Last June, the Tampa Bay Lightning were fighting tooth and nail with the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Final.
They fell short in the series, but appeared poised to be Cup contenders for years to come. No one could have predicted they’d be in the predicament they currently find themselves in.
The Lightning remain in the Eastern Conference playoff race but on-ice performance has taken a back seat to the rumour mill.
The “Will Stamkos re-sign in Tampa?” storyline has been bubbling under the surface for months but for a while recently it had taken a back seat to Jonathan Drouin’s trade demands. However, as the Feb. 29 trade deadline approaches and Stamkos remains a pending UFA, the 26-year-old is back in the spotlight.
Predictably, the Toronto Maple Leafs have been linked to Stamkos for quite some time, but they’re by no means the only team in on the action. Everyone is remaining tight-lipped about the situation, but we’re now starting to hear it’s a real possibility Stamkos could waive his no-trade clause before the end of the month.
According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, the possibility of the Maple Leafs or another team trading for his negotiating rights after the season and prior to July 1 is also a possibility.
Acquiring the rights to Stamkos would cost a team much less than it would on or before deadline day. It would also give the team getting Stamkos the option of signing him to an eight-year deal – a seven-year deal would be the maximum he could get if he signed with a new team on the open market.
In addition to the Leafs, a team like the Philadelphia Flyers are another team that could be players in the Stamkos sweepstakes should he hit the open market July 1. Both teams would be hard-pressed to pull off an in-season trade with the Lightning considering the assets they’d have to give up.
With that in mind, here are five teams that could potentially be good trade partners for the Lightning and Stamkos ahead of the NHL trade deadline.
There was the Yzerman-Fedorov era and we’re nearing the end of the Datsyuk-Zetterberg era. How does the Stamkos-Larkin era sound?
No NHL team in the past two decades has been more consistently successful than the Red Wings. Stamkos got a taste of playoff success last year and Detroit’s track record would have to be attractive if you’re Stamkos, who happened to play his junior hockey in nearby Sarnia.
With Kyle Quincey, Brad Richards, Darren Helm and Drew Miller off the books next season, the salary cap shouldn’t be a major obstacle. Maybe they’d have to give up a Gustav Nyquist or Tomas Tatar as part of a package, but to acquire a player like Stamkos before the trade deadline, you’re going to have to make major sacrifices. Other potential trade chips could be blueliner Brendan Smith or top prospects Joe Hicketts and Anthony Mantha in addition to draft picks.
With Jack Eichel, Ryan O'Reilly and Sam Reinhart up front, plus Rasmus Ristolainen on the back end, the Sabres have built a solid core to what should one day soon be a winning franchise. They’ve also got Evander Kane under contract for another two years. As O'Reilly’s seven-year, $52.5-million contract indicated, Sabres owner Terry Pegula is willing to spend serious dough to ensure long-term success on the ice. Cap space isn’t an issue.
Everyone is talking about how cool it would be for Stamkos to go to the Leafs and wear the ‘C’ for the team he grew up cheering for – it would be a dream come true for him – but Buffalo is only a few hours from his hometown of Markham, Ont., and he would avoid the media hubbub that comes with playing in Toronto.
It was reported in January the Sabres would be willing to move talented forward Tyler Ennis. Other names that could speculatively be involved in a deal like this might be Jake McCabe, Brendan Guhle, Zemgus Girgensons, Justin Bailey and Cody Franson.
To make things more interesting, Elliotte Friedman mentioned on Sportsnet 590 The Fan Friday morning there were rumblings at the 2015 NHL Draft the Lightning were pondering a Stamkos deal that would have sent him to Buffalo for the second-overall pick (Jack Eichel).
When the Jonathan Drouin trade request went public and rumours began to swirl, the Lightning were believed to be interested in acquiring a right-handed, puck-moving defenceman and/or a forward with a decent amount of term remaining on his contract. The Avalanche have both.
Matt Duchene (three years remaining at $6 million per) had his name out there in trade rumours earlier in the season. Adding a player like Duchene would certainly soften the blow of losing Stamkos. The salary cap could become an issue for the Avs considering they’ve got to re-sign Nathan MacKinnon and a handful of other pending restricted free agents. Another potential piece could be defenceman Tyson Barrie. He’s 24, a pending RFA and one of the most underrated blueliners in the NHL.
After a terrible start to the season, the Ducks have begun turning things around, but this doesn’t mean they’re unwilling to shake up the roster. Anaheim is stacked with young talent on defence. Sami Vatanen would be a potential target and reportedly the most likely to be dealt, but they’ve also got Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm or Shea Theodore. Jakob Silfverberg has three more years remaining on a favourable cap hit and if there was any way to move Ryan Kesler – even if they had to eat some salary – they’d be wise to consider it.
Back in October, Sportsnet’s Mark Spector reported that Calgary GM Brad Treliving had talks with Steve Yzerman about the possibility of a trade.
The Flames have a number of quality defencemen they could move (would the Flames deal Dougie Hamilton less than one year after acquiring him from the Bruins?) and Spector wrote they’d be willing to move one of their top young skaters (could that mean Sam Bennett, Sean Monahan or Johnny Gaudreau?). It’s unclear at this time if the Flames would still be willing to do that.