Top Trades, Landing Spots for Steven Stamkos
All certainly seems right with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The team erased a colossal 2018-19 playoff disappointment with the second Stanley Cup in franchise history late last month and, even in an era of pandemic-prompted salary-cap freezes, seems stocked with enough high-end talent to remain long-term relevant in the Eastern Conference and beyond.
But there's an uneasy feeling in the air nevertheless.
When TSN's Bob McKenzie reported that Julien BriseBois was looking to navigate a particularly treacherous cap situation by offloading salaries, he added that the Lightning general manager considered four currently rostered players as untouchables: Conn Smythe winner Victor Hedman, goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy and forwards Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point, who finished first and second in playoff scoring, respectively.
What you might notice is that Steven Stamkos, who's been with the team since his draft selection in 2008 and was first to skate the Stanley Cup around the bubble ice at Edmonton's Rogers Place, isn't on that list.
The veteran captain was essentially lost for the season after undergoing surgery to repair a core muscle in early March. He logged less than three minutes of ice time in the entire playoff run, scoring a goal in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final but otherwise not contributing as the team went 16-6 in the postseason.
He's signed for four more seasons at $8.5 million per year, but given that he's 30, coming back from a significant injury and on a Lightning team that just won a championship without him, the question naturally arises: Is he on the trading block?
The B/R ice hockey team was predictably happy to take that one on, concocting a list of five teams that'd make sense—for reasons specified on their individual slides—for BriseBois to ring up if he decides it's time to move on from his pricey captain.
Take a look at what we came up with and let us know what you think in the comments section.
OK, we'll admit it. We're just having a little fun with this one.
The Buffalo Sabres haven't been relevant on a league-wide level in years, but they did strike the most surprising blow in free agency when they got former MVP Taylor Hall to agree to a one-year, $8 million pact.
The acquisition pairs Hall with budding superstar Jack Eichel and gives some hope to fans of a franchise in possession of the sport's most dubious title: most consecutive seasons missing the playoffs.
Incidentally, the count is up to nine.
Anyway, considering the Blue and Gold opened the vault for Hall and still have better than $13 million in cap space, why not go all-in on a Stanley Cup champ whose hometown happens to be two hours from the rink?
It'd probably take some draft picks and a solid prospect to even get the phone call started, so we'll suggest Buffalo general manager Kevyn Adams offer Dylan Cozens, a 19-year-old center taken seventh overall in 2019 who projects in the NHL as a Leon Draisaitl- or Joe Pavelski-type power forward.
And if it feels right, maybe a bucket of wings to seal the deal.
The Colorado Avalanche were expecting some big things this free-agent season.
Neither panned out, but that doesn't mean Colorado is completely out of ideas.
At least one rumor-monger out there cited an executive from a Western Conference team who'd not be surprised if the Avalanche kicked the tires on trading for Stamkos, with the idea that he'd be amenable to waiving a no-trade clause to enable the deal to get done.
General manager Joe Sakic is a former superstar player, and his roster is filled to the brim with young talent, particularly MVP finalist Nathan MacKinnon, which could be a good fit for a veteran presence like Stamkos.
Defenseman Bowen Byram was picked fourth overall in 2019 and could be paired with a future draft pick and an existing player to even out the financials—perhaps forward J.T. Compher ($3.5 million per year)—given that Colorado has $5.9 million in available cap space.
Who knows? It might even be enough to get Sakic out of retirement.
New York Rangers
This one might still be tough for New York Rangers diehards to recollect.
After all, Stamkos was nearly brought to Broadway during the center's rookie season in 2008-09, according to a story told by then-general manager Glen Sather, who said a deal was agreed to by both sides before ultimately getting shot down by ownership.
The idea of a move to New York was discussed again when Stamkos in 2016, but he eventually signed the eight-year, $68 million contract from which BriseBois may be trying to wriggle away.
So why not give it a "third time's the charm" shot?
Considering the Lightning still have restricted free agents like Mikhail Sergachev and Anthony Cirelli to deal with, they may be willing to revisit old conversations with new general manager Jeff Gorton, who'd surely like to add Stamkos to the likes of Artemi Panarin and Alexis Lafreniere and has prospects to burn.
New York has better than $10.8 million in cap space to play with, too, so throw in next year's first-rounder and a youngster of Tampa Bay's choosing, and Stamkos might have a chance to follow-up a Hillsborough River boat parade with some midtown Manhattan ticker-tape.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Stamkos clearly loves Tampa.
He was drafted there, re-signed as a free agent there and won a title there.
But if it's true that he's being shopped around, there's no place like home.
Toronto pulled out all the stops to land its local hero before he went back to the Lightning in 2016, and there's little reason to believe it wouldn't at least make an offer if he's available this offseason.
Childhood friend John Tavares was drafted a year after Stamkos and wound up with the Maple Leafs as a free agent when he signed a seven-year, $77 million contract in 2018. Add in 23-year-old goal-scoring prodigy Auston Matthews and playmaking winger Mitch Marner, also 23, and you've got the sort of young, talented roster that would guarantee Stamkos several chances at doubling his collection of championship jewelry.
Problem is, Toronto is in a similarly challenging spot when it comes to cap space, which means it'd have to ditch some salary elsewhere—maybe William Nylander ($6.96 million) or Frederik Andersen ($5 million)—and have the Lightning eat a portion to make it work.
Unlikely, perhaps. But we'd pony up a few dozen Timbits, too, if it'd help.
Vegas Golden Knights
Think the Vegas Golden Knights are finished after getting Alex Pietrangelo?
Think again. Maybe.
Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman said the team was interested in Taylor Hall before he signed in Buffalo and has also sniffed around regarding Stamkos. He suggested the Lightning actually asked Stamkos to think about waiving his no-trade clause to open the door to a deal.
It'd take more bookkeeping maneuvers by the Golden Knights, who are tapped out on cap space but did move some salary—sending defenseman Nate Schmidt to the Vancouver Canucks—in order to get Pietrangelo.
And Vegas general manager Kelly McCrimmon is aware that chances to get truly transcendent talent are fleeting.
"We had what we believed was an incredibly rare opportunity to add an elite player," he said about the Pietrangelo acquisition, per Friedman.