Players like Steven Stamkos don't come along in the NHL very often. They head to the market as free agents even less frequently.
Stamkos is undoubtedly the biggest free agent of the 2016 crop, and when healthy, he can be a spectacular offensive player. Stamkos has scored 312 goals in his first eight NHL seasons, all with the Tampa Bay Lightning, averaging 39 goals per season.
He has twice been over the 50-goal mark, peaking with 60 goals in 2011-12. A broken leg forced him out of the lineup in 2013-14, when he appeared in just 37 games, and a blood clot and subsequent surgery forced him to miss all but one game in this year's postseason.
The 26-year-old is a powerful force who can improve the talent level of any team's offense. His ability to release brilliant one-timers from the left side of the ice with his right-handed shot is a sight to behold, and his penchant for firing his wrist shot with pinpoint accuracy and quickness makes him a dynamic and consistent weapon.
Stamkos is undoubtedly on the minds of a number of teams, but the Detroit Red Wings allegedly cleared cap space for Stamkos by trading Pavel Datsyuk's contract to the Arizona Coyotes last week, according to NHL insider Darren Dreger.
While the Lightning and general manager Steve Yzerman have not written off Stamkos at this point, it would seem that the Red Wings and other teams are charging hard after him. Along with the Wings, the likely suitors include the Toronto Maple Leafs, Buffalo Sabres, Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadiens, Vancouver Canucks and New York Rangers, according to Brendan Savage of MLive.com.
Prediction: Yzerman will make the painful choice to let Stamkos move on. While Toronto is likely to make an exorbitant bid, look for Detroit or Boston to move to the front of the pack. The Red Wings will be the likely winners.
While Loui Eriksson does not have quite the same appeal as Stamkos, he is also a viable free-agent candidate.
Eriksson, who was acquired by the Boston Bruins in 2013 from the Dallas Stars in a trade involving Tyler Seguin, is coming off 30-goal, 33-assist season, and he has proved to be a player that Boston head coach Claude Julien trusts in key situations.
The Bruins have been talking with Eriksson about a contract extension, and while no deal has been made of yet, DJ Bean of WEEI 93.7 FM in Boston reported the Bruins are now willing to go beyond a four-year term to the contract.
That is significant because, according to Bean, the Bruins had been "reluctant to sign Eriksson for anything longer than four years." Still, the clock is ticking, and if the Bruins don't get a new deal done with Eriksson prior to July 1, he will be a popular free-agent target. The Los Angeles Kings are among the teams interested, according to David Pagnotta of The Fourth Period.
Prediction: The Bruins would like to keep Eriksson but they haven't shown a willingness to go beyond four years until recently. They will be a day late and several dollars short as the Kings get their man.
The New York Islanders appear to be facing a critical time frame as well, as 28-year-old Kyle Okposo looks set to head to free agency. Okposo is a tough, hard-nosed winger who is not afraid to plant himself in front of the net, take the physical abuse and still find a way to make a play.
The veteran forward scored 22 goals and 42 assists in 2015-16, and he scored 27 goals and 42 assists in 2013-14. Okposo appears to be in an advantageous position, because teams that are unable to secure Stamkos will likely to be interested in the Islanders winger as backup plan.
The Winnipeg Jets, St. Louis Blues, Minnesota Wild, Red Wings, Sabres and Kings have already been in touch with Okposo, according to Arthur Staple of Newsday.
Prediction: Okposo will almost certainly get a major offer from the Red Wings if they don't sign Stamkos. If they do, look for Okposo to sign with the Wild.