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.

Blackhawks’ Boris Katchouk sidelined by ankle sprain

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CHICAGO — Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a left ankle sprain, the team announced.

The 24-year-old Katchouk played almost 12 minutes during a 3-0 preseason loss to Detroit on Saturday night. He was acquired in a multiplayer trade with Tampa Bay in March.

The Blackhawks open the season on Oct. 12 at Colorado.

The team also said forward Jujhar Khaira is day to day with a right ankle injury.

Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.

Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

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TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

The NHL team announced that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

“This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.

Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

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TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

“Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.