Monday, June 27, 2011

Steven Stamkos: Lightning? Flyers? Maple Leafs? Who Knows...

UPDATE: Read first Article "Stamkos on Flyers' Radar?" HERE

As July 1st nears, Tampa Bay has to decide whether they will be forced to trade the offensive dynamo or be willing to accept the offer sheet compensation. It looks like a deal before July 1st is unlikely.  

There is speculation that Tampa, who has around 20 million in cap space, will not be able to handle a large cap hit because of the internal financial problems. The Lightning have low ticket prices and low attendance, and despite the long playoff run is rumored to have finished this season well in the negatives.

If Tampa decides to match a Stamkos offer sheet, it is almost a given that they will have to move Vinny Lecavalier's $7.27 million dollar contract that expires in 2020 to stay afloat. 

GM Steve Yzerman has to decide whether keeping Stamkos, taking a throw away deal for Vinny (as his contract suggests) and risking the financials of his team is the best move. Or if the return for Stamkos is the best route.

If I am the GM, I match any offer. It's always safer to bet on a top 3 NHL player (especially when he is so young). But, GMs make mistakes, and if Stamkos isn't happy in Tampa Bay, Yzerman might have no choice but to make that mistake, lest he loss everything. 

I can see 5 different teams making a serious offer for Stamkos' rights or an offer sheet.

Toronto is most likely attempting to trade for Stamkos' rights, but will be prepared to make a big offer sheet when the time comes. Toronto is in need of a top line center, and someone who can turn Toronto around. Brian Burke has the guts to make a move like this, and go all in doing so. Plus, Stamkos is from the Toronto area.

Florida Panthers are buyers now. Tallon has finished with step 1 and step 2 of his rebuild mode (lose contracts, stack prospect pool). Now it is time for step 3: bring in experience vets and big names.  He has already brought in Brian Campbell, and will now be looking for more help. Florida has 40million in cap room and can offer a max offer sheet if they choose to, but will they be willing to pony up the 4 first round draft picks it will take to make that offer sheet? My gut tells me yes. They have a good amount of blue chip prospects--Bjugstad, Shore, Huberdeau, Gudbranson, Markstrom, Howden, Dadonov, etc.-- and can make the best of their 2nd and 3rd rounders. Plus, they can always trade for a 1st if they really like a certain player. 

Don't think that Florida would be against trying to trade for his rights also. But a trade that won't be easy to pull off as Tampa Bay would not be keen on trading Stamkos willingly within their division. As July 1st nears, they might not have a choice.

The Colorado Avalanche have been rumored to be shopping C Paul Stastny for a starting goalie. However, if they can not get a goalie, they may look to move him to Tampa Bay for Stamkos rights. A Stastny+ package may be the best Tampa would get. The Avalanche have enough cap space to handle his contract. With Stamkos, the Avalanche would be able to use younger pieces, that some teams may find more appealing, in a goalie deal later this summer or into the year. In the mean time they could woe a short term UFA goalie.

If the Stamkos drama isn't over by July 1st, don't expect Colorado to put in an offer sheet. They may not be willing to tie up assets on an offersheet that could be matched. Plus, they may also not be willing to part with the compensation.

Philadelphia Flyers have the ability to create the cap room to make an offer sheet deal with Stamkos, in the 7.5m to 9.5m cap hit range. There are a few problems for the Flyers though. The first is that the offersheet cap hit has to be above $7.5 million. The reason for this is that the lower levels have 2nd and 3rd draft picks in the compensation package, draft picks the Flyers do not have anymore. The CBA specifies that to make the offer to a RFA the team must have their own picks of the rounds required and that those picks must have never been traded. Above $7.5 million dollars, the compensation is 4 1st rounders, something the Flyers have and have never hesitated to trade. 

The second problem is that the Flyers do not have enough cap room to blow the Lightning away and force Tampa Bay to decline to match; or beat other teams offers. So instead, the Flyers must front load their offer, giving Stamkos high amounts in the first few years and low amounts in the last, to take advantage of TBL's money problem. TBL may be able to handle a 8 million cap hit, but not 12 million salary for the first 2 years. Also, since the Flyers will not be able to outbid the other teams looking for Stamkos, they have to sell him on the team and city. And they have to do it while fighting against his hometown team. 

If the New York Rangers miss out on Brad Richards, which is unlikely, expect them to offersheet Stamkos. They have $14 million in free cap space and are trying to create more by buying out Chris Drury's contract. The Rangers have been looking for their 1st line center for quite sometime, almost as long as Toronto. Also, if Philadelphia and Toronto are in on it, New York may get in on it just to hinder the other teams.

With a player like Steven Stamkos, you can expect all teams to want him. Some other teams that may be interested are Montreal, Ottawa and St. Louis (based purely on cap room, room in depth chart, players/prospects to move in a trade for his rights etc.)

Even though I believe at the end of the day, Tampa retains Stamkos, if I had to rank the prospective destinations for Stamkos if he were to leave Tampa... 

1) Toronto- hometown favorites
2) Florida - because they have the most money to spend
3) Philadelphia- nothing has gone wrong for them yet this year
4) New York- Big Apple may be attractive
 5) Colorado- have the pieces to move in a trade for rights

This is all speculative, as teams can not say whether they will/won't/want to give Stamkos an offer sheet. And all trade rumors for Stamkos have been so tight-lipped and vague it is hard to get any bit of real information.  But with the draft being over, what else is there to talk about? Let the speculation fly!

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