Stamkos tops 16 biggest contract years in ’16

Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman talks about his number one priority in the off season.

July 9, 2014. That was the date Chicago Blackhawks stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane — on target to become free agents the following summer — inked their twin monster deals. Eight-year extensions worth $10.5 million annually.

It was also the date the New Jersey Devils locked up new franchise goalie Cory Schneider for huge dollars and long years.

When NHL teams have a chance to extend great players, the trend is to not let them come within sniffing distance of free agency.

If you thought Vladimir Tarasenko cashed in, just wait. Some marquee names and red-hot role players are entering contract years in 2015-16.

Let the extension chatter and/or trade rumours commence.

Congratulations on winning GM of the Year, Mr. Yzerman. Now go re-sign Steven Stamkos for eight years at a reasonable rate.

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 better than a point-per-game over his 492-game career.
Career curve: Prime time. Despite suffering a broken leg in 2013 that still affects him today, Stamkos helped lead an inexperienced team to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final and put up 90 points (regular plus post-season) last year.
What the future holds: While wishful thinking in places like, oh, say, Toronto, imagines Stamkos swinging for a max deal elsewhere, NHL logic dictates that he gets locked up this summer for big term and bigger dollars. More than Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews’ $10.5 million per? Yes. GM Steve Yzerman is keeping mum: “When we have something to announce, we’ll announce it,” he’s been saying. But the two sides have yet to start negotiating.

2. Anze Kopitar *RE-SIGNED
Age on July 1, 2016: 28
Position: Centre
2015-16 salary cap hit: $6.8 million
Bargaining chip: In 2014, Wayne Gretzky anointed the two-time Cup champion the third-best player in the world, behind only Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews.
Career curve: Steadily awesome. While Kopitar’s goal total (16) dipped last season, his assists climbed back to 48 and he was a finalist for both the Frank J. Selke and Lady Byng trophies.
Future decided: After months of negotiations, Kopitar and the Kings agreed to maximum-term extension on Jan. 16 that will see his salary cap become the third-highest in the NHL, behind only Chicago’s Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Kopitar will earn $80 million over eight years.

3. Mark Giordano *RE-SIGNED
Age on July 1, 2016: 32
Position: Defence
2015-16 salary cap hit: $4.02 million
Bargaining chip: The Flames’ captain and best player put up a career-high 48 points in 2014-15 despite missing 21 games due to injury.
Career curve: Late bloomer. Though undrafted, Giordano has gone from Flames tryout to Jarome Iginla’s incredible successor as captain. Surely would’ve been a Norris Trophy finalist were it not for his torn biceps.
Future decided: On Aug. 25, Giordano signed a six-year, $40.5-million extension with the Flames that carries an $6.75-million cap hit.

4. 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.
Career curve: Gradual decline. Although trying to buoy a generally poor team, Staal’s 54 points in 2014-15 were a career low, if you discount the 53 he scored in the lockout-shorted 2012-13, which I do. Hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2009.
What the future holds: The only player near the top of this list unlikely to secure a massive raise, Staal’s name has been bandied about in trade rumours for about a year. But the Hurricanes are publicly talking extension: “I’ve had a general and open and honest conversation with Eric’s agent on things,” Carolina general manager Ron Francis told reporters in late June. “We’ll continue to have those as we move into the summer. Eric has indicated he wants to be part of the Hurricanes moving forward, and we’ll see if we can get that worked out.”

5. Dustin Byfuglien *RE-SIGNED
Age on July 1, 2016: 31
Position: Defence (mostly)
2015-16 salary cap hit: $5.2 million
Bargaining chip: Coming off an all-star season in which he scored goals and ran over good NHL players like he grabbed a Mario star.
Career curve: Rising. Once a Cup casualty of the Blackhawks, Byfuglien has become a roving force in the league. Though he might want to rein in those penalties (124 PIM last season), he’s good for 50 points from the back end when healthy.
Future decided: Byfuglien re-signed on Feb. 8 for five more years and $38 million.

6. Jakub Voracek *RE-SIGNED
Age on July 1, 2016: 26
Position: Right wing
2015-16 salary cap hit: $4.25 million
Bargaining chip: Tied some guy named Alex Ovechkin for fourth place overall in 2014-15 NHL scoring.
Career curve: Soaring into peak form. The skilled winger has become nearly a point-a-game guy and a plus player on a minus team. The Columbus Blue Jackets regret their decision.
Future decided: On July 30, Voracek signed a whopping eight-year, $66-million extension with the Flyers that carries an $8.25-million cap hit.

7. 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.
Career curve: Steadily superior. Take away the lockout year, and Backes has put up point totals of 62, 54, 57 and 58 in his last four full seasons. Now, about those playoffs….
What the future holds: 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’s Blues reporter maintains that the Blues have no intention of trading Backes and will talk extension this summer.

8. 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 coming off arguably his best season, scoring a career-high 62 points, helping the Jets into the post-season, and getting nominated alongside the likes of Ryan Getzlaf and Jonathan Toews for the Mark Messier Leadership Award.
Career curve: Consistent. Since leaving the Blackhawks, Ladd has played a major role on a weaker team. The captain can be counted on for about 20 goals and 30 assists annually.
What the future holds: did an in-depth analysis of Ladd’s value and estimated his next deal should fetch in the range of $7 million per season for a four-year deal or $6.25 million per season over seven years.

