As nature abhors a vacuum, so the NHL media loathes the lack of news over the contract status of superstar. Such is the case of Steven Stamkos, whose future with the Tampa Bay Lightning remains a hot topic of conjecture.
Last June, Lightning GM Steve Yzerman claimed re-signing the 25-year-old Stamkos was his top priority. Nearly six months later, Stamkos remains unsigned while his camp and Lightning management remain tight-lipped over the status of contract talks. Apart from some quickly discredited pre-season buzz linking Stamkos to the Buffalo Sabres and Calgary Flames, there's no indication Yzerman is shopping his captain.
The longer Stamkos goes without a new deal from the Lighting, the more questions arise. The biggest concerns his relationship with coach Jon Cooper. The Toronto Sun's Mike Zeisberger wonders if Cooper's new contract with the Lightning will adversely affect the club's negotiations with Stamkos.
This suggestion first appeared during last spring's playoffs, when Cooper shifted Stamkos to left wing while giving Tyler Johnson the first-line center role. Zeisberger follows up by noting Stamkos recently played the last three games on left wing. He suggests this could give rise to further second-guessing over their relationship.
Meanwhile, Zeisberger's colleague Steve Simmons notes Stamkos' parents recently moved to the Tampa Bay area. He claims that has some folks believing the Bolts captain will be staying put.
The real issue, of course, is the cost of re-signing Stamkos. At a current cap hit of $7.5 million, it's widely assumed he'll seek at least a deal similar to the eight-year, $84-million deals ($10.5-million per season) of Chicago Blackhawks stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
It's been well documented that re-signing Stamkos to such a hefty deal could significantly affect the Lightning's efforts to retain other key players over the next two years. Those include goaltender Ben Bishop, defenseman Victor Hedman and forwards Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov.
So far, there's been no new trade rumors regarding Stamkos. Given the Lightning's puzzling offensive decline from first overall last season to 25th this season, he's been the only Bolts forward putting up points with reasonable consistency. With his club trying to get back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture, Yzerman won't ship out his best player now.
But if Stamkos isn't under contract leading up to the Feb. 29 trade deadline, his name will pop up more frequently in the rumor mill. If the Lightning haven't gained ground in the standings by then, perhaps Yzerman could be tempted to make that move.
It wouldn't be the first time the Lightning GM dealt away a popular superstar at the trade deadline. In 2014, he surprised the hockey world by trading Martin St. Louis to the New York Rangers for winger Ryan Callahan.
That deal, however, came under different circumstances, as St. Louis demanded a trade. Thus far, there's no indication Stamkos wants out of Tampa Bay. Still, if Yzerman feels the cost of re-signing Stamkos is too expensive, maybe he'll quietly test his captain's value on the trade market.
Of course, Yzerman could retain Stamkos for the rest of the season in hopes of another push to the Stanley Cup Final. Talks could continue right up until Stamkos' eligibility for UFA status on July 1. Maybe Yzerman shops his rights during next June's NHL Draft to the highest bidder. Perhaps he'll trade Stamkos at the trade deadline and re-sign him as a free agent. Maybe he'll re-sign his captain tomorrow and all this speculation is for naught.
As the old saying goes, your guess is as good as mine.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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