If there is a more compelling off-ice story line in the NHL this season than the future of Steven Stamkos, we’ve yet to find it.
With the Calgary Flames, a projected team on the rise, stumbling early, Sportsnet’s Mark Spector reported Wednesday that Calgary general manager Brad Treliving spoke with Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman about the possibility of a trade.
“The Flames would be willing to deal a top young player, perhaps Sam Bennett, to acquire Stamkos at this point,” Spector wrote.
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman appeared on Dean Blundell and Company Friday morning to discuss the Stamkos situation.
According to Friedman, rumours surfaced in the summer that Yzerman considered trading Stamkos because the club either didn’t want to or couldn’t manage to pay what it will cost to keep him in the fold.
The 25-year-old is in the final year of a contract that pays him $7.5 million annually. The sniper’s next deal should exceed the $10.5-million monsters given by Chicago to Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane in July 2014.
“I had heard about the possibility about a Buffalo trade before the draft. There was rumours that Tampa sort of looked at it with some other teams,” Friedman said on-air.
Word that Treliving inquired about a Stamkos trade, Friedman said, came after July 1 — the date Stamkos became able to sign an extension and also the date his no-movement clause kicked in.
“That Calgary rumour did make its way around the league, but it was denied by everybody involved,” Friedman said. “I’ve been told it didn’t have much legs.”
The major concern with trading for any impending unrestricted free agent, especially one of this magnitude, is: Will we be able to re-sign him?
Another small hurdle: Stamkos green-lighting an in-season deal from a legitimate Stanley Cup contender to the last-place team in the Western Conference.
The major parties involved have remained tight-lipped. Yzerman said in the spring that his No. 1 priority was re-signing Stamkos but that he won’t negotiate in the public or speak to the situation until he has something to announce.
Stamkos, keeping things purposely vague, said during training camp that he and Yzerman were in the “middle stages” of contract negotiations .
Lightning owner Jeff Vinik said in September that he has given Yzerman the “green light,” financially speaking, to re-sign the star to a deal that’s “best for the long-term interest of this franchise.”
The salary cap complicates matters. Over the next two summers, the Lightning must also make decisions on re-signing Victor Hedman, Jonathan Drouin, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Alex Killorn, Nikita Kucherov and Ben Bishop, all of whom will be due for new deals by July 2017.
“Is it possible they are thinking that maybe they’re not going to be able to [re-sign all those players] with what Stamkos is going to ask for?” Friedman said.
“Is it possible that they are considering trading him instead of signing him?”
Despite all the noise off the ice, Stamkos’s performance has been just fine. The centre has matched well with winger Drouin, leads all Lightning players with five goals and is tied with a team-best six points.
As for the captain’s ice time — a major topic of debate during the 2015 Cup Final — Stamkos leads all Tampa forwards with an average 18:28 per game, about a minute more than fellow centre Johnson.