Kukla's Korner

Scattered Thoughts on the Eve of Free Agency: Stamkos, Richards and Much More

Can one’s thoughts be anything but scattered at this time of year?

I mean, hell, just look at Jaromir Jagr, who apparently disappeared off the face of the planet just when everyone was expecting him back in Pittsburgh. (How no one aside from myself has implicated the infamous Deven Dark in his apparent abduction to this point is beyond me. I mean, have you heard anything from “The NHL Guardians” since All-Star Weekend? Well… Have you?)

Aside from that, here’s a look at what else is burning up my remaining brain cells at the moment:

***I suppose I ought to start in my own neck of the woods and right about now, there’s no appropriate topic to kick that off other than what the wittiest members of the Twitterverse have dubbed either #Stamkosteria or #Stammergeddon. That Steven Stamkos has yet to be inked to a new deal by the Tampa Bay Lightning, with restricted free agency, oh, a little over 15 hours away, is neither cause for a panic attack nor a sure sign of the end of the world (chew on that, Mayans pointing to the NHL12 cover). However, with each passing minute (okay, maybe with each passing hour?) the situation becomes a little bit less comfortable, I guess we can say, for everyone involved.

All I can add to whatever you’ve read

any

everywhere else is that I’ve crunched numbers from every angle and no matter what, at this point, I see the Lightning as having to make some significant residual move or another after Stamkos is retained (and I most certainly do believe that, one way or another, that will still be the end result) not so much to fit everyone in under next season’s salary cap but to do so with some flexibility for both the long and the short term.

Studying the pages of CapGeek.com (something every hockey fan should do regularly, if they aren’t doing so already) leads one to believe that the Bolts will need to shuffle the deck a bit via trade at some point. Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos reported via Twitter today that a Stamkos contract might come with an annual cap figure of up to $8.5 million, which is at least $1 million higher than what I and several others had been expecting until now. Without getting all number-specific crazy (and only offering up additionally that I’m hearing upwards of $2.5 million is possible for fellow RFA Teddy Purcell and thinking that nothing more than $1.5 million for a backup netminder should be allotted), if the Lightning want to have a comfortable amount of wiggle room and come in, say $4 million or so under the $64.3 million salary cap, they’re left with about $2 million to fill four remaining roster spots, be that through current minor leaguers, last year’s fill-ins or bargain-rate free agents.

That’s not a lot. Ideally, you’d want an upgrade on the third and fourth lines – someone to replace a Sean Bergenheim, who is almost certain to exit at this point, for instance. And the only way to free up additional dollars to throw around (or to make said improvements other than via free agency) is to get busy on the trade front.

Problem is, things aren’t so simple for a team like Tampa Bay as far as freeing up some space via trade, with only a couple of assets that fit the criteria of being a desirable target, a movable asset and carrying a cap hit that would make an impact by coming off of the Lightning books. They have some guys who fit two of those three categories but no-trade/no-move clauses, negligible salary relief and/or lack of interest kills every scenario I can muster.

Still, I suppose we should all remember last summer’s fleecing of Philadelphia when Matt Walker was shipped to the Flyers for Simon Gagne. Hence, anything’s possible.

It’s hard to criticize because nobody truly knows whether or not this was actually possible but the question remains: Just how badly have the Lightning positioned themselves by not taking care of Stamkos’ extension some time during the final year of his entry-level deal? We’ll soon find out.

And all I can anticipate is that some surprising maneuvering may ultimately be in order.

The necessary creativity there (or, as some would say, Jedi mind tricks?) will be something to behold, no doubt.

***Notice how I didn’t mention Brad Richards at all in my first point of discussion? That’s because I find the idea of his return to Tampa simply bat[bleep] insane.

Sure, it’s a nice idea. And no, nobody should be surprised that those stories were written and the idea is still talked about in common circles. Sure, he’d be interested in returning to Tampa in a realistic situation. Why wouldn’t he? But come on… (I’d be interested taking one of them there magic carpet rides one day, while we’re at it…)

Theoretically, the Lightning could tie up at least $32 million in five players (Stamkos, Richards, Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Ryan Malone). And that’s if Richards, the prime ticket in this summer’s UFA crop, inks with Tampa in the $5 million range. That’s also with new contracts for valuable players like Steve Downie and Victor Hedman due in a year’s time.

