As we creep deeper into the dog days of the Florida summer, the mass sports media will shift their focus from basketball and hockey playoffs towards summer baseball, football minicamps, and NASCAR(WHY?!). Many of us sports fans will be celebrating this weekend in pools, and around grills, in baseball stadiums, and with fireworks, and for most of us hockey will not be on the forefront of our minds. For the front office of a National Hockey League franchise however, there is no offseason, and for Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman the real work is just about to begin.
Yzerman will spend his holiday weekend tasked with rebuilding a team that made it to within one goal of the Stanley Cup finals, a job that began this past week with the NHL draft where the Lightning selected Russian born Vladislav Namestnikov, a young speedy right wing with their first round pick. Yzerman also acquired defenseman Bruno Gervais from the New York Islanders for future considerations and inked him to a one year contract reportedly worth $550,000.
In addition, there has been significant work done with the resigning of potential free agents. Stout D-Man Eric Brewer resigned with the Bolts last Friday on a 4-year, 15 million dollar deal, and there are rumors swirling Tuesday that both forward Adam Hall and powerplay specialist Marc-Andre Bergeron may be returning to the Lightning for the 2011-2012 season.
A good start for Yzerman, But the real mountain for him this week is the contract negotiations with star center Steven Stamkos. Stamkos' contract situation has long been the elephant in the room for the Lightning and has been the subject of wild, and often irresponsible speculation from all over the hockey media world. Its true that the Lightning are in a tough spot with Stamkos, a restricted free agent, due to his ability to command almost any salary he wants but anyone that believes he will end up in any sweater other than the Lightning Blue this coming season is crazy.
Tuesday, The Tampa Bay Lightning issued a qualifying offer to Stamkos (as well as forward Teddy Purcell), meaning they now continue to hold his negotiating rights going forward and any offer sheet presented to Stamkos may be matched by Yzerman and the Bolts. Due in part to the uncertainty of the contract talks in recent days, Stamkos has been linked to the Flyers and Maple Leafs, just to name a few, as his contract negotiations with Tampa Bay have stalled. In my opinion most of this buzz is being generated mostly by wishful thinking of fans of other teams and these rumors don't actually hold water.
The reality of the situation is that there is no qualifying offer that the Bolts would not match, and no way the Bolts trade the future face of their franchise as it would be near impossible to receive appropriate value in return. In addition, talks are expected to resume between Stamkos' agent and Yzerman as soon as today and Yzerman recently expressed optimism that something will get done soon.
"My expectation is I will speak to Don (Meehan),'' Yzerman said. "I am still optimistic that we can get something accomplished and I look forward to speaking to him.''
Bottom line, Stamkos is not going anywhere. If you hear otherwise on the radio, blogs, twitter or elsewhere, just take a deep breath. Steve Yzerman is a smart man, and would be a fool to not sign his star center. The previous regime in Tampa Bay left the Bolts with some difficult salaries, including an aging 10 million dollar center, but Stamkos is a once in a decade talent that you hold onto, no matter the cost.