NHL UFA Rumours: Latest on Stamkos, Lucic, Okposo

Steven Stamkos fondly remembers hoisting his mini sticks over his head as a kid in celebration for winning the Stanley Cup final.

With the Stanley Cup Playoffs in full swing and the off-season already underway for some, we rank the 16 most compelling impending unrestricted free agents of Summer Sixteen.

Sure, Stammergeddon has dominated all debate and speculation regarding this summer’s free agency class — and rightly so — but a quick scan of this group shows there are intriguing players at every position who helped or hurt their case to cash in big on July 1.

We round up the on-ice performance and gather the latest rumours regarding the NHL’s top 16 UFAs-in-waiting.

1. Steven Stamkos
Age on July 1, 2016: 26
Position: Centre
2015-16 salary cap hit: $7.5 million
Bargaining chip: How many four-time 40-goal guys hit the open market in their mid-20s? A young captain who is nearly a point-per-game over his career.
Contract year report: Stamkos finished his season with 36 goals and 28 assists. He also paced all Tampa forwards in ice time, averaging almost 20 minutes per game. His season ended abruptly with a blood clot that kept him out of the first two rounds of the playoffs.
Latest dirt: Elliotte Friedman reported that Yzerman floated an extension offer in January and that the AAV began with an eight. The sides agreed to set aside negotiations until season’s end, fueling speculation that Stamkos will walk.

One wonders how dramatically the playoff prowess of young forwards Nikita Kucherov (a pending RFA) and Jonathan Drouin, combined with Stamkos’s injury, will affect Tampa’s willingness to go deep on an offer, and whether it will temper other clubs’ offering price.

“I still believe that [GM] Steve Yzerman is trying whatever he can do to sign Steven Stamkos, and I believe it will happen,” Lightning VP Dave Andreychuk said on May 4. “Even with all this going on, I think it will happen.”

2. David Backes
Age on July 1, 2016: 32
Position: Centre
2015-16 salary cap hit: $4.5 million
Bargaining chip: Reliable 50-plus-point captain with a nasty shoulder and a kind heart.
Contract year report: Another solid season for the big pivot. Backes had 21 goals and 24 assists in 79 games, remaining durable and accountable while celebrating his 200th career goal. The captain has been clutch for St. Louis in the post-season, scoring three game-winners so far.
Latest dirt: When the Blues decided to re-up with coach Ken Hitchcock, roster change was in the air. T.J. Oshie was dealt to Washington, but in late February GM Doug Armstrong went so far as to say that trading Backes would be an injustice to his teammates. The Blues, however, are Vladimir Tarasenko’s team now. St. Louis will wait to address in the off-season. Term could be a sticking point here.

3. Kyle Okposo
Age on July 1, 2016: 28
Position: Right wing
2015-16 salary cap hit: $2.8 million
Bargaining chip: A smart bet for 20 goals whenever healthy. Nice chemistry with franchise centre John Tavares.
Contract year report: Okposo paced the Isles with 42 assists and chipped in 22 goals. He has yet to be named to Team USA’s World Cup roster.
Latest dirt: With the Islanders flush with forwards who can tally up points, there were reports around the 2015 NHL Draft weekend that GM Garth Snow was contemplating making a move. Newsday‘s Artur Staple estimates that Okposo could be looking for as much as $7 million per season on a long-term deal. Okposo was not shopped at the trade deadline but is likely to test his worth on the open market. Sources told Staple there have been no extension talks of substance.

“I’ll have to reflect on the year and what’s next a couple days from now,” Okposo told reporters after the Islanders were eliminated by the Lightning.

Tavares said he wants his friend Okposo to come back next season. Watch:

4. Milan Lucic
Age on July 1, 2016: 28
Position: Left wing
2015-16 salary cap hit: $6 million
Bargaining chip: A Stanley Cup champion who stays healthy, irritates the opposition and, in a perfect world, is a threat for 30 goals.
Contract year report: The trade from Boston to L.A. has refreshed Lucic, who led all Kings wingers with 55 points (47 at even strength) and a plus-26 rating.
Latest dirt: Lucic and the Kings would like to make an extension work, and the sides have begun exchanging contract proposals. Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos says the Edmonton Oilers, a generally soft team, should target Lucic if he hits the open market. Ben Kuzma of the Vancouver Province figures Canucks fans should give up hope that the East Van native will sign with the Canucks.

