TAMPA — The Steven Stamkos Sweepstakes could be over before Friday's noon opening of unrestricted free agency, whether he re-signs with the Lightning or not.
There might be motivation, from both Tampa Bay and Stamkos, to orchestrate a sign-and-trade deal if it becomes clear the captain isn't returning to the Lightning.
For Stamkos, 26, it's the only way he'd get an eighth year on a contract from another team. Until Friday, Tampa Bay is the only team that can offer Stamkos an eight-year deal. After that, the most years any team can give him is seven. For Tampa Bay, signing then trading Stamkos is a way to get an asset as opposed to losing a generational scorer and face of the franchise for nothing.
General manager Steve Yzerman said Tuesday there was nothing new to report on the Stamkos front. He was asked at last weekend's NHL draft if he'd consider a sign and trade if he knew the All-Star center was gone.
"Never given it a thought so maybe I should think about it," Yzerman said. "It's an interesting idea. … Well, losing him for nothing or losing him for an asset? I'd love to get an asset for him."
It's uncertain what asset(s) the Lightning could get in return, but it could be in the form of a draft pick or prospect or a combination. Maybe it'd be more. If a team is trying to secure Stamkos over other bidders, sweetening the pot makes sense. Plus that team can lower the player's eventual cap hit by spreading his contract over eight years, as opposed to seven.
Stamkos' camp at Newport Sports in Ontario has talked with other teams during this five-day interview window. Plenty are reportedly interested, from the Maple Leafs to the Sabres and Red Wings, to potentially the Canadiens and Canucks, along with probably a few wild cards no one is talking about.
It's smart business for Stamkos, who has said he wants to stay in Tampa Bay, to at least see what else is out there, considering he will sign the largest contract of his career. The Lightning is believed to have offered Stamkos an extension with an annual average of $8.5 million; he made $7.5 million last season.
While other teams and Stamkos' camp are not supposed to talk contract, only "parameters" of a deal, in this interview window, it's not out of the realm of possibility for a sign-and-trade deal to be worked out. Stamkos, with a full no-move clause, would have to give permission, holding the cards to go to the team of his choosing.
There's still, obviously, the chance Stamkos re-signs with the Lightning. But either way, it'd make sense — for both sides — if it's decided before Friday.
MINOR MATTERS: The Lightning added to its depth Tuesday by re-signing forward Tye McGinn and defenseman Matt Taormina to one-year, two-way deals.
Contact Joe Smith at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.