NHL Free Agent Rumors: 5 Teams Targeting Budding Superstar Steven Stamkos

Mike Shannon@@DLman91Featured ColumnistMay 3, 2011

NHL Free Agent Rumors: 5 Teams Targeting Budding Superstar Steven Stamkos

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    PITTSBURGH, PA - APRIL 27:  Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning skates against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on April 27, 2011 in Pi
    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    Tampa Bay is currently up 3-0 on the Washington Capitals, but it is never too early to look ahead and see what the coming offseason has in store for us.

    It's no secret that Steven Stamkos is an emerging superstar in the league.  While he might not be ready for the "best in the world" label that was placed on his earlier this year, he certainly is going to draw a good deal of attention when his contract expires at the end of the year.

    Now obviously, this list excludes the Tampa Bay Lightning because it's no secret that they are going move mountains in order to resign the young goal scorer.  As a restricted free agent, Tampa has the right to match any offer that Stamkos receives, although I'm sure they would like to lock him up before July 1st rolls around.

    But what fun would it be just to say Stamkos is going to resign with his current team?  Here are five teams with the desire and capability to take a run at the 21-year-old Richard trophy winner.

No. 5: Toronto Maple Leafs

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    TORONTO, CANADA - NOVEMBER 30:  Luke Schenn #2 of the Toronto Maple Leafs defends against Steven Stamkos #91of the Tampa Bay Lightning during game action November 30, 2010 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Im
    Abelimages/Getty Images

    To put it mildly, the Toronto Maple Leafs are going through a bit of a rough phase.  A crown jewel of the Original Six, Toronto hasn't won a Stanley Cup since 1967 and seems stuck in the Eastern Conference's bottom half.

    Maybe the offensive game plan of "Phil Kessel skates up right wing and shoots, Phil Kessel skates up left wing and shoots, Phil Kessel skates up center ice and shoots" isn't working as well as they thought.

    Anyway, you know GM Brian Burke has at least thought about taking a run a Stamkos.  The problem is, as a restricted free agent, Stamkos might cost a team up to four first-round picks to sign.  Is that really worth the risk for a team like Toronto who is trying to rebuild?

    Burke should have about $10 million to work with under the cap, and possibly $13 million if the cap is raised as expected.  Tampa Bay has reportedly offered Stamkos a little over $6 million per year.  Does Burke really think Stamkos is worth more than $7 million per year?

    I can guarantee this, though: Toronto citizens would buy a ton of Stamkos jerseys.

    Keep in mind, though, that Toronto is always rumored to be going after free agents.

No. 4: Nashville Predators

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    RALEIGH, NC - JANUARY 29:  Phil Kessel #81 of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Shea Weber #6 of the Nashville Predators and Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning look on during the Honda NHL SuperSkills competition part of 2011 NHL All-Star Weekend at the
    Harry How/Getty Images

    The Nashville Predators won their first playoff series in franchise history this season and possess the best defensive corps in the entire NHL.  Adding Steven Stamkos to a roster that is flush with young talent in front of Pekka Rinne could actually mark a huge swing in power in the Western Conference.

    The only problem with this scenario is that Shea Weber is also a restricted free agent, and it's no secret he's going to get a bump in salary from the $4.5 million he currently makes

    However, Nashville is going to have some wiggle room under the cap with a projected $18 million to sign various free agent forwards and their defensive superstar.

    Some creative contract maneuvering could help Nashville sneak in the back door on Stamkos, and that would definitely put the rest of the West on notice.

No. 3: New York Rangers

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    NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 23:  Ruslan Fedotenko #19 and Brian Boyle #22 of the New York Rangers check Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning during the third period of an NHL hockey game at Madison Square Garden on December 23, 2010 in New York City.
    Paul Bereswill/Getty Images

    You always have to consider the New York Rangers when a big-name free agent hits the market because they always seem willing to overpay for talent.

    The Rangers are going to be faced with the following players hitting some form of free agency after this season:  Alexander Frolov, Vaclav Prospal, Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, Ruslan Fedetenko, Artem Anisimov, Brian Boyle, Bryan McCabe, Matt Gilroy and Steve Eminger.

    Needless to say, the Rangers aren't going to be keeping all those guys.  If you take a look at their salary cap situation, you'll notice...Oh my God Chris Drury makes seven million dollars per year!

    Sorry, lost my cool there for a second.

    *Ahem* Anyway, New York will have a little over $16 million to resign their players (presumably Callahan and Dubinsky at least) before hitting the market for other needs.

    Could Steven Stamkos handle the huge market of New York City along with a huge contract?  The Rangers haven't had much luck with big contracts before, but that hasn't slowed them down.

No. 2: Buffalo Sabres

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    BUFFALO, NY - APRIL 05: Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning skates in on Jhonas Enroth #1 of the Buffalo Sabres  at HSBC Arena on April 5, 2011 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    Anyone who watched the NHL Playoffs this year knows two things:  Ryan Miller is really, really good and Buffalo struggles to score.

    What would solve that problem better than a young 50-goal scorer?

    The Sabres are going to be experiencing some turnover next year since they have to concentrate on resigning their own star, Drew Stafford, to a long-term deal.

    However, Connolly, Grier and Niedermeyer could be gone, freeing up more cap room and possibly allowing Buffalo to at least take a look at Stamkos.

    The deciding point for the Sabres will be if they think they can win now.  If you aren't sure, the last thing you want to do is compromise your future by giving up four first-round picks for the "privilege" of paying someone $7 million.

No. 1: Edmonton Oilers

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    DENVER, CO - FEBRUARY 23:  Taylor Hall #4 of the Edmonton Oilers celebrates his second period goal against the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center on February 23, 2011 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Hey, why not?

    The Oilers have a good young corps of players in Taylor Hall, Sam Gagner and Jordan Eberle. Plus, they have boatloads of cap room (nearly $24 million projected) from being in rebuilding mode.

    While they might lose some fringe players this coming offseason, the core of the team is going to remain signed, and good things seem to be brewing in Western Canada.

    Why not at least make a run at Stamkos then?  You have the cap room, the young talent and the fanbase to make it all happen.

    Sure, building around a team of entirely young guys is a definite risk, but that's what the Penguins did in their cup run in 2009.  Compliment a team of young players with solid veterans and good goaltending.

    There are always veterans available on the market who can contribute and, if he can recover from offseason surgery, Nikolai Khabibulin would be serviceable in net.