“There’s been two or three little talks here and there,” Lucic said. “My plan is to remain a King and hopefully finish off my career here.

“If I could look eight, nine, 10 years down the road, hopefully I play that long. I hope it is right here in L.A. and that something can get done and conversations can get picked up in the near future because I really have enjoyed my time this season and love being a King and living here in L.A.”

After the Kings were eliminated by the Sharks, GM Dean Lombardi said he continues to work on a new contract with the big winger.

READ MORE: Top 35 RFAs to watch

5. Andrew Ladd
Age on July 1, 2016: 30
Position: Left wing
2015-16 salary cap hit: $4.4 million
Bargaining chip: The two-time Cup winner is just one year removed from his best season. In 2014-15, Ladd scored a career-high 62 points, helped the Jets into the post-season, and got nominated alongside the likes of Ryan Getzlaf and Jonathan Toews for the Mark Messier Leadership Award.
Contract year report: Ladd’s production dipped, but only slightly: 25 goals and 21 assists. He was a minus player for the first time in four years and spent time on the Jets’ third line before welcoming a return to Chicago at the trade deadline.
Latest dirt: According to the Free Press, Ladd’s initial ask was for six years and at least $41 million. Extension talks with Winnipeg ended around Christmastime. Ladd said he wanted to play well enough in Chicago to make the Blackhawks consider extending him, but with the team so tight to the cap ceiling, that’s highly unlikely. Florida was bidding for Ladd in February and could attempt to sign him as a UFA.

6. Keith Yandle
Age on July 1, 2016: 29
Position: Defence
2015-16 salary cap hit: $5.25 million
Bargaining chip: Excellent power-play point man with two all-star games and a world championship under his belt.
Contract year report: Led all Rangers defencemen in scoring with 47 points, despite shooting just 3.1%.
Latest dirt: Yandle was taken off the trade table despite plenty of interest from buyers, specifically Dallas. “For the team to want me to stay here is special,” Yandle said on Feb. 29. “I love it here with the Rangers.”

With New York needing to reach agreements with its RFA forwards — Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes, J.T. Miller — it’ll be interesting to see if there’s enough money/desire to keep Yandle in the fold.

“He’s definitely a tough decision moving forward,” coach Alain Vigneault said on Rangers breakup day. “I understand what he can bring. He’s a highly skilled player that takes risks sometimes.”

Yandle said he’d love to return but has to be smart and weigh all options.

“A lot of stuff has to be talked about. For me, I got to focus on myself, and for them, it’s taking the time and figuring out what they want to do,” the defenceman said on April 26.

7. Loui Eriksson
Age on July 1, 2016: 30
Position: Right wing
2015-16 salary cap hit: $4.25 million
Bargaining chip: An Olympic silver medallist and a winner of every shade of medal at the world championships, Eriksson wrapped up his sixth 20-goal campaign and was named a Lady Byng finalist in 2016.
Contract year report: After concussions and an adjustment to life as a Bruin set him back, Eriksson responded with an excellent contract year: 30 goals, 63 points, and 19:28 average ice time. Boston decided to keep Eriksson at the deadline, but its playoff push failed.
Latest dirt: Extension negotiations opened in late January and heated up in late February. Bruins president Cam Neely told reporters that talks picked up again in late April. Nothing was settled.

“We’re not quite there on term and dollars,” Eriksson’s agent, J.P. Barry, said on Feb. 26. “We have some work to do.”

The Bruins were willing to offer four years, according to ESPN’s Craig Custance. The Kings and Ducks reportedly expressed interest in trading for Eriksson at the deadline, but Bruins GM Don Sweeney’s ask was too high. Now there are rumblings the Canucks might make a pitch.

