Steven Stamkos is in for a huge raise, but talks with the Tampa Bay Lightning have not yet resulted in a new deal. (Chris O'Meara/Associated Press)
So, here we are, days before July 1, and Tampa fans are apoplectic about Steven Stamkos, worrying some other team will swoop in and steal their franchise player with an offer sheet.
But here's the question: Can anyone really see a scenario where Stamkos is not in Tampa for the 2011-12 season?
That's a dangerous question to ask, considering less than a week ago, Philadelphia threw the hockey world on its ear by dealing both Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. Just when you think you've got everything figured out, someone in the NHL blows a curveball right by.
In the past few days, both Stamkos and Lightning hockey czar Steve Yzerman sounded optimistic about a deal getting done. Erik Erlendsson of the Tampa Tribune reported talks (including Stamkos agent Don Meehan) will resume Tuesday.
But, let's just assume, for a second, they can't make a deal. And, come noon (ET) on July 1, any team that still possesses their own first-round picks for the next 100 years decides to try and steal Stamkos. (Remember, under the CBA, teams who have traded their first-rounders are not eligible to do this. Offer sheets cannot include picks acquired from another team.)
The biggest risk for Yzerman and the organization is losing control of the new contract's structure. They will be at the mercy of whatever creative attempt some other GM comes up with. There is also the possibility the offering team may not even believe it's going to get Stamkos, but is simply trying to cause Tampa cap trouble - like the Sharks did last summer with Niklas Hjalmarsson.
It may also prevent Yzerman from doing other business, since he won't know the exact amount of his superstar's salary.
However, absolutely none of that means the Lightning wouldn't match any offer. Under the CBA, the largest contract Stamkos can be offered is $12.86 million per season - 20 per cent of the cap. Let's assume that's not going to happen since Hal Steinbrenner, Dan Snyder and Frank McCourt don't own NHL teams (although, with all that cap room, wonder if cross-state rival Florida would dare to try something).
But, even if another team does throw some wild contract at Stamkos, you have to believe Yzerman would plug his nose and match. Stamkos has 96 goals over the past two seasons. There probably aren't five NHL players you'd trade him for. There's no guarantee you'd be able to draft an adequate replacement.
After the incredible goodwill Yzerman and owner Jeff Vinik created following the "Reign of Error," losing Stamkos would be like inviting two surgically altered non-hockey fans on stage to pronounce Martin St. Louis' name wrong. (Oh, wait...)
The most important thing about this, however, is that I believe, first and foremost, Steven Stamkos wants to win. This is a guy who took a puck to the face in Game 7 against Boston and came back. Maybe he feels his market value is greater than what Tampa's offering, but that's a long way from wanting a cap-busting deal that prevents a Stanley Cup contender from being built. Is he going to want to sign an offer sheet that will devastate a team's chances?
When you want to win and you're happy in your situation, you find a way. Maybe Yzerman, Meehan and Stamkos let some other GM finish the work. But, what are the chances this story ends too far away from Clearwater Beach?
1) Steve Montador was traded by the Flames to Florida on December 2, 2005. He played 114 games for Calgary, including 20 in the magical playoff run of 2004. After his departure, he received a handwritten note from Harley Hotchkiss.
"He thanked me for my time in Calgary, and wished me the best in the future," Montador said last season. "I wasn't the biggest name, and the fact he took the time to do that meant a lot to me." I didn't know Mr. Hotchkiss too well, but can't think of a better tribute.
2) Brooks Laich gets $27 million over six years, which shows how much the Capitals value him. I get the sense the Capitals feel they have to be more "Canadian," for lack of a better term. Now, we'll see comparisons between him and other players in a similar salary range, but this is all about leverage. In this thin free-agent crop, Laich had it. That, more than anything else, determines your contract.
3) With Laich off the market, interest in Tomas Fleischmann just went up. His agent, Richard Evans, will present information that Fleischmann's blood clot returned only after he went off the medication (He went off the medication with a doctor's permission). From now on, Fleischmann will continue taking the medication.
4) A couple of things to remember as free agency begins. First, teams can go over the max by 10 per cent (that's $6.43 million during the offseason). Second, all bonuses count immediately against the cap next season (whether they are reached or not), and that's how some lower-spending teams will hit the floor.
5) A few people asked if other teams can talk to Tyler Kennedy now that Pittsburgh didn't qualify him. The answer is no. You can't talk to anyone who didn't receive a qualifying offer until July 1. However, RFAs that received one can talk to other teams about offer sheets. They just can't sign until Friday.
6) Before the Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee votes Tuesday, I hope it reached out to the Burns family. How would it feel about Pat Burns being inducted this year?
7) My ballot (I don't have a vote) has Fred Shero on it every year. Players: Ed Belfour, Joe Nieuwendyk, Doug Gilmour, Adam Oates.
8) When I backed Nick Kypreos last week in saying Ilya Bryzgalov was coming in around $7 million/year, I'd been told he was about to sign a seven-year, $51 million deal. I was right about the money and the fact he was going to sign, but wrong, obviously, about the term. That's a pretty bad mistake in a cap world a difference of $1.4 million per year so I'll take the heat for that one. No one's mistake but my own.
9) When Philadelphia fell behind Boston 3-0 in the second round, one individual said to me, "Here's a 30 Thought for you: how about the Flyers without Carter and Richards next year?" I said, "I'm not writing that. I'm going to look like an idiot." I was as astonished as anyone else, but it's clear Philly was quietly considering the possibility for awhile. This was not a snap decision.
10) Most common reaction heard from NHL people: Some combination of "For better or worse, the Flyers are fearless" or "Paul Holmgren has big brass ones." But, I am surprised by how many opponents (including a couple in the Atlantic) thought the Flyers will be better. There is a belief, though, Philly will soon lead the league in no-trade/no-move clauses because of how Richards and Carter were treated.
