As the kids go back to school, the Toronto Blue Jays continue their David Price/Troy Tulowitzki joyride and hockey reporters shake off their summer hangovers, attention returns to some of the sport’s key storylines.
And one of the biggest is Steven Stamkos.
Tampa’s captain is an unrestricted free agent next July 1, barring a contract extension. Last week, while discussing the blood clot that will keep Andrei Vasilevskiy out of the lineup for up to three months, Lightning GM Steve Yzerman told The Tampa Tribune’s Erik Erlendsson there was nothing to comment on at this time.
The obvious hurdle is the contract negotiation, with Stamkos expected to be in the $10.5M AAV range occupied by Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. It’s difficult to tell where things stand right now because none of the principals are talking, including Yzerman, agent Don Meehan or Stamkos himself. But according to a couple of sources, there are other things at play.
The first is role.
Stamkos prefers to play centre, which creates a top-six logjam with Valtteri Filppula and triplet Tyler Johnson. It sounds like the Lightning would prefer Stamkos to play on the wing to ease that issue. From what I’ve been told, the discussions were professional, but both organization and player remain searching for common ground.
The second is how the Lightning see the future. By the end of the 2016-17 season, they must determine long-term plans for Ben Bishop, Victor Hedman, Johnson, Alex Killorn, Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat and Stamkos.
Yzerman said in June signing Stamkos was his No. 1 priority this summer. Your third-grade science teacher will remind you that, technically, he’s got two more weeks. Even if it doesn’t happen by then, there’s no reason to believe Yzerman’s desires have changed.
It’s crazy to think the future wouldn't include Stamkos, since the moment they traded Martin St. Louis, the Lightning couldn’t move fast enough to take down the former captain’s mural outside the arena and replace it with the new leader.
However, approximately two weeks ago, a rumour made the rounds that there were trade talks involving Stamkos before the draft. (His no-move clause kicked-in days later.) The best intel I could gather is that it didn't get close. Some sources indicate teams called Yzerman to ask. Others say the Lightning wanted to check the market in case they eventually had to do something. A few suspected Buffalo, because Sabres GM Tim Murray is unafraid to take bold steps. (Via text, Murray declined to answer and another source claimed it never really went anywhere.) The info is out there, but it's very hard to pin down.
I know you’re going to wonder about Toronto. I have zero evidence anything was discussed with the Maple Leafs.
Again, no one is commenting, so it’s hard to say if anything’s changed. There’s nothing indicating the captain wants to be traded, and no one from the organization is bashing Stamkos behind his back. He has a lot of control with unrestricted free agency 10 months away.
Stamkos could sign tomorrow and make all of this irrelevant. But Yzerman, with both Tampa and Team Canada, shows no fear of making hard decisions if he feels it’s right for his team.
It’s hard to imagine Stamkos in anything but a Lightning uniform. But this looks like a more complex process than we expected.