BUFFALO, N.Y. -- All eyes are on Steven Stamkos for the next week. As if they weren't already on him for the past 12 months.
Ever since Stamkos didn't sign an extension last summer, one year out before the expiration of his contract as many players of his caliber often do, the soap opera that has been the future of the Tampa Bay Lightning captain has engulfed the obsession of fans and media alike.
Will he stay or will he go?
The day or reckoning is finally around the corner.
Well, he certainly didn't re-sign with the Lightning before the unrestricted free-agency speaking window opened Saturday, with other teams now able to court Newport Sports, the powerful agency running the show for Stamkos.
So now what?
Well, it’s time for the suitors to make their intentions known.
"We're going to chase the big fish," Buffalo Sabres general manager Tim Murray said in confirming his team’s long-rumored interest in Stamkos.
Deputy commissioner Bill Daly confirmed Saturday that teams are allowed to publicly talk about their interest in other teams' pending UFAs now that the speaking window has opened.
And the Sabres, well, yeah, they will be in full pursuit of Stamkos. But they expect big-time competition.
"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."
I asked Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland to confirm his long-rumored interest in Stamkos after the draft on Saturday -- which became even more realistic after shedding Pavel Datsyuk's cap hit in a trade with the Arizona Coyotes on Friday -- but he declined to talk about Stamkos, pointing out that he didn't see the merit in revealing his UFA game plan to the world.
He has a point there.
Nevertheless, it's absolutely 100 percent guaranteed that the Red Wings will make an offer to Stamkos. The Vancouver Canucks and, of course, his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs are among the other potential suitors, and some other teams might surprise.
All of which must be so deflating to Lightning GM Steve Yzerman, who has maintained impressive decorum throughout this process but especially in the past few days, when he had to watch the UFA window open up for other teams without having Stamkos re-signed.
"I have no control over what other teams do," Yzerman said Saturday. "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."
But Yzerman again underlined his belief that the Lightning could still re-sign Stamkos.
"We're both very clear on our positions," Yzerman reiterated Saturday for a third straight day.
What those positions are exactly, nobody knows. Veteran agent Don Meehan has been loyal to his promise throughout the process to not comment on what’s happening.
Soon, the world will know. Stamkos will finally have to decide.
One player who seemed destined to get traded this weekend but wasn't was Kevin Shattenkirk.The Boston Bruins and Edmonton Oilers were among the clubs that spoke with the St. Louis Blues, but a deal still hasn't been struck.
Bruins GM Don Sweeney, generally speaking about trying to acquire a top-end defenseman this week (but read between the lines), said the price was very high and that’s why it didn’t happen. Or at least not yet.
"The acquisition cost was extremely high, and rightfully so, because they are difficult players to have and develop, and when you have them, you might as well maximize the asset in return," Sweeney told reporters Friday night after the first round. "You have to respect that as a general manager, making calls and fielding calls, so I don't get bitter about it, I just look to what's next and what the next opportunity is, and there's a free-agent exploration process that we're all going through and if it lines up, we have full authority to move forward and bring those players in. And that's what we want to do."
I think the Oilers also thought the sticker price on Shattenkirk was too high this weekend.
So be it, said Blues GM Doug Armstrong, unapologetic for his team's demands in trading a top-four defenseman in his prime.
"Maybe my asking price is too high or maybe I value him higher than other people. But I haven't been anywhere close to what I think is representative of the value of Kevin Shattenkirk," said Armstrong on Friday night, a position that hadn’t changed on Saturday after the draft when I asked him again about it.
He's not giving away Shattenkirk and that's certainly his right. These guys are hard to get for a reason.
Many thought Cam Fowler would also get dealt this weekend, and through Saturday afternoon he hadn't. The Anaheim Ducks are so deep on defense and are willing to move him for the right price in a bid to hopefully add a top-line left winger, either in the trade or just by creating the cap space for it by moving Fowler."In talking to other GMs, we're all finding overall that it was very difficult" to make trades, Ducks GM Bob Murray said Saturday. "Obviously, the cap didn't move very much for the first time in a while, and that affects everything. And then I think you're finding that the expansion draft is grabbing all of our attention. We're looking, we're planning, we're getting ready for things, and you're a little hesitant in certain situations. So it was very quiet this week."