But that’s not happening.

And if it does, multiply the aforementioned creative maneuvering factor by about 37.

Richards is going to get an astronomical front-loaded deal tomorrow and a lengthy overall term. The Lightning can’t do that (again).

Let’s just move on.

***Christian Ehrhoff gets 10 years and $40 million from Buffalo??? What exactly did I miss here?

***Sounds like former Lightning tough guy Zenon Konopka is pegged to leave Long Island, where he played last season with the Islanders on a one-year deal after leaving Tampa Bay as a free agent.

Don’t look for a return to Tampa there either. Doesn’t seem to fit the mold here anymore, like it or not.

***Finally tonight, the Bolts and representatives for goaltender Mike Smith have initiated conversation as of last night. This, according to Smith’s agent, Kurt Overhardt, via email.

Still, my hunch is that Smith goes the UFA route at noon tomorrow as the Lightning will probably be reluctant to go higher than $1.5 million for a backup (or “1B”, if you will) to the recently re-signed Dwayne Roloson.

Should that come to pass, the Phoenix Coyotes are a good bet to show interest in Smith, for starters. With Ilya Bryzgalov off to Philadelphia, the Coyotes are left with Jason Labarbera and he and Smith could make for a fine pairing. Smith also has a history with head coach Dave Tippett from their time together in Dallas, remember.

While remaining in Tampa seems to be a mutually desired end result for both parties here, Smith would probably be better served, money-wise, elsewhere and the Lightning may not be wise to go very high at all at this position with Roloson already pulling in $3 million. [12:10 am UPDATE: According to CapGeek, Roloson’s cap hit is $3.5 million, due to bonuses. Point strengthened!]

Just another interesting storyline to follow…

***

I’ll be popping in frequently with reaction to Tampa Bay signings (or even the lack thereof) most of the day tomorrow.

Hope the masses enjoy the leaguewide madness set to ensue…

JJ
jj@kuklaskorner.com
JJ on Twitter

Filed in: Buffalo Sabres, Dallas Stars, New York Islanders, Phoenix Coyotes, Tampa Bay Lightning, | Beasts of the Southeast | Permalink
 

Comments

Avatar

That 7 mm number was never going to get it done and yzerman should have known that. Only question is if he can get stamkos to ink for 8.5 before some other team cripples him with an offer sheet at CBa max (which he still would need to match).

Posted by Steviesteve on 06/30/11 at 11:37 PM ET

Jon Jordan's avatar

And he will… Which means things will get crazy hairy here.

Imagine the one-year, $12.8M poison piller that a few teams very well could consider.

I didn’t get into all the details in this piece but there are very few options for trade. I really don’t know what would happen, to be perfectly honest.

Even a “fair” Stamkos deal causes problems at this point…

JJ

Posted by Jon Jordan from Tampa, FL on 06/30/11 at 11:42 PM ET

Avatar

Trade Stamkos? Boy, I’d sooner gut the defense. It’s easier to find 6 d than a 21 yo Richard guy. Plus any vaguely “fair” return (say, daughty and…uh… Mike Richards) would cost more anyway. Suppose you could buy out Malone and Ohlund, instead, but team payroll structure is still shot to Hell for a long time.

Just goes to show, you don’t play Chicken with the franchise player.

Posted by Steviesteve on 07/01/11 at 12:46 AM ET

Jon Jordan's avatar

I wasn’t suggesting to trade Stamkos by any means. What I meant by “fair deal” was a contract which, to me, would be around $7.5. But that’s not going to happen now, as I understand it. Upwards of $8 per at least is what’s being kicked around.

Main point remains… Who the hell knows what’s next…

JJ

Posted by Jon Jordan from Tampa, FL on 07/01/11 at 01:06 AM ET

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