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Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos, seen in May, would have to leave money on the table to stay with the Tampa Bay Lightning.Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The suitors continue to line up for Steven Stamkos.

As of late Tuesday, the number of NHL teams pursuing the Tampa Bay Lightning captain had hit double digits, with more than a dozen general managers speaking with Newport Sports Management about its star client.

Stamkos, 26, is set to become one of the best players to ever hit unrestricted free agency on Friday at noon. He'll certainly be the best to do so at such a young age. He has scored at a .59-goals-per-game pace – or 48 goals per 82-game season – over the past five seasons, second to only Alex Ovechkin. And he is fourth in the league in points per game despite multiple serious injuries.

The salary cap puts the Lightning in a difficult situation, so they can't simply make Stamkos a home-run offer. And talks have stalled since they reportedly offered him an eight-year, $8.5-million-a-season deal (all figures U.S.) back in January.

"We're both very clear on our positions," Lightning GM Steve Yzerman told reporters rather ominously at the draft.

Now other GMs are working on their best offers, hoping that Stamkos can be lured by the promise of playing with their stars, for their coach and in their city, on teams with the talent to contend. It will take one of the biggest contracts in NHL history to land him, likely somewhere between $73-million and $85-million on a heavily front-loaded seven- or eight-year deal.

The following five teams are Stamkos's most likely destinations.


Sabres GM Tim Murray has been the NHL's most active executive in the Stamkos derby, and he can make a compelling pitch. After some ugly seasons in tank mode, the Sabres now have a core of top prospects from the past four drafts, led by Jack Eichel, and an owner, Terry Pegula, who's willing to spend to the max. After an NHL-best 27-point improvement in the standings last season, this is an organization on the rise. "We're confident that we have good players who other good players would want to play with," Murray said.

Can the Sabres afford him? Yes. In fact, it's widely expected Buffalo will table the largest offer, with $11-million a season not out of reach given their cap situation.

That kind of money would put them up against the limit after signing defenceman Rasmus Ristolainen and a backup goaltender, but they can make it work.

Chances Stamkos becomes a Sabre: 5 per cent. As was the case with coach Mike Babcock, who spurned the Sabres huge offer to instead go to Toronto last spring, the market works against Buffalo. Despite its proximity to his hometown, it's believed that Stamkos prefers to sign elsewhere.


It's been a tough go for the Red Wings. They've lost in the first round of the playoffs three years in a row, they lost Babcock to a division rival last season, they haven't signed a marquee free agent in ages and many core veterans are showing their age. Losing Pavel Datsyuk doesn't help either.

Can the Red Wings afford him? Despite all of the attention their cap crunch has received, the Red Wings have a surprising amount of money to spend. After getting out from under Datsyuk's contract, GM Ken Holland could have up to $15-million to play with in free agency. Part of the Wings' pitch to Stamkos can be that he won't be the only piece they add this summer.

Chances Stamkos becomes a Red Wing: 25 per cent. A beautiful new arena opens in 2017 and, as always, Holland has ownership's permission to spend. They have the history to sell, and good young forwards such as Dylan Larkin make their future brighter.


Even after a brutal season, the Habs are in win-now mode. Goaltender Carey Price's bargain contract has only two seasons left, and players such as Andrei Markov and Tomas Plekanec are getting old. Scoring has been a problem, and Stamkos is a tempting quick-fix solution.

Can the Habs afford him? It's tight. The Canadiens have around $8-million in cap space after getting everyone else under contract, and they'd need to move a player such as David Desharnais or Alexei Emelin to make room for Stamkos.

Chances Stamkos becomes a Hab: 20 per cent. Montreal likely won't have the biggest offer. Its pitch will instead focus on the fact that, with a healthy Price, they feel they can contend. Having Stamkos's pal P.K. Subban doesn't hurt, either.


The Lightning's biggest problem is they have too many talented players who need to be paid. Defenceman Victor Hedman's new contract will be big, but he's far from alone. The Lightning can't keep everyone.

Can the Lightning afford him? Not really. After he gets Nikita Kucherov and the other restricted free agents signed, Yzerman will likely have less than $5-million to spend, so to compete for Stamkos, another player would have to go. That's why there have been trade rumours around goaltender Ben Bishop, but there's not much of a goalie market at the moment.

Chances Stamkos stays with Lightning: 15 per cent. Stamkos has been torn up about leaving Tampa all season. He likes playing there and knows the Lightning have a great shot at winning a championship. But his relationship with coach Jon Cooper and Yzerman is strained, and he would have to leave money on the table to stay. The Lightning also had a year before his free-agency to get a deal done and came up empty, which is telling.


Leafs president Brendan Shanahan's dramatic rebuild is still in its infancy, but his team boasts a top prospect pool, strong front office and marquee coach. Drafting Auston Matthews first over all will help attract talent, too.

Can the Leafs afford him? Not at the moment. The Leafs took on a lot of bad contracts last season in order to acquire other assets, and will have about $7-million in cap space once their RFAs are signed. GM Lou Lamoriello will have to get creative and move a forward or two – Tyler Bozak being a prime candidate – to fit in Stamkos's contract. But Toronto doesn't want to be too close to the cap with so many young players eligible to hit lucrative bonuses.

Chances Stamkos becomes a Leaf: 30 per cent. The Leafs will try hard, but there are different opinions internally on how high they can afford to go on a contract. It's unlikely Toronto will table the richest deal, but Shanahan has proved to be a good salesman, and he can offer Stamkos something no one else can: The chance to be captain of his hometown team.


Boston, Florida, N.Y. Islanders, N.Y. Rangers, Philadelphia, Vancouver.