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UFA of the Day: Steven Stamkos

Tampa Bay Lightning v New Jersey Devils

NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 26: Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on February 26, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. The Lightning shutout the Devils 4-0. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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Every day until June 30, we’ll write about a pending unrestricted free agent. Today’s UFA of the Day is…

Steven Stamkos

The prevailing wisdom says you don’t let a player like Stamkos walk away for nothing. He’s a franchise piece, the kind teams intentionally lose to get in the draft.

But the prevailing wisdom sometimes get challenged, and that’s exactly what’s happened here. This has never been a slam-dunk decision for GM Steve Yzerman, for two good reasons:

1. Stamkos isn’t the only excellent, young player on the Bolts. Even with an owner that’s willing to spend to the cap, it simply may not be possible to keep Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Ben Bishop, Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, and Jonathan Drouin. All eight of those players need new contracts this summer or next. Tough choices will need to be made somewhere.

2. Stamkos is a great player, obviously. But with all due respect, how great? He had 36 goals in 77 games this year. He had 43 in 82 last year. That’s a lot of goals, but it’s not the 60 he scored in 2011-12. So while he’s only 26, it may be (in fact, it’s likely) that his best scoring years are behind him. Scoring isn’t everything, you say? OK, so does Stamkos play the kind of two-way game that Jonathan Toews or Anze Kopitar do? No, he probably doesn’t. He’s certainly never been in the running to win the Selke Trophy. That’s why his coach puts him on the wing sometimes.

All of the above is why you hear reports that Yzerman may not be willing to give Stamkos much more than $8.5 million a year, which is a lot of money but a fair bit less than the $10.5 million cap hits that Toews and Patrick Kane boast. (Kopitar’s cap hit is $10 million.)

Make no mistake, the Bolts want Stamkos back. They could even free up some cap space by trading Bishop and going with Andrei Vasilevskiy. But less than two weeks until July 1, if it’s gotten this far, Stamkos may just want to see what’s out there.

The latest from the Tampa Bay Times:

If the Lightning realizes it can’t sign Stamkos, it could try to trade his rights, but would need the captain’s permission as he has a full no-move clause.

But Yzerman said, at this point, he’s only spoken with Stamkos and his agents about signing him, not trading his rights. Yzerman is hoping they’ll have a “clear idea of where we are” prior to this weekend.

“To be honest with you, it’s out of my control,” Yzerman said. “He’s an unrestricted free agent on July 1. I can’t force him to sign a contract with us if he doesn’t want to. If he wants to go to July 1, he has that right.”

As for potential landing spots, if it’s not back in Tampa, there are a bunch:

If the Red Wings can find a taker for Pavel Datsyuk’s contract...

If the Maple Leafs feel they can be competitive soon...

If the Sabres want to outbid everyone...

If the Islanders want to show John Tavares they’re serious about winning, while at the same time insuring against his possible departure...

If the Rangers trade Derek Stepan for youth and/or help on the blue line...

Bottom line: this has been a soap opera for a while now, but the final episode is approaching.

Click here for all our 2016 UFA profiles.