TAMPA — The first domino in what promises to be a busy — and potentially defining — Lightning offseason is the future of captain Steven Stamkos.
"Obviously Stammer's situation has a significant impact on what we do moving forward, and what we can do," general manager Steve Yzerman said.
And that's why Yzerman said Monday he hopes to have some clarity by this weekend on Stamkos, 26, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent July 1.
"We're doing all we can to sign him," Yzerman told the Tampa Bay Times. "For us, we'd like to know sooner than later."
Stamkos can begin to talk with other teams Saturday, when a week-long interview period opens, and Yzerman would like to have a clear idea of "where we are" before that.
That could make this weekend's NHL draft, Friday and Saturday in Buffalo, even more interesting.
"At some point on other players, I have to make decisions, whether it'd be restricted free agents, or potential trades or qualifying offers and things like that," Yzerman said. "I've got to make decisions and they can't be put off forever."
Yzerman said he has reached out to his several restricted free agents, including wing Nikita Kucherov, who is due a hefty raise from his $700,000 salary; Paul Corbiel, agent for unrestricted free agent Jonathan Marchessault, said there's mutual interest in a return. With next year's salary cap expected to remain relatively flat, knowing what Yzerman is able to spend (with or without Stamkos), will be helpful with the likes of Kucherov, Alex Killorn, Vladislav Namestnikov and J.T. Brown, among others. And teams could come in with offer sheets on the restricted free agents, driving the price up.
"That's obviously a concern," Yzerman said. "I don't know what other teams' plans are. If we're put in that situation, we'll make decisions when we have to."
Stamkos' pending decision has been the talk of the hockey world; a 312-goal scorer in his prime rarely hits the free agent market. Stamkos has said he wants to stay in Tampa Bay, where he has been since being drafted No. 1 overall in 2008, and Yzerman said he has been in talks with the All-Star and his agents at Newport Sports since the end of the season.
"Nothing has changed," Yzerman said.
Though neither Yzerman nor Stamkos' agents have discussed negotiations publicly, Sportsnet reported this year that the Lightning offered the All-Star center a deal with an $8.5 million annual average. The Lightning will be in a cap crunch in coming years with Kucherov, Victor Hedman, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and, possibly, Ben Bishop needing new deals in the next two seasons, so might not be able to go much higher than that, even for Stamkos, who made $7.5 million last season.
Tampa Bay could clear cap space by buying out a player such as defenseman Matt Carle ($5.5 million cap hit the next two seasons); Yzerman, without addressing any player specifically, said a buyout is "always a possibility" before the June 30 deadline.
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 has only spoken with Stamkos and his agents about signing him, not trading his rights.
"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."
Yzerman just hopes to know soon.
Ducks-Leafs: The Ducks broke up their successful goaltending tandem Monday, trading Frederik Andersen to Toronto for the 30th overall selection in Friday's draft and a second-rounder in 2017. Andersen has shared Anaheim's crease with John Gibson for parts of two seasons.
Rangers-Panthers: New York swapped the negotiating rights to unrestricted free agent defenseman Keith Yandle to Florida for a sixth round pick in next weekend's draft and a conditional fourth-rounder in 2017.
Sabres-Predators: Buffalo acquired the rights to unsigned forward prospect Jimmy Vesey for a third-round pick in this weekend's draft.
Information from Times wires was used in this report. Contact Joe Smith at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.