vancouver Canucks, could be one destination. LeBrun speculates the big winger could be open to an offer from Edmonton Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli, who was GM of the Boston Bruins during Lucic's tenure with the Bruins.
Lucic's apparent willingness to explore the UFA market could also be an attempt by his representatives to reboot their stalled talks with the Kings. Should Lucic indeed test the market, the Canucks are a better fit than the Oilers, who have Taylor Hall and Patrick Maroon at left wing. They could also select left winger Matthew Tkachuk with the fourth-overall pick in the draft.
After the St. Louis Blues were eliminated from the Western Conference final, captain and pending UFA David Backes made no secret of his wish to return with the club next season. However, Fluto Shinzawa of the Boston Globe points out Blues GM Doug Armstrong considers re-signing restricted free agent left winger Jaden Schwartz his priority this summer.
Armstrong said he'd like to bring back Backes. However, it'll have to be at the Blues price. If the 32-year-old forward seeks a long-term extension, Shinzawa doubts he'll get it from St. Louis.
Backes last fall reportedly rejected a three-year deal worth $5.5 million per season. There's some speculation the Blues could go as high as $6 million. If so, Backes should seize that offer. While he could get a better deal via free agency, it's doubtful he'll get one from from another Stanley Cup contender.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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