Steven Stamkos could be made the highest-paid player in the NHL on Friday. (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)
Former Lightning general manager Brian Lawton said on Toronto’s TSN 1050 radio that he considers the Bruins a favorite to sign top unrestricted free agent Steven Stamkos. To watch/hear Lawton’s interview with Naylor & Landsberg, click here.
Stamkos, 26, could very well be made the highest-paid player in the NHL when he inks his next contract, presumably when free agency opens on Friday.
“Right now the top three for me — I still think there’s a very, very big chance that he could end up back in Tampa,” Lawton noted, “but I would say Toronto, Tampa, Boston would be the top three.”
Asked about pursuing Stamkos following the NHL draft on Sunday, Bruins general manager Don Sweeney intimated that he would reach out Stamkos’ agent during the NHL’s current interview period for free agents.
“We will take the temperature of whoever will help our hockey club,” Sweeney said. “If it lines up, that’s what we’d like to do. We obviously have flexibility for any particular player that we would like to go after. There’s a lot of coveted ones in the market, so we’ll make all the calls. Absolutely all the calls.”
Potentially working in the Bruins’ favor could be his relationship with coach Claude Julien, whom the B’s retained after missing the playoffs for a second straight year. Stamkos and Julien think very highly of one another, with Julien notably visiting Stamkos in the hospital when the player suffered a broken tibia in a game against the Bruins in 2013.
“I had him at the Olympic Camp and I got to know Steve the person,” Julien said after visiting Stamkos. “When you look at what he is in the league and what he’s accomplished, to have that happen to him I thought it was just important to go by and see how he was doing. It was as simple as that.
“He’s one of those players that people from all the different cities come up to watch and play and he’s one of the reasons we fill buildings and you hate to see that, from anybody’s point of view, to see a guy like that get injured that way,” Julien added.
Lawton said that the Maple Leafs would present an attractive destination for the Markham, Ontario native and that Stamkos would be able to handle the attention that would come with playing in such a market.
Tampa’s reported offer for its captain carried a cap hit of $8.5 million, a far cry from the $10.5 million annually that Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews make in Chicago.
“I don’t think that it’s just about money at all for Steven Stamkos,” Lawton said. “I think it’s important — I think that offering him, if it were in fact true, $8.5 million [per year] is — like I said, it’s not about money — but I think in some ways that’s probably a little insulting to Steven.”
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 draft, Stamkos has had three seasons of at least 90 points and has scored 40 goals three times in his NHL career. Since 2009-10 — his second season in the league — Stamkos’ 516 points rank fourth in the NHL behind Alexander Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and Kane.