Each day from now until July 1, the day NHL free agency begins, CSNPhilly.com producers Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone will profile some of the league’s top impending free agents and project their likelihood of signing with the Flyers.
Steven Stamkos, center
Weight: 194 lbs
Last team: Tampa Bay Lightning
2015-16 cap hit: $7.5 million
Every year, there’s that one big fish in free agency who teams would love to get a crack at signing. Say hello to Steven Stamkos, by far the biggest fish swimming in this year’s free-agency waters.
The first overall pick of the Lightning in the 2008 entry draft, Stamkos is one of the most lethal goal scorers the league has seen in decades, as you probably already know. In eight NHL seasons, Stamkos has scored 312 goals. He’s earned two Rocket Richard trophies for most goals scored during a season — 51 in 2009-2010 (shared with Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby) and 60 in 2011-12.
The three-time All-Star possesses an unbelievable wrist shot that features a lightning-quick (no pun intended) release. That shot allows him to do plenty of damage on the power play, where he’s scored 108 goals in career. As it is with most prolific scorers, the top of the faceoff dot is Stamkos’ sweet spot for the wrister or a one-timer.
While a natural center, Stamkos can also play wing as he did for a period of time this season.
Stamkos has played a full schedule of games in five of his eight NHL seasons. His 2013-14 campaign was cut short thanks to a broken leg. This season brought a more concerning ailment, as he missed the last five games of the regular season and all but one playoff game (Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals) thanks to blood clots. It’s a tricky situation to deal with because you never know if or when blood clots are going to happen again and there’s no exact timetable for a recovery.
Let’s get this out of the way now: If you really think the Flyers, who have about $11 million of cap space as of this writing and still need to re-sign Brayden Schenn, Nick Cousins and likely Ryan White as well, are going to offer Stamkos the $10 million-plus per season he’s could get in his next deal, it’s going to be a long, hard fall back to reality for you. Get out and enjoy the lovely weather in the Delaware Valley this weekend instead of dreaming about something that will never happen.
As for where Stamkos will land, that question added another layer of intrigue Friday night at the draft when the Detroit Red Wings traded the last year of KHL-bound Pavel Datsyuk’s $7.5 million cap hit to the Arizona Coyotes. That frees up a boatload of money the Wings can dump into Stamkos’ lap. Detroit has some nice young talent to put around Stamkos, too.
And, of course, there’s Stamkos’ hometown Toronto Maple Leafs, who can have a Brinks truck loaded with loot back into his driveway at the snap of a finger. But he may not want to take part in Toronto’s rebuild.
And, who knows, maybe there’s a mystery team out there lurking in the weeds with a huge offer.
The main question here is does Stamkos really want to leave Tampa, the only NHL home he’s known. The Bolts may not be able to give Stamkos the same money Detroit, Toronto or another team can as Tampa has to re-sign restricted free agents Alex Killorn, Vladislav Namestnikov and Nikita Kucherov this season and Tyler Johnson, Jonathan Drouin and Ondrej Palat next season. All of those players are key parts of Tampa’s successful nucleus and will be due nice raises. Not an easy task to accomplish by any stretch in a cap world.
One homefield advantage Tampa does have is the fact there’s no personal state income tax in Florida. So less money in a contract from the Lightning could actually come close to the money a team in another state or province offers in a contract.
Gut feeling: Stamkos re-ups with Lightning in the $8.5-9 million per year range. He has unfinished business there with the Bolts being so close the Stanley Cup over the last few seasons and there’s so much young talent in Tampa that the Lightning can be a legitimate threat for years to come. But this is the true wild card of free agency. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see him land with another team …
… Not named the Flyers.