When the Tampa Bay Lightning want to re-sign one of their own players, they usually don’t waste any time.
When you look at the Lightning’s core, it’s clear they go out of their way to lock up their players early. Anthony Cirelli, Brandon Hagel, Nikita Kucherov, Erik Cernak, Brayden Point, Victor Hedman, Mikhail Sergachev and Andrei Vasilevskiy all signed a year ahead of being UFA eligible, so there was never much doubt or discussion about their futures with the team.
Curiously, Steven Stamkos hasn’t been one of those players. Eligible to be a UFA at the end of this season, Stamkos started training camp by expressing how he felt about still being without a new contract.
“To be honest, I’m disappointed in the lack of talk in that regard,” Stamkos said Wednesday. “It was something that I expressed at the end of last year that I wanted to get something done before training camp started.”
This isn’t the first time the Lightning have slow-played Stamkos’s contract talks. In 2016, Stamkos was just three days away from becoming an unrestricted free agent before he and Tampa came to an agreement on an eight-year extension.
This time, there will be other factors at play. For one, Stamkos will turn 34 years old during this season, so his aging curve will be considered. With the cap set to rise, his number will be interesting in that context as well. And, of course, behind all this is a still highly productive player who scored 34 goals and 84 points last season.
“That to me is a big, big shot across the bow,” Elliotte Friedman said on 32 Thoughts: The Podcast, about Stamkos’ training camp quotes.
“I know people who are around Stamkos, and I’m talking about other players, and a few of them told me there was this underlying belief around them that Tampa wouldn’t be crushed if he left.”
The Lightning begin this season again right up tight to the cap and Stamkos will by far be their best player on an expiring contract in July. But even though the cap is set to start rising again, Tampa has to be mindful of other deals on the horizon, and how they could quickly absorb any new space. For instance, Victor Hedman will need a new deal by 2025.
Friedman believes Stamkos’s goal is to play 20 NHL seasons, which means another five including 2023-24. But will they all be with Tampa?
“I think the Lightning are going to say to him ‘look you’re going to be a Lightning forever. When you’re done you’re getting your number retired and we’ll give you any honour, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to let you get there at a number we don’t think is reasonable.'”
ARE THE SENS GETTING ANY CLOSER WITH RFA SHANE PINTO?
It’s never great to start training camp without RFAs signed, but the Senators opened without Shane Pinto, the 20-goal-scoring third-line centre.
Complicating things is that Ottawa is right up against the cap. Pinto had an AAV of $1.325 million on his last contract and so will not come in under that. In fact, since he won’t accept his qualifying offer, Pinto’s extension would be expected to come in somewhat higher.
“This whole idea about Pinto being close: they only have a million in cap room right now so it can’t be close because there’s no way Pinto’s taking a million dollars.”
So the Sens will have to make some other trade before Pinto’s dollars work, but they’d prefer to not have to move Pinto himself. For one, he comes together with Tim Stutzle and Josh Norris to make an excellent three-deep group of centres that could win a lot of games. For another, Norris is starting camp in a non-contact jersey and won’t play the first two pre-season games. While Norris is expected to be ready to start the season, his concerning recent injury history means Ottawa’s 3C may have to be at the ready to move up to the second line — and Pinto would be able to do that seamlessly.
“I think Ottawa’s made it very clear that barring a situation that absolutely forces them to trade Shane Pinto — and I’m curious to see what that would take — they’re not trading him. They want to keep him.”
One trade candidate whose name keeps popping up as a possibility to alleviate Ottawa’s cap issue is Mathieu Joseph, who makes $2.95 million for another three seasons. The Senators would probably have to add a sweetener in any deal (like a pick or prospect) and Friedman reported that the Flyers have been buzzing around the situation.
CAN THE AVALANCHE MAKE IT WORK WITH DEVON TOEWS?
One of the best trades in recent years was Colorado’s acquisition of Devon Toews from the New York Islanders in 2020 for two second-round picks. Since then, Toews has emerged as one of the best defencemen in the league, so much so that he was expected to be a Team Canada member if NHLers went to the last Olympic Games.
Making $4.1 million against the salary cap, Toews has been one of the best values in the league as well. That should come to an end next season though, as Toews is scheduled to be a UFA in July. He could chase big dollars on the open market, or try to fit into the Avs’ contract structure to chase more Stanley Cups, but either way, his next number will come in much higher.
Upon returning for training camp, Toews noted that he’d like to stay in Colorado, but would prefer negotiations not continue into the regular season.
“My history with quotes like that is if it’s going positively they’ll keep talking into the season, if it’s not going positively they’re going to stop,” Friedman said.
“Toews knows this: he can make more money on the open market than he will in Colorado. The Avalanche are not going to pay him what another team out there can pay him because they’re trying to win a Stanley Cup again and they want to do it for a while and so there’s a limit to what they’re going to do.”
Friedman explained that we should get an idea if the two sides are relatively close, or very far apart, before long.
“We’ll see how long they continue to try. If they don’t negotiate into the season that says to me they aren’t close.”
IF BACKLUND RE-SIGNS IN CALGARY DOES IT COME WITH THE CAPTAINCY?
All eyes in Calgary this season are on their big five UFAs: Mikael Backlund, Noah Hanifin, Elias Lindholm, Chris Tanev and Nikita Zadorov.
After missing the playoffs last season there was a lot of negativity in this market, and doubt about the future. They return with a new GM (Craig Conroy) and head coach (Ryan Huska) and it shouldn’t be underestimated how that could help refresh the situation. Friedman wrote in this week’s 32 Thoughts column that some players came back with positive mindsets and that there was a chance some potential outlooks may have changed over the summer months.
Backlund may be the key to keeping all, or most, of the group. Flames players believe Backlund is the natural pick to be the next team captain if he chooses to stay. Might that be part of a contract pitch?
“I think they are talking…and I do believe Backlund has indicated he’s willing to stay,” Friedman said on the podcast.
“It would not surprise me in the least bit if the Flames are saying ‘if you get this done you’re our captain.’ I don’t know they’re doing that, but it wouldn’t surprise me in the least bit. It makes sense.”
While Friedman noted it didn’t appear as though any extension was imminent, it’s a situation to watch and could change in an instant.
“I think there’s something here to keep an eye on when it comes to Backlund,” Friedman explained. “I think he now wants to stay and the Flames want it to happen.”