9. Brent Seabrook *RE-SIGNED
Age on July 1, 2016: 31
Position: Defence
2015-16 salary cap hit: $5.8 million
Bargaining chip: Helped Chicago win three Stanley Cups and Team Canada win an Olympic gold medal. Plays well with Duncan Keith.
Career curve: Dependable. Seabrook rarely misses a game, consistently produces at a 30-points-plus pace, and elevates his game come spring.
Future decided: Chicago named Seabrook an alternate captain, filling the void left by Patrick Sharp, then re-signed him to an eight-year, $54.8-million contract on Sept. 26.

10. Erik Johnson *RE-SIGNED
Age on July 1, 2016: 28
Position: Defence
2015-16 salary cap hit: $3.75 million
Bargaining chip: Silver medallist for Team USA at the 2010 Games. Best defenceman in Colorado.
Career curve: Hitting his prime. When Johnson was named to the 2015 All-Star Game, he was leading all NHL D-men in goals. A knee injury cut short his best season.
Future decided: The Avalanche inked Johnson to a seven-year, $42-million extension on Sept. 22.

11. Ryan Kesler *RE-SIGNED
Age on July 1, 2016: 31
Position: Centre
2015-16 salary cap hit: $5 million
Bargaining chip: Everyone hates playing against Ryan Kelser.
Career curve: Role readjustment. Though we’ll never see the Kesler who once scored 41 goals and threw up back-to-back 70-point seasons with Vancouver, he’s pretty much what every team wants in a second-line, two-way centre: scores, agitates, plays D, and makes smart, hard plays. His 2015 playoff performance (13 points in 15 games) was inspired.
Future decided: On July 15, Anaheim locked up Kesler with a massive, six-year, $41.25-million extension that takes him through 2021-22.

12. Jiri Hudler
Age on July 1, 2016: 32
Position: Right wing/centre
2015-16 salary cap hit: $4 million
Bargaining chip: Has great chemistry with young studs Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau. Just won the Lady Byng Trophy.
Career curve: On the rise. After he won the Lady Byng in June, Hudler said he wanted to be to Calgary what Henrik Zetterberg is to Detroit. He’s fully embraced a leadership role with the Flames’ young forwards and finished eighth overall in NHL scoring with a career-best 76 points. The guy is dressing-room gold.
What the future holds: Who knows? The acquisition of free-agent right wing Michael Frolik this summer has led some to believe Hudler could turn into trade bait, but he was such a good fit in 2014-15, we’re not convinced. GM Brad Treliving would be selling high if he decides to go that route.

13. Kyle Okposo
Age on July 1, 2016: 28
Position: Right wing
2015-16 salary cap hit: $2.8 million
Bargaining chip: A slam-dunk for 20 goals if he’s healthy. Nice chemistry with franchise centre John Tavares.
Career curve: In his prime. Okposo has averaged 0.92 points per game over the last two seasons.
What the future holds: With the Islanders flush with forwards who can tally up points, there were reports around 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. “Every contract has a last year to it, so I don’t feel we have any pressure or timetable that a move has to happen this offseason,” Snow told Staple. “Every team has players with expiring contracts. If a move presents itself that will help both in the short and long term, we’ll take a look at it.”

14. 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.
Career curve: On high. Russell has not only been a important stay-at-home cog in what is turning into one of the West’s most formidable defence corps, he scored a career-best 34 points in 2014-15 and added another seven in 11 playoff games.
What the future holds: Poor Treliving. He must make big decisions on three of his best players — Giordano, Hudler and Russell — this year. No word yet on talks, as Russell’s agent probably won’t bother with a phone call until Giordano’s deal gets settled.

15. Milan Lucic
Age on July 1, 2016: 28
Position: Left wing
2015-16 salary cap hit: $2.5 million
Bargaining chip: A Stanley Cup champion who stays healthy, irritates the opposition and, in a perfect world, can score you 30 goals.
Career curve: Declining — but that could be a product of playing for a great team on the slide. The trade from Boston to L.A. should refresh Lucic, who underwhelmed with just 18 goals and 26 assists in 2014-15.
What the future holds: The Kings’ salary cap issues are well-known. Let’s see how Lucic fits into coach Darryl Sutter’s strategy before we make any guesses here.

16. Tomas Plekanec *RE-SIGNED
Age on July 1, 2016: 33
Position: Centre
2015-16 salary cap hit: $5 million
Bargaining chip: Seven 20-goal seasons for the Montreal Canadiens. Solely responsible for keeping turtleneck business afloat.
Career curve: Second wind. Plekanec, a productive pivot on a team in need of them, is coming off his first 60-point season in five years. He also finished 15th in Selke voting, an acknowledgment of his two-way game.
Future decided: After a perfect 5-0 start, Plekanec and the Habs recommitted on Oct. 16 for two more years at an average annual salary of $6 million. Note that Plekanec’s contract extension does not include trade protection.

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