Other teams could make Tampa Bay miserable if Steven Stamkos reaches restricted free agency

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There are basically four big-ticket restricted free agents heading into this summer: Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, New Jersey Devils winger Zach Parise, Tampa Bay Lightning star Steven Stamkos and Nashville Predators blueliner Shea Weber.

On one hand, you have two players who aren’t far from the unrestricted age of 27: Parise and Weber. To little surprise, those two are comfortable with going into salary arbitration for their last restricted season while their teams are satisfied with the idea that other teams cannot drive up their prices. In the mean time, the Devils and Predators are allowed to try to hash out a longer contract before that date arrives. From a short-term perspective, it’s a nice fix. (We’ll see if they can keep those two great players beyond the 2011-12 season before determining the long-term impacts.)

Why Stamkos could be in line for an enormous contract

While Parise and Weber’s scenarios are intriguing, Stamkos and Doughty are in especially interesting situations since they are looking for their first contracts that aren’t limited by a rookie maximum salary and each player is far from the unrestricted age. The Kings have reportedly sent a “major offer” to their superstar defenseman, but as expensive as Doughty likely will be, the forward who went before him in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft should really break the bank.*

Every time a big-name forward in his ’20s is ready to sign his second contract, it’s the kind of moment that doesn’t just impact the team and the player; those deals often establish new ceilings for the amount of money they can receive and how long those contracts go.

An unusual (and potentially trend-setting) negotiation process

The thing is, we don’t have a ton of comparable moments for Stamkos’ situation. During the last two seasons, Stamkos has entered “The Conversation” with Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, yet the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins didn’t really hesitate to lock up their stars. It almost seemed like the Caps and Pens slammed the door on other teams’ dreams basically the day they could. (Teams are allowed to sign their restricted free agent one year before their entry-level deal expires; the Penguins and Capitals did so right away while the Lightning and Stamkos haven’t reached an agreement yet.)

(That being said, if you want to know whether Stamkos’ deal should be more like Crosby’s or Ovechkin’s contract, click here.)

For team management dweebs such as myself, it’s been downright fascinating to imagine the various scenarios for Stamkos, especially if Tampa Bay fails to sign him before he’s eligible for offer sheets from other teams (by July 1, 2011). If you’re a Bolts fan with more than a slight concern about the situation, Kevin Paul Dupont’s hypotheses won’t make you feel any better.

With the salary cap expected to be close to $63 million, a bidder could spike Stamkos’s pay as high as $12 million-plus per year (20 percent of the max is the limit). And for a kid who is only 21, a 10- or 12-year deal would not be out of the question.

For discussion’s sake, let’s say someone offered Stamkos 12 years at $144 million. He would be only 33 at the end of the deal. Come the end of the 2022-23 season, if the cap were to climb at the rate it has since it began at $39 million in 2005-06, the nut would be hovering right around $100 million by then. Over the final 5-6 years of the deal, $12 million would begin to look comfortable.

As for the Bolts, what would they receive if they chose not to match? Perhaps not as much as you think.

Per CBA compensation rules, any player who receives an offer above $7,835,219 brings the maximum package in return: four first-round draft picks.

(Click here for a breakdown of the new CBA compensation rules.)

Dupont goes on to point out that the catch with those draft picks is that a Stamkos-powered team wouldn’t be as likely to produced high picks in the draft. In other words, the Lightning could end up with four mediocre prospects (plus some cap space) in exchange for their star of the present and future.

If nothing else, another team could force the Lightning to commit a brutal amount of their cap room to Stamkos. In the nightmare scenario of a $12 million annual cap hit, the Bolts would have almost $20 million devoted to Stamkos and Vincent Lecavalier. Yikes.

A lot of people are heaping praise on new Bolts GM Steve Yzerman and rightfully so. That being said, we’ll see how good he really is this summer as he faces some extremely tough personnel decisions. Re-signing Stamkos to a deal that won’t wreck the balance of this team might be the tallest order.

* – Stamkos went first in 2008 while Doughty went second. Don’t be surprised if “Stamkos or Doughty?” becomes one of the draft’s great debates 5-10 years down the road.

