Kypreos on NHL: Stamkos sitting pretty

June 28, 2011, 8:58 PM

Would you be willing to pay an RFA Group 2 free agent $12,860,000 for one year if you had the cap space? That is the question some GMs are contemplating right now just days before the opening of free agency on July 1.

What RFA player would command that amount — 20 per cent of the new $64.3-million salary cap, which is the maximum allowable one-year salary for one player — in today’s salary cap world? What team(s) could afford that level of salary? Those are two good questions.

Of all the potential RFA players that a club might consider paying that kind of money, who would you think? My guess during the season stood at Shea Weber, Zach Parise and Steven Stamkos. All three would have fallen straight into that category for most.

Come on, what owner or GM for that matter wouldn’t want one of these three players for $12,860,000 for just one season. Maybe not all, but my guess is definitely more than you would think!

Of the three players, only one is potentially going to be available come July 1 because the Nashville Predators and the New Jersey Devils decided to file for what is called “Club Elected Salary Arbitration,” eliminating Weber and Parise from a potential Group 2 offer sheet from another club.

So that leaves Steven Stamkos as the one player left in the marketplace who could command an offer sheet that would cost a respective club four future first-round picks to the Lightning if they determine not to match the offer.

Would you match a poison pill offer of $12,860,000? With Vinny Lecavalier already owed $50 million for five more years and St. Louis locked in long term as well, it’s conceivable to think Steve Yzerman could have three guys sucking up close to $30 million of real dollars.

Go one step further with Malone, Brewer, and Ohlund in play, Tampa could have seven guys next season absorbing well over $40 million of the cap. And that’s with no goalie in play and Victor Hedman still in a position to re-sign in a year. Scary thought for the ownership group and Steve Yzerman.

What the Lightning couldn’t do was copy Nashville and New Jersey and file for Club Elected Salary Arbitration with Stamkos because he doesn’t have the four years of service before he is eligible. Stamkos of course just finished his third year with the Lightning. Stamkos has been eligible to sign a new contract since last July 1 but chose not to and now word coming out of the draft was talks weren’t remotely close to what was led to be believed.

With other clubs potentially preparing offers for him, the Lightning really are caught in a pickle. If he doesn’t accept Tampa’s offer that includes an annual average salary of around $6.5 million, the Lightning will have some tough decisions leading into Friday. Along with many low revenue generating teams Tampa really got skewered when the salary cap got jacked up. All it did was create more money for “rich” clubs to play with.

Last week we saw a lot of teams act differently and aggressively with the Flyers, Kings, Blue Jackets, Blackhawks and Panthers all forced to make what would have been unthinkable moves just a few short months ago. If Stamkos gets an offer come Friday then you can rest assured it will either be a one-year max offer or a long-term deal that pays an exorbitant amount.

The latter is actually easier to match for the Lightning and no team wants to make an offer just to raise the costs for everyone only to have the original team match. If you’re going this route you need to do it with the intent to get the player or at the very least as we saw with Doug Wilson last year the intent to hurt the club if they match.

Wilson gave a Group 2 offer sheet to Niklas Hjalmarsson and ended up with Antti Niemi as a repercussion of the Blackhawks’ matching his offer. Ultimately, the San Jose Sharks were playing hockey while the Blackhawks were at home watching so one could argue it was an effective strategy. One can argue there are teams in the East thinking the same way about the young, up-and-coming Lightning.

Any team that makes a one-year offer of the max amount could also ask Stamkos to consider taking a longer-term deal on Jan. 1 at a more cap friendly hit and less salary, say a 10-year deal at $8 million per season. This is an amount that is still considered to be significantly more than the Lightning are currently offering Stamkos.

If the Lightning match then Stamkos can sign his qualifying offer every year, which has to be the same $12,860,000 per year or he becomes an unrestricted free agent. Not a bad situation for Stamkos either way. A very aggressive play but one that may work to get him out of Tampa Bay.

Is it going to happen and who could afford it? No one can be sure but one has to believe it will be a top revenue making club like the Flyers. They have the cap space beginning on July 1 to do it but will probably move out one other contract by October to make sure.

They make a lot of money and they seem to have the team to support giving up four first-round picks in the 25-30 range for the next four seasons while coming out miles ahead with a player that is perceived as a franchise type player.

Are the Lightning not better off today trading Stamkos to Philly for a package including Claude Giroux and top prospect Brayden Schenn rather than four first rounders? I’d like to think so.

Add in Montreal, Detroit, Boston, new money in Buffalo, Chicago, Washington, the Rangers and Toronto and this July 1st could end up being an historical one.

Will Toronto be in on the local boy from Markham and the No. 1 centre the club so desperately craves? It may depend on how much faith you have in your team and plans.

Are the rebuilding Leafs just that — still rebuilding, in which case the four first-round picks should be out of the question — or have they turned the corner? Is Stamkos the player that rockets them back to the playoffs and a legitimate top 10 team in the NHL or is he the player that prevents them from moving forward with the loss of four more first rounders, crippling the team for what could be decades?

No one knows for sure but one would have to think that Stamkos would love to return home. Tampa has been fun for him but it doesn’t compare to the hockey mecca Toronto is for a young, local super star. Stamkos is the one player that just might be able to wrap this town around his finger and never let go. I gotta think the Leafs and many others have had long discussions on this one and come July 1st we will soon have our answer.

I need to reaffirm Stamkos is not a UFA but based on the rumblings I’ve been hearing the last 48 hours… he just might be the next best thing to it.

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