There are only two days until the Free Agency period begins and one of the most highly touted players in hockey is yet to be signed. Tonight at 5 pm ET marks the time where teams may begin negotiating with other clubs’ RFA’s, although offer sheets cannot be officially submitted until Friday. Until this week, I was extremely hesitant regarding the idea that Steven Stamkos could be throwing on a jersey for any team in October other than the Lightning, but the fact that he is yet to be signed is plain shocking. Although, it is obvious that the Lightning would be prepared to match almost any offer sheet submitted, the team is still limited by the salary cap. Considering they’re a southern market, the Lightning have never been a franchise to spend right up to the cap and capgeek.com currently has them positioned at roughly $42-million under the cap with no goalie and only 15 players under contract. In the past two seasons the club has maintained a salary cap between $45-50-million, while coming out of this past season losing money after making the Conference Finals. This should be eye-catching to owner Jeff Vinik, the fact that the club made it to the final-4 and still couldn’t profit says something about the ability of this team to spend significant dollars on franchise players. The team currently has three players on their roster exceeding $4.5 mill and Stamkos will likely run the Lightning an additional $6-7.5 million. It may be a good hockey move, but as Mike Richards’ apparently hates to hear, “there’s also the business side of things”.
If Stamkos is unsigned by 5 pm today and his agent begins speaking with competing franchises, his value could skyrocket from its current (approximately) $7-mill per year. If a team is planning to make a ploy and offer Stamkos a contract in the neighbourhood of $8-10 million, his agent will hear about it first and I have a hard time believing that Lightning owner Jeff Vinik would be willing to divvy up that kind of cash only to potentially fall further in the hole for the duration of Stamkos’ contract. If the club does opt to retain Stamkos in this hypothetical scenario, look for the Lightning to attempt to move Lecavalier, St. Louis or Malone to make room for his new contract. I understand these players all have No movement Clauses, but we’ve seen how reliable those are lately (Carter, Campbell, Regher, Kaberle etc.) Either way, we’ll find out in a few days.
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