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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.

Columbus giving prized rookie Werenski ‘every opportunity to run the power play’

2015 NHL Draft - Portraits
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The Blue Jackets aren’t easing Zach Werenski into his freshman campaign.

Werenski, the highly touted blueline prospect, has been tasked with running the Columbus power play during the exhibition campaign — often as the lone defenseman with four forwards — and it looks like a role he might reprise throughout the regular season.

Even though he’s yet to play an NHL game.

“I want to give him every opportunity to run the power play,” head coach John Tortorella said after an OT win over Nashville, per the Blue Jackets website. “He certainly did a good job of that tonight. We’ll keep on giving him opportunities and we’ll see where we go.”

More: Looking to make the leap: Zach Werenski

The Werenski hype train has been full steam for just over a year now. The eighth overall pick in 2015, Werenski spent two highly decorated years at the University of Michigan before turning pro at the end of last season.

Dispatched to Columbus’ AHL affiliate in Lake Erie, the 19-year-old had a fantastic professional debut. He was a major catalyst on the Monsters’ defense, scoring 14 points in 17 playoff games en route to the Calder Cup championship.

“The skill set he has — his size, strength and poise with the puck, he’s a complete player,” said Monsters coach Jared Bednar (now the head coach in Colorado). “To be able to step into our lineup in intense games and get the job done, it’s impressive especially for his age and that’s why everyone’s so excited about him.”

All signs point to a very talented — and young — Columbus defense this year. It was already assumed 21-year-old Seth Jones and 23-year-old Ryan Murray were going to play major roles, and now it sounds like Werenski will be leaned on just as heavily.

Which means it’ll be interesting to see what happens to the vets.

Jack Johnson averaged over 24 minutes per game last year, a figure that will undoubtedly decrease. It’ll also be curious to see what happens to David Savard, who was playing more than 23 minutes a night — do remember that, at the start of last season, the Jackets gave Savard a hefty five-year, $21.25 million extension.

The playoff race in the West could be ‘tighter than ever’

ST. LOUIS, MO - MAY 9:  Goalie Kari Lehtonen #32 of the Dallas Stars makes a save against Kyle Brodziak #28 of the St. Louis Blues in Game Six of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Scottrade Center on May 9, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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The NHL’s Western Conference should be wild all season, perhaps as much as ever as parity reigns and points are tough to come by on any given night.

A slew of teams have a shot at advancing to the Stanley Cup finals.

The defending Conference champion San Jose Sharks, who had five players in the World Cup of Hockey finals , certainly appear to have a chance to be among the final two still skating in mid-June. That alone would be a feat because no team from the conference has pulled it off since the Detroit Red Wings, now an Eastern Conference team, won the Stanley Cup in 2008 and came within a win of repeating.

Chicago, Los Angeles, Anaheim and St. Louis will likely be among the contenders. Dallas, too.

The Blackhawks and Kings, who alternated as champions from 2012 to 2015 and won five Cups in a six-season span, failed to even make it out of the first round last in 2016.

Both teams certainly have a chance to bounce back this season.

“This is my sixth season in the Central Division and this looks like the most challenging year yet,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said Thursday in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “The crunching between the top and bottom started last year, and it’s going to be closer this year.”

Hitchcock and Stars general manager Jim Nill both believe the teams that were at the bottom of the conference last season on moving up.

“The Winnipegs and the Colorados are going to be better teams,” Nill told the AP. “I think it’s going to be tighter than ever.”

How tight?

“Everyone has a shot,” San Jose’s Logan Couture said.

 

Related: There’s only one ‘vision’ in Vancouver this season, and that’s winning

 

Tough blow for Blues: Schwartz out ‘at least four weeks’ with elbow injury

ST. LOUIS, MO - FEBRUARY 23: Jaden Schwartz #9 of the St. Louis Blues shoots the puck against the Columbus Blue Jackets at the Scottrade Center on February 23, 2013 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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The St. Louis Blues will have to start the season without one of their most dangerous forwards, Jaden Schwartz.

Schwartz “will miss at least four weeks after injuring his left elbow during a training camp practice on Sept. 29,” the club announced today.

It’s another frustration for the 25-year-old winger. Schwartz was limited to just 33 games last season, after fracturing his ankle in October.

As for this latest injury, Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock originally predicted that Schwartz would only need a “couple of days off.”

St. Louis opens its regular season Oct. 12 in Chicago. If Schwartz is out until the end of October, he’ll miss nine games.

Related: Schwartz signs five-year extension

More bad news in Dallas: Janmark (knee surgery) out 5-6 months

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 22: Mattias Janmark #13 of the Dallas Stars looks on against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the game at Consol Energy Center on October 22, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)
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Earlier this week, we passed along word that Stars forward Mattias Janmark was spotted on crutches at the team’s practice facility.

Now we know why.

Janmark suffered a knee injury that requires surgery, GM Jim Nill said on Thursday. The procedure is expected to sideline the Swedish forward for 5-6 months, putting his return in the neighborhood of February-March of next year.

It’s a big blow for the Stars.

After surprising onlookers by making the team out of camp last year — a “great story,” according to GM Jim Nill — Janmark, 23, went on to have a pretty successful rookie campaign, scoring 15 goals and 29 points in 73 games.

He also fared well in the playoffs, with five points in 12 contests.

Today’s news compounds what’s been a lousy September in Dallas. The club previously lost Tyler Seguin (heel), Cody Eakin (knee) and Ales Hemsky (groin) to injuries, and saw Russian forward Valeri Nichushkin sign in the KHL.

Looking at the schedule, Janmark projects to miss anywhere between 60-70 games this season, assuming the 5-6 month timeline is accurate. That’s a big chunk of man power to replace.