“It’s a big decision, where I end up. So, we’ll see what’s going to happen this summer,” Eriksson told reporters after the Bruins missed the playoffs. “I had three great years here, and we’ll see what’s going to happen here this summer. That’s all I can say.”

The Flyers are one of many teams expected to take a look at Eriksson.

8. Dan Hamhuis
Age on July 1, 2016: 33
Position: Defence
2015-16 salary cap hit: $5 million
Bargaining chip: A four-time medallist at the World Championship and a gold medal winner with Team Canada at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.
Contract year report: Hampered by a nasty jaw injury, Hamhuis was limited to just 58 games but was a solid component of Vancouver’s top four.
Latest dirt: The Canucks dangled Hamhuis at the trade deadline, but the Dallas Stars ended up dealing for Kris Russell instead.

“We like Dan,” Canucks GM Jim Benning told reporters after a disappointing season. “We want to try and figure out something that works for him and us.”

9. Brian Campbell
Age on July 1, 2016: 37
Position: Defence
2015-16 salary cap hit: $7.14 million
Bargaining chip: Stanley Cup champion and Lady Byng winner whose recent play has been overshadowed by Florida’s exciting youngsters and affable oldsters.
Contract year report: The Panthers’ workhorse skates more than 22 minutes a game, runs the power-play alongside young Aaron Ekblad, and contributed 31 points. Fantastic contract year.
Latest dirt: Expect any decision here to come in the off-season. The dependable veteran will find work at reduced pay. Campbell and former GM Dale Tallon have both said they’ll try to make contract negotiations work, but you wonder if the Panthers’ reorganized front office changes things at all.

“The Florida Panthers are in a position now where they want to pay their players. They’ve signed [Nick] Bjugstad and [Aleksander] Barkov to long-term deals,” analyst Denis Potvin told me.

“It really all depends on Brian Campbell and where he feels he can fit in. Brian was very clear at the beginning of the year: He wants an opportunity to win a Cup and be with a competitive team. I think he’s with that team now—first in the Atlantic. I expect he’ll stay.”

10. Kris Russell
Age on July 1, 2016: 29
Position: Defence
2015-16 salary cap hit: $2.6 million
Bargaining chip: World’s greatest shot-blocker.
Contract year report: The stay-at-home, top-four defender is logging more than 24 minutes a game since being traded to Dallas, chipping in 19 points on the season, and staying out of the box. Russell’s 10 penalty minutes were the fewest among the Stars’ defence core.
Latest dirt: Russell priced himself out of Calgary this year and is the type of defenceman the offence-first Stars would be wise to retain. Dallas also expressed interest in Vancouver’s Dan Hamhuis, a pending UFA, at the trade deadline.

11. Mikkel Boedker
Age on July 1, 2016: 26
Position: Left wing
2015-16 salary cap hit: $3.75 million
Bargaining chip: Big, 211-pound wingers who can make plays and stay out of the penalty box are a treat. A Coyotes top-10 draft pick in 2008.
Contract year report: Boedker ranked among Arizona’s leading scorers when he was dealt at the deadline to Colorado. He has 17 goals and 34 assists, but was a minus-33 player. Not great when you consider how much power-play time he sees.
Latest dirt: Boedker, who isn’t exactly a hero in the analytics community, appears to have been a pure rental for Colorado. Even though Joe Sakic said publicly he’d like to have him back, Boedker’s reported asking price is in the ballpark of $5.5 million for five years. Will likely go to the highest bidder.

“There’s no decision as of right now,” Boedker told the Denver Post. “I’ve enjoyed my time here so far and we’ll see what happens in the summer.”

12. Jiri Hudler
Age on July 1, 2016: 32
Position: Right wing/centre
2015-16 salary cap hit: $4 million
Bargaining chip: Won the 2015 Lady Byng Trophy after a career-best, 76-point performance.
Contract year report: Regressed to the norm. It would be in Hudler’s best financial interest to swap his 2014-15 for his 2015-16 — a season hampered by injury, illness and occasional trips to the doghouse. But the winger responded nicely for Calgary in January and February, earning a trade to playoff-bound Florida. Solid third-liner.
Latest dirt: The Flames did not make a significant pitch to retain Hudler. Will Florida? Less likely after his no-goal, one-assist performance in the post-season.