Regarding Fowler specifically, Murray said, "You listen, you never don’t listen. ... He's still an Anaheim Duck right now."
It’s believed the Ducks had talks on Fowler with Buffalo and the Montreal Canadiens, among other teams this weekend. The Sabres are out now after acquiring Dmitry Kulikov from the Florida Panthers on Saturday. Whether the Habs pursue it further is to be seen.
Defenseman Jacob Trouba becomes a restricted free agent on July 1 and there are no signs he's close to re-signing with the Winnipeg Jets. Candidate for an offer sheet? Perhaps."You know what? I don’t know," Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said Saturday. "I've been part of that situation with the Blackhawks" -- when the San Jose Sharks signed Niklas Hjalmarsson to an offer sheet in 2010 -- "you deal with it."
I asked deputy commissioner Bill Daly Saturday when the new Las Vegas expansion franchise would be able to start making trades. After all, they own picks in next year's NHL draft."We haven’t finalized that yet, but we’re inclined to do something different than we've done with prior expansion teams," responded Daly. "It used to be that you couldn't make player transactions until the expansion draft. We're inclined to give them the right to begin making player transactions, or draft-pick transactions, sooner than that; likely around June 1 of next year."
That would be about three weeks earlier than in past expansion years. That will give the Las Vegas team more time to wheel and deal ahead of the expansion draft with teams wanting to pay a price in order to have Las Vegas not pick a certain player from their roster. Daly said the league has no issue with these types of trades as long as they're above-board.
"I think our feeling on that, and one of the reasons we'll have a player transaction window in advance, is that those deals are legitimate deals," said Daly. "Obviously clubs are getting value for making those commitments, but those commitments will be transparent and part of a bona fide player transaction, as opposed to handshakes before they’re able to do those."
Nashville Predators GM David Poile, who went through the expansion process with the Predators, applauded the idea of giving Las Vegas more lead time in trades.
"It makes sense," said Poile.
Daly also addressed the comments from Jim Benning from earlier this week when on TSN Vancouver radio 1040, the Canucks GM openly talked about speaking with Montreal about P.K. Subban, as well as his interest in pending UFA Steven Stamkos. The league is investigating whether tampering charges apply. Daly said a decision will be made within the next couple of days. Expect a fine.
The Dallas Stars lost Alex Goligoski and likely trade-deadline acquisition Kris Russell, so they've got holes to fill, in theory -- although they've got young defensemen they want to give an opportunity to as well. So what will July 1 or trade market bring?"We've got cap room, I've got a couple of roster spots [to fill]," Stars GM Jim Nill said Saturday. "But I’m not going to do anything crazy. I’m going to sit back and listen and see what's out there. And if it's a fit for us, great; but if not, I'm comfortable with our team right now."
In terms of the team’s much-maligned goaltending, Nill doesn’t appear to be in a hurry to address that.
"No, we're comfortable with where we’re at. If there’s something that makes sense ... but we're comfortable starting where we're at, also," Nill said.
As I've written before, perhaps he waits until midseason or closer to the trade deadline to address his goaltending. There will be teams with two good goalies scrambling with the expansion draft looming.
The San Jose Sharks have two key negotiations this offseason and they’ve already got a leg up on both: Tomas Hertl is a restricted free agent July 1 while Norris Trophy nominee Brent Burns is one year away from UFA and the hope is to get him extended this summer."We don’t talk really about our contract negotiations, but I did touch base and we have started the process with both those players," Sharks GM Doug Wilson said Saturday.
I would expect Hertl to get a short-term, bridge deal.
The Minnesota Wild have depth on their blue-line and that's where they can trade from to augment their top-six forward group. They had hoped to do that this weekend but didn’t. There were talks with Edmonton among other teams."There will hopefully be opportunities in the next week here to improve our team," Wild GM Chuck Fletcher said, referring also to the July 1 start of free agency.
"There didn't seem to be a whole lot of activity here this weekend. But there wasn't. We'll see what that means. Does that mean there’s more trade activity in the next week or two? Or maybe it’ll just be free-agent activity. It’s hard to gauge where the overall market is going to go. But I know from our standpoint we’re going to have opportunities to improve our team. And if we can, we will."