Could Steven Stamkos bolt the Lightning for the Maple Leafs when his contract expires? Is Ryan O’Reilly a “sign and trade”? Will the Sharks trade Antti Niemi? Will Bobby Ryan re-sign with the Senators? Read on for the latest. 

Will Steven Stamkos bolt for Toronto in 2016?

Will Steven Stamkos bolt for Toronto in 2016?

TORONTO STAR: Stephen Whyno reports Tampa Bay Lightning star Steven Stamkos is ignoring speculation he could leave the Lightning as a free agent when his contract expires in 2016 and sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs.  “We’ll see what happens. It’s a couple years away,” Stamkos said Wednesday. “Right now I’m focused on what I have to do to win in Tampa, and I think we’ve really established ourselves as a team that can compete in upcoming years.”

Stamkos added, ““For me, that’s the important thing is getting a chance to win. It looks like we’re going to have that chance for a couple years.” He went on to sing the Lightning’s praises, pointing out they have a good thing going on in Tampa Bay. “We have a great owner, we got a great GM in Steve Yzerman and we got a good young team. I want to win, and hopefully I can do it in Tampa.”

SPORTSNET.CA: Luke Fox believes Stamkos, by saying “We’ll see what happens”, left the door open to possibly joining the Leafs as an unrestricted free agent in 2016. Fox suggests that gives Stamkos leverage when he negotiates with Lightning GM Steve Yzerman.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: I believe my THN.com colleague Adam Proteau had the best response to this: “Why would Steven Stamkos need to use the Leafs for leverage in any contract negotiations with the Lightning? Stamkos IS leverage.” After all, Stamkos is only the most talented pure sniper in the league right now, with two Richard trophies on his resume.

Since NBA star LeBron James decided to return home to the Cleveland Cavaliers, some Toronto pundits and fans are hoping Stamkos will follow suit and join the Maple Leafs. For me, the key statement from Stamkos wasn’t “We’ll see what happens”, but rather, “I want to win, and hopefully I can do it in Tampa”. See, if the Lightning were still being run by the OK Hockey circus, Stamkos would definitely leave Tampa Bay in 2016. But the Lightning are building a promising young team. If they’re in Cup contention by 2016, or very close to it, Stamkos will stay put, even if it costs over $10 million per season to keep him.

While Stamkos may be from Toronto and grew up cheering for the Leafs, he knows the pressure of being a Leaf, especially if the club continues to stumble along as it has since 2005-06.  Stamkos playing for the Leafs could happen one day, but my guess is it won’t happen until he’s in his mid-thirties, past his prime and the Lightning decide to go with younger talent. 

THE DENVER POST: Adrian Dater reports Colorado Avalanche executive VP of hockey operations Joe Sakic said his club’s re-signing Ryan O’Reilly was not a “sign-and-trade” deal. He adds the club’s goal is to eventually re-sign him to a long-term deal.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: As Dater notes and which I’ve also pointed out, the fact the two sides avoided arbitration by agreeing to a new two-year deal suggests relations between the O’Reilly camp and the Avalanche could be improving. If so, it increases the possibility of re-signing him in two years time before he becomes eligible for UFA status. For now, it’s apparent the Avs want to keep him, which is a good idea after losing Paul Stastny to free agency this summer. If they do trade him, my guess is it’ll happen at the 2016 trade deadline, and then only because his asking price is ridiculously high or he’s decided to test the market. 

CSNBAYAREA.COM: Kevin Kurz, responding to a reader’s question about the San Jose Sharks possibly trading Antti Niemi, believes if they intended to do so they would’ve done it by now. He expects Niemi and Alex Stalock will be the Sharks’ tandem when the season begins.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Even if the Sharks were shopping Niemi there’s just not much of a market for goalies this summer. That might change during training camp and preseason but for now there just isn’t any clubs out there actively shopping for a starting goaltender. 

ESPN.COM: Craig Custance suggests Bobby Ryan, who’s in the final year of his contract worth $5.1 million this season, could  be the next big name to leave the Ottawa Senators.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Senators aren’t a cap ceiling team and continue to rebuild with young players. Their performance this season will be a crucial factor in how long Ryan stays. Given his UFA status next summer, he’ll likely seek around $7  million per season on a long-term deal, which he probably won’t get from the cost-conscious Senators. Ryan could also be the biggest name available in next summer’s UFA market, which will also improve his stock. Enjoy Ryan while you still can, Senators fans, because most likely this will be his last season in Ottawa.