Video: Drew Doughty (mostly) avoids massive Matthew Tkachuk hit

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Hockey is such a fast sport that it’s probably not so easy to make someone your “target.” Instead, a big hit often comes down to the right combination of circumstance and timing.

Still, there’s no denying that Matthew Tkachuk is gunning for Drew Doughty (and the Kings are gunning for Tkachuk) on Wednesday.

Doughty isn’t oblivious to that notion, either, as you can see him avoid what looked like a pretty terrifying hit above.

We’ve already covered the early violence in this game, and it’s quite possible that there will be more carnage going forward. Stay tuned.

Blackhawks bolster Central lead, shine harsh light on Penguins’ struggles

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Blame it on injuries if you want, or emphasize the Chicago Blackhawks’ overall hot finish to the season. Either way, Chicago scorched the Pittsburgh Penguins by a score of 5-1, a contest that felt more or less over by the time the first period ended 4-0 in the Blackhawks’ favor.

The Blackhawks scored by committee on Wednesday, with Artemi Panarin (goal, assist) and Patrick Kane (two assists) being the headliners. Meanwhile, former Penguin Marian Hossa has quietly climbed to 25 goals on the season.

Meanwhile, the Penguins limped through this one and have now lost four consecutive games.

With this result, the Blackhawks look like close to a lock to win the Central Division title. Meanwhile, the Metro crown is virtually unthinkable for Pittsburgh, and the Penguins might also need to accept the likelihood that they may not enjoy home-ice advantage in the first round.

They’d probably accept that more easily if they can get healthier and get back on track. Wednesday was a little worrisome in those regards.

Video: An early taste of the Tkachuk-inspired violence in Kings vs. Flames

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BREAKING: the Los Angeles Kings really don’t appreciate Calgary Flames rookie-pest-forward Matthew Tkachuk thanks to that elbow on Drew Doughty (and the fallout from all … that).

Tkachuk responded by critiquing Doughty for “complaining to the media,” so there was testiness from the start.

There was jawing before the game. Then Jake Muzzin rebuked Tkachuk’s kind offer for a fight. Finally, Keith’s son dropped the gloves with Brayden McNabb:

It wasn’t the only bout of the opening frame, and there could be more blood to come beyond this Jarome IginlaDeryk Engelland feud:

Players from both teams better keep their heads up (and on a swivel) tonight. The Flames have to hope that this doesn’t result in injuries, judging from what happened to Johnny Gaudreau.

Avalanche sign Toews-like first-rounder Tyson Jost

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Things have been pretty bleak for the Colorado Avalanche this season, but at least they can look to a high pick in the next draft … and maybe dream about how their top pick from 2016 may pan out.

The Avs signed Tyson Jost, the 10th pick of the 2016 NHL Draft, to an entry-level contract on Wednesday. Colorado notes that he’ll jump right into some NHL action to close out this season.

It’s a nice sneak preview, as NHL insider Bob McKenzie noted on an NBCSN appearance (see above) that doing so will not burn the first year of Jost’s entry-level contract. Nice.

Even nicer? McKenzie also compares Jost favorably to … (drum-roll, though the headline spoiled it) Jonathan Toews.

Most obviously, the two both starred at the University of North Dakota. For the sake of fun, here are their numbers in their final years in the NCAA:

Jost: 16 goals, 35 points in 33 games, +17 rating (2016-17)
Toews: 18 goals, 46 points in 34 games (2006-07)

Naturally, Toews enthusiasts in particular will tell you that points aren’t everything … but maybe there are some shades of the two-way Blackhawks center there?

The Hockey News’ Ryan Kennedy raved that Jost has “man-strength already” back around the 2016 NHL Draft, as you can see in this profile.

“Jost oozes confidence and already looks like NHL captain material for the future.”

Hey, that does sound at least somewhat Toews-like, doesn’t it?

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In other signing news, the Buffalo News’ Mike Harrington reports that the Buffalo Sabres signed UMass-Lowell’s CJ Smith. More on that below.