13. James Reimer
Age on July 1, 2016: 28
Position: Goaltender
2015-16 salary cap hit: $2.3 million
Bargaining chip: The last goaltender to backstop the Toronto Maple Leafs into the playoffs.
Contract year report: The best goalie on an atrocious team, Reimer’s consistency this season earned him a trade out of Toronto and to San Jose, where he’s backing up Martin Jones. Reimer went 6-2-0 with three shutouts and a .938 save percentage with the Sharks.
Latest dirt: The idea of Reimer returning to the Maple Leafs in the off-season is not out of the question, despite his high asking price — as reported by Sportsnet’s Damien Cox and disputed by Reimer.

“I’m not set on anything, and I have no expectations. A lot can happen between now and July 1,” Reimer told Sportsnet’s Mark Spector. “I’m just focused on getting to that fourth round of the playoffs.”

14. Cam Ward
Age on July 1, 2016: 32
Position: Goaltender
2015-16 salary cap hit: $6.3 million
Bargaining chip: 2006 Stanley Cup champion and Conn Smythe winner. Seldom-disputed No. 1 goaltender for Carolina for 11 years running.
Contract year report: Like Anton Khudobin before him, Ward’s play put Eddie Lack in his place. Ward had a respectable 23-17-5 record for a mediocre Hurricanes squad, but a concussion suffered in late January interrupted his season temporarily.
Latest dirt: His high price tag made Ward almost impossible to trade, but he should still garner attention on a thin goalie market. Expect a pay cut come July 1.

“I’ve made it clear that this is where I’d like to be,” Ward said at the end of the season. “I’m proud to have been a Hurricane and to have been here for as many years as I have.”

GM Ron Francis’s response: “We have to do our due diligence. We have to make sure we’re making a decision that makes the organization better. That may be signing Cam; that may be going in a different direction.”

15. Eric Staal
Age on July 1, 2016: 31
Position: Centre
2015-16 salary cap hit: $8.25 million
Bargaining chip: Six-foot-four centremen with gold medals and nine 20-goal seasons are difficult to find.
Contract year report: Traded for the first time to New York at the deadline, the declining Staal managed just 39 points. He made a long-awaited return to the playoffs but failed to register a point. Unlike most on this list, he is overpaid at his current salary, but he’s defensively responsible, wins faceoffs, and brings leadership.
Latest dirt: Staal’s Rangers stint was underwhelming. He’ll be looking to find a top-six role on the open market and has not ruled out a return to Carolina. Buyer beware.

16. Radim Vrbata
Age on July 1, 2016: 35
Position: Right wing
2015-16 salary cap hit: $5 million
Bargaining chip: Returned to his 30-goal, 60-point heights in 2014-15, his first season as a Canuck.
Contract year report: Regrettable. Vrbata got off to a sluggish start and has not seen as much time on the Sedins’ top line as last year. His minus-30 rating was the Canucks’ worst, and 27 points is abnormally low. Still, Vrbata’s 6.5% shooting percentage can’t remain that low, can it?
Latest dirt: The Canucks did not receive a single trade offer for Vrbata at the deadline, and most believe it’s doubtful Vrbata re-signs with Vancouver. Not a $5-million asset anymore, but a change of scenery could result in a bounce back.

On the Radar: Alexander Radulov, Frans Nielsen (Islanders), Shane Doan (Coyotes), Karri Ramo (Flames), Troy Brouwer (Blues), Alex Goligoski (Stars), Patrik Elias (Devils), Lee Stempniak (Bruins), Teddy Purcell (Panthers), David Perron (Ducks), Luke Schenn (Kings), Jamie McGinn (Ducks), Dale Weise (Canadiens), P.A. Parenteau (Maple Leafs), Tom Gilbert (Canadiens), Jason Demers (Stars), Jimmy Vesey (Aug. 15)