Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
While he may be a Restricted Free Agent, the 21-year-old superstar is still likely to draw a lot of attention come July 1 if he isn't re-signed by the cap-strapped Lightning. Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman has promised to match any offer for his Rocket Richard Trophy winning center, but the franchise's financial status could impact his ability to follow through on that pledge. The Lightning currently have nearly $27M committed to five players signed through 2014-2015, all of whom have no-trade or no-movement clauses.
With about $20M in available cap space and at least six roster spots to fill (including both a starting and backup goaltender), Yzerman is going to be hard-pressed to match a massive offer sheet for Stamkos (either in terms of cap hit or total contract value). Negotiations between the two sides have reportedly reached an impasse, and Yzerman may consider moving his prized centerman for a package of picks and NHL-ready prospects rather than be forced to accept the four first round picks mandated as compensation by the NHL CBA.
Despite the cap crunch faced by the Lightning, I'm going to say that Stamkos returns to Tampa Bay for at least three more seasons. Stamkos has a great situation in Tampa, playing alongside one of the best passers in the game in Martin St. Louis and an upper echelon power forward in Ryan Malone. With Vinny Lecavalier, Eric Brewer, Mattias Ohlund, Victor Hedman and Steve Downie, the Lightning have a nice mix of youth, size, speed and skill and represent a very favorable situation for the young superstar.
Another Possibility: Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers have already jettisoned two franchise players in Jeff Carter and Mike Richards this offseason, leaving many wondering what GM Paul Holmgren has up his sleeve. One possibility which has been discussed involves making an offer to Stamkos. The Flyers do have some cap room, but any competitive offer would require them to (at least) shed Matt Carle's $3.43 million salary and not re-sign Ville Leino. The Flyers would then be in a position to offer Stamkos a competitive contract, believed to be in the 12 to 14 year range and worth an estimated $80 million to $105 million.
While the cap hit would likely be a manageable $7 million-$8.5 million, the deal could be heavily front-loaded, which may make it near-impossible for Lightning GM Yzerman to match the deal while retaining players like Vinny Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis due to the Lightning's ownership group losing a reported $20 million-plus in 2010-2011.
While I don't think Stamkos will end up in the City of Brotherly Love at this time, Paul Holmgren is known around the league as one of its most creative and resourceful GMs. If anyone can pull of a coup d'etat of this magnitude, its him.