Deep breath, Boston.
The Bruins are reportedly a major player in Steven Stamkos free agency talks, according to media in Canada:
Frm. Lightning GM @brianlawton9 on TSN1050Radio says the front runners to land Steven Stamkos are in order: 1-#Leafs, 2-Tampa, 3 #Bruins— Simon Dingley (@SimonDingleyCBC) 27 June 2016
Here's the thing, though. This is a twist that very few people saw coming, especially with the Bruins' cap situation so far this season. Loui Eriksson's contract negotiations led to all manner of fraught talk of how it would affect the B's going down the road with names like Krug and Marchand shortly preparing for their own paydays. A week ago there was panic about re-signing them...now we're in full #Stamkoswatch.
That's...quite some turnaround.
As of July 1st, assuming nothing changes, the Bruins will have $21million of cap space. They CAN offer Stamkos up to $14.2 million a year (based on CBA rules and the 2015/16 cap hit) but that, even for Stamkos looking at current NHL contracts, is likely way too high.
Since we need a figure, let's assume that any Stamkos contract, given the rising pri will be in the $10-11 million AAV range. That is a LOT of money to tie up in one player for what (presumably) will be a long term contract-exactly half the cap space for a B's roster that currently only has 4 active defensemen signed on the NHL roster and a decision to make about players like Liles, Stempniak, sign any draft prospects they wish to and seriously improve at defense and arguably forward, too.
So, who are the names out there?
The trouble is, there aren't THAT many key defensive names out there...and the ones that are are expensive.
Jason Demers is a possibility from Dallas, but given Keith Yandle has just signed a big contract, any bid for him would likely eat up a big chunk of the remaining cap. Demers has improved steadily with Dallas and is coming into his prime at 28. A strong, two-way defenseman who advanced stats like a lot, he's looking for $5 - 5.5 million a year. If Stamkos signs, he's likely out of the running.
Kris Russell is another possibility...but...no. He was a bad idea at the trade deadline and he'd be even worse in FA at an inflated cost. As we said back then...he is Kevan Miller if Kevan Miller were hit by more pucks. That is not a player you want to be spending $4-5 million a year on. Stamkos or no Stamkos.
The trouble is...after this the defensive FA class is...well, quiet. Brian Campbell is very much a short-term option at 37, as is Dan Boyle. Dan Hamhuis might be worth a shot depending on cost-certainly, he's far, far better than Russell as we argued back on deadline day but again, it's a short term plan. Then, there's players like Nikita Nikitin, Nicklas Grossmann...these are not players who are going to be marquee FA signings. They might make decent secondary signings in the afterglow of a Stamkos megadeal, but at the cost of eating up valuable cap space that is probably better used on giving Torey Krug a pay rise and bringing younger defense like Rob O'Gara and Brandon Carlo through.
The B's are rumoured to be sniffing around Kevin Shattenkirk in St Louis...if Stamkos DOES become a Bruin, then suddenly David Krejci and his $7.5 million AAV become expendable just as STL are looking for a new top 6 centre to replace likely FA David Backes.
That's just about the most perfect situation the B's could wish for in trade talks, and will strengthen their hand hugely. If Stamkos does sign, expect the Shattenkirk chase to step up, too.
However, if Stamkos doesn't...then suddenly, we're looking at names like Hamhuis, Demers...players who may not be massively expensive and will fill the holes, but with the exception of Demers, aren't going to necessarily excite the Boston fans or anyone looking for a significant upgrade.
Ironically, the best thing for B's in the defensive FA market might be to try and avoid making a splash and look for value later in the FA period. We've talked about this extensively in John's "My Kingdom for a Defenseman" series...which is a great way to assess the possible pros and cons of the FA market. You can find all of John's (excellent) breakdowns of the defensive options here.
Now here, as they say, is something more of a happy hunting ground for the Bruins, even if Stammergeddon Boston-style doesn't happen. The B's need a top-six wing with Ericsson likely departing, and with a large amount of cap space they can likely take their pick.
Eric Staal is the other marquee name FA wise, but he is likely going to be not much cheaper than Stamkos and is nowhere near the same player. He's a disappointing overinvestment waiting to happen and the B's should steer WELL clear.
The names behind him, though, look very interesting indeed. David Backes is the one that jumps out as likely the best value...as a captain in STL and a big, powerful centre he would provide a different look to the B's second line.
Wing-wise, the likes of Andrew Ladd and Teddy Purcell are...well, they're not Loui Ericsson, are they? But they'll likely try and command similar money, which would be foolish to spend.
Milan Lucic? Don Sweeney has said that he wants a look at him and he's still a favorite with many in Boston, but do the B's want to move forward or take a step back? There are comparable or better players out there. No. Re-signing him would be a backward step, particularly when looking at...
Thomas Vanek: What we have here is a noted Bruins killer who has proven scoring capability in the NHL, is still in the prime of his career physically, and most importantly...he has one hell of a point to prove.
AND HE IS LIKELY TO BE PRETTY CHEAP. Despite his huge contract in Minny - a one year trial at $2 million is the kind of opportunity that should be snapped up hard. Even more so if Stammergeddon happens...imagine Stamkos and Vanek as a pair behind Bergeron and Marchand, all firing. That's...an exciting prospect.
Other names floating in the slightly lower depths of the wing FA pool...Washington's underrated Swede Marcus Johansson. NYI's Danish speedster Frans Nielsen. David Perron. Slovak sniper Radim Vrbata. Toronto's jet-fuelled Michael Grabner. These are not glamorous names, it is true. What they are is potentially full of value for money.
Then, of course, there's Detroit's rocket Darren Helm. This is one of the fastest players and quietly a truly skilled two-way forward. He'd likely command around $4 million on the open market, can play C or wing, and would fit on Boston's third line.
The key word with the forward FA class is "value". Look beyond the superstars at the top and there are some very strong value for money names indeed sitting there...players who've previously been failed rentals, considered surplus to requirements by teams looking to go a different direction or just straight reclamation projects like Vanek.
The key thing is, though...with all the focus on the likes of Stamkos...they are players who can be had relatively cheaply EVEN IF Boston go all in on Markham's most famous son.
With Stamkos...well, it leaves the B's in a strong negotiating position with players wanting to come join one of the best forwards in the world. But without question the best option to add here, forward wise, is Vanek. 4 30-goal seasons, a consistent number of 20 goal seasons and a player looking to prove a big point? This is a move with relatively little risk and with huge potential reward.
Without Stamkos and not repeating the HUGE upside of Vanek (did we mention that)...the best option on the board is probably David Backes. He fits the B's style to a T, is a leader and more to the point he's a potential pull factor for any trade involving Kevin Shattenkirk (a trade made viable by Backes being able to fill Krejci's spot for, likely, less money.
DREAM FA SCENARIO
Sign Stamkos, trade Krejci in a package for Shattenkirk, bring Vanek and Demers to Boston...still prepare cap flexibility for next UFA season. Hey...we can dream, right?
Look beyond Stamkos and FