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Steven Stamkos sweepstakes begin

Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) celebrates after he shoots and scores the game winning goal in the shoot out to beat the Winnipeg Jets with a final score of 6 to 5 at the Amalie Arena in Tampa in February.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) celebrates after he shoots and scores the game winning goal in the shoot out to beat the Winnipeg Jets with a final score of 6 to 5 at the Amalie Arena in Tampa in February.

25

June

The Steven Stamkos Sweepstakes have officially begun, and there's going to be no shortage of suitors trying to reel him in.

""We're going to chase the big fish," Sabres GM Tim Murray said.

At midnight Friday, Stamkos, 26, the Lightning superstar captain, reached the five-day interview period, where other teams can court him before he becomes an unrestricted free agent July 1. The Sabres plan to make a strong push, Murray saying he's going to show Stamkos their "blueprint." The Red Wings freed up $7.5 million in cap space in dealing Pavel Datsyuk's contract Friday night, with GM Ken Holland saying they're going after a high impact forward. TSN reported Detroit may offer the max of seven years at $10 million annually. Stamkos'  hometown Maple Leafs may offer more money, not to mention sizable endorsement potential.

Canucks Jim Benning may get fined for tampering for saying Thursday he planned to call Stamkos. Teams aren't allowed to talk money during the interview period, but can sell free agents like Stamkos in other ways, gauging his interest. Murray said he has no sense if Stamkos is interested in Buffalo.

"I assume on a player like that, the teams that have cap space that can fit him in will all be involved in this," Murray said. "It's going to be a stiff competition I'm sure. You've got to show them your blueprint. He's certainly going to look at your roster I'm sure. I think there's going to be a lot of equals as far as money. There won't be a lot of equals as far as geography. the one thing that can put a team over the top is teammates, who he gets to play with and who he doesn't get to play with. We're confident that we have good players that other good players would want to play with."

Lightning GM Steve Yzerman, who maintained he hasn't ruled out re-signing Stamkos, said it won't change the process in negotiations, saying "we're both very clear on our positions."

"I have no control over what other teams do," Yzerman said. "It's all part of the business, we all have decisions to make. (Players) have the right to make their own decisions and I don't judge anybody on that."

Stamkos has said all along he wants to stay in Tampa Bay and win a Stanley Cup there, having been with the Lightning since getting drafted No. 1 overall in 2008. He loves the city, the fans, team management and ownership, and feels like the Lightning can "see the light" in winning a title. It's hard to argue Stamkos will find a better fit - in terms of being close to hoisting a Cup - as with the Lightning. And there's still a chance, even after the five-day window, that Stamkos chooses to re-sign with Tampa Bay.

But if Stamkos does, he'll likely have to take less annually than he could get elsewhere. While neither side has confirmed negotiation specifics, it's believed the Lightning has offered Stamkos an extension with an annual value between $8.5-$8.75 million. Tampa Bay, however, is the only team that can offer Yzerman an eight-year deal, everyone else at July 1 can only go seven. Yzerman wouldn't say if he's made a "final" offer or not, but insisted he's not waiting for a Stamkos decision to make other moves.

"Regardless of what happens," Yzerman said. "It's part of the business."

 

 

[Last modified: Saturday, June 25, 2016 3:47pm]

    

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