NHL Insider implicates Nashville Predators back in on Steven Stamkos sweepstakes

The highly-anticipated opening of NHL free agency is almost here, and buckle up because the Predators are expected to be very busy in their shopping.
Tampa Bay Lightning v Montreal Canadiens
Tampa Bay Lightning v Montreal Canadiens / Minas Panagiotakis/GettyImages

Free agency opens for the NHL on Monday July 1, and for the Nashville Predators, they have several targets on their list and no name is bigger than Steven Stamkos.

Stamkos and the Tampa Bay Lightning still haven't come to terms on a deal to keep the beloved hero of the franchise, and time is obviously running out. Recent reports suggest that it's trending towards the two sides being too far apart to realistically make it happen unless something drastically changes.

Pierre LeBrun of Insider Trading recently stated that Tampa Bay has to "change their offer" before Monday and that "there are a number of teams are lining up", and that includes the Predators.

Lightning running out of time, Preds & others wait patiently to jump in

The issue for the Lightning is cap space, while other suitors including the Predators have the cap space to make a significantly better offer to lure Stamkos away. You look at the current cap space, and the Lightning have the fourth-lowest amount in the NHL at just $4.47 million. They have a lot of maneuvering to do to keep Stamkos at this point.

Then you look at where the Predators sit, among other teams that are reportedly interested including the Detroit Red Wings. The Predators have $26.35 million in current cap space, but do have eight roster spots to fill so keep that in mind.

There is no question about it that Stamkos would be an instant upgrade for the Predators and their offensive woes that came rising to the top at the worst possible time in their first round series loss to the Vancouver Canucks. In six games, the Predators managed just 12 goals and 2-for-22 on the power play. So yeah, fair to say Stamkos would've been nice to have in that situation.

What makes this situation such a toss-up is of course Stamkos wants to stay with Tampa, and you can totally understand why. His entire Hall of Fame worthy career has been with the Lightning along with two Stanley Cups. That core of the Lightning is extremely tight, and Ryan McDonagh just came back in a trade with the Predators.

But even Elliotte Friedman thinks there's a chance they're just too far apart and Stamkos tests free agency. Then all chaos ensues on Monday.

Preds can easily afford Stamkos, but where might he fit in the lineup?

Again you might be asking yourself what Stamkos is expecting on the open market. Well first off, the Lightning are going to have to get creative here. Structure a contract that maybe lowers the blunt early in the contract term to relieve some early cap space.

Projections for Stamkos' next contract have been just as all over the place as the predictions of where he might land. I've seen the overwhelming consensus that Stamkos could get up to $8 million at three to four years, and the only way it's lower if it's with the Lightning as the team-friendly deal to stay where he's loyal to.

Judging by Predators' fans nightmares of failed $8 million contracts in the past, this probably gets you a little nervous. But if the Predators are going to pull away a guy like Stamkos from the team he's loyal to, and also win the bidding war, you're going to have to come close to if not up to $8 million per year.

It really all comes down to how loyal is Stamkos to Tampa or is he ready to take the big bag of cash of his likely final major NHL contract? Only he and people in his closest circle know that, but we do know the Predators are waiting and ready to jump in if he becomes available on Monday.

Stamkos in the Predators starting lineup would put him probably at second line center, and a main catalyst for the power play. His leadership in the locker room joins captain Roman Josi, Ryan O'Reilly and Filip Forsberg would make for an awesome veteran core.

Also, if the Predators were to add Stamkos that would likely mean more trades would come down to free up some roster space. After all, the Predators also badly need to reinforce their blueline after losing McDonagh and having a lot of uncertainty at that position.

I can see Gustav Nyquist being involved in a trade, and there's definitely some pending UFAs that look like they probably gone including Jason Zucker and Kiefer Sherwood. So space will be available for the Predators to heavily pursue Stamkos and make room for him.

Stamkos can also play on the wing, but if you're making a power move for this guy, I would have to think the Predators want him at center. That gives you O'Reilly and Stamkos as your top two centers, and that isn't too shabby at all.

Ultimately, I'm still not convinced that Stamkos is leaving the Lightning. Waiting as late as they possibly can, the Lightning cave to find a deal that keeps Stamkos in a Tampa sweater until his retirement.

Among active NHL players, Stamkos is 4th in goals with 555, 6th in points with 1,137 and 2nd in power play goals with 214. When he retires he likely will be top-10 all time among NHL players in power play goals.