11) Half the league is convinced the Flyers are going after Brad Richards - hard. (I'm still wondering about Detroit making a run at him, especially since Valtterri Filppula appears available in a trade.)
12) Carter took a lot of abuse for the way he handled it, but I'll defend him. It's not the middle of the season, he's not missing games, so what's wrong with going into the cone of silence so you don't say something you regret? There was zero chance of him not reporting.
13) Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson made it very clear Ryan Johansen was not going to be part of the trade. Asked if Johansen will be in Columbus next season, Howson said, "It's possible, but not as a top six forward."
14) It is no coincidence that the Kings are led by a bunch of ex-Flyers: Dean Lombardi, Ron Hextall, Terry Murray and John Stevens, who is arguably the biggest Mike Richards fan alive.
15) Final note on Philly: Other teams were just rolling their eyes when Sean Couturier fell to them. "Every year, there is one player who gets picked apart for no good reason," said one scout. "This year, he's the guy." One Eastern Conference exec said, "We were saying beforehand that someone picking 6-10 was going to get a steal with him. We were hoping it would be a Western team, though." Another scout: "The Flyers are really good with French players. That will help Couturier, too."
16) The whole Ryan Smyth-to-Calgary thing didn't make sense. The Flames trade Robyn Regehr's $4.02 million cap hit to get out of salary-cap "jail," according to GM Jay Feaster, then re-sign Alex Tanguay at $3.5 million per - and you have to think they had a good idea what that number was going to be for awhile. Was Smyth's $6.25 truly a fit? Or, was it a leak to ratchet up the pressure on Edmonton?
17) One Western coach said the trade was the best thing for Regehr: "He'll be re-energized and better." Several players who've gone from West to East add that kind of move can extend your career, because the travel is so much easier and the play is not as physical.
18) Another GM on the Brent Burns trade: "I'll give Chuck Fletcher credit for that one. He addressed his biggest weaknesses (scoring, lack of offensively talented youth) through his biggest strength (a group of good young defencemen)." The Wild clearly weren't comfortable with where Burns' salary may go after next season. He's unrestricted.
19) Mike Babcock told The Hockey News' Ken Campbell that the Sharks getting Burns was "a gold medal pick. I'm pissed off." The biggest concern about Burns? His concussion history. That scared a couple of teams. But not the Sharks, who are really going for it in 2011-12. Curious to see who the Sharks go after to plug the vacancy left by moving Devin Setoguchi.
20) Met Nikita Filatov last year in Russia. He looks like he should be a star. Tall, wiry, very strong, there is no good physical reason why he shouldn't be great. Here's the thing Ottawa must teach him that Columbus couldn't get through his head: "There's a big difference between being a great talent and a great player," as one former Blue Jacket said.
21) Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford is not usually big on drafting young defencemen with high picks, because he thinks they take longer to develop. But he tried to trade for a second first-rounder last season when Cam Fowler fell and did get Ryan Murphy this time. Said one Ontario-based scout, "For the next 15 years, you're going to hear, 'Carolina power play goal scored by Jeff Skinner, assisted by Ryan Murphy.'"
22) There were a couple teams picking in the 20s trying to move into the 12-15 spot to snare Mark Scheifele. Those plans were ruined when Winnipeg took him seventh. "You have to remember, one year ago, he was playing Junior B. Great pickup," a scout said.
23) Message received: The Detroit Red Wings want to be a bigger team.
24) It did not go unnoticed that a couple of teams selected older Swedes, such as Klas Dahlbeck (79th Chicago) and Magnus Nygren (113th Montreal). Dahlbeck turns 20 next week, while Nygren just turned 21. It's rare to see that. One scout called it "the Red Wing effect. Detroit found a few older players who were very good, and now everyone's looking for late bloomers."
25) The rich get richer: Boston. The Bruins get Dougie Hamilton ninth, and Alexander Khokhlachev in the second. Khoklachev (or "The Windsor Kid" to people who can't pronounce his last name) has game-changing skill. A lot of NHL teams are scared of Russians because of the threat to go home, but the Bruins took a chance. One scout: "The knock on him was that he didn't bring it every night, but this was his first season in North America. Russians aren't used to our schedules. Let's see how he looks in a year or two, because he has the potential to be special."
26) Other second-round picks who stood out: Rocco Grimaldi (33rd, Florida) and Boone Jenner (37th, Columbus). "At a time when character is so important, I'm surprised Jenner fell that far," one scout said. (I should point out that all these quotes aren't from the same guy.)
27) Continuing concern: the low amount of Czechs and Slovaks being drafted. Apparently, more people in those countries are registered to play floorball than hockey. (The unbelievable Mikael Granlund goal from the Worlds? Floorball move called "zoroing," I've been told.)
28) Dumbest story of the week: people complaining about how much the Bruins spent on their Stanley Cup party. Hey, if me and 25 co-workers achieved the greatest success possible in our profession, I'd celebrate to the fullest, too. They left a good tip, so who cares?
29) The lengthy travel in the Stanley Cup Final led to some suggestions hockey adopt the NBA's 2-3-2 Final format. The NHL did try that in the 1994 playoffs as Toronto faced both San Jose and Vancouver, with the Maple Leafs complaining those middle three games eradicated their home-ice advantage. So, it didn't last.
30) The NHL Awards show is a total no-win for the person who hosts it. But the mispronunciations drive me crazy, because it makes the league look bush. Jon Hamm is an A-list hockey fan with a great sense of humour ("O-M-G, I am O-L-D.") Love to see him do it. Maybe there's a "Sergio" skit in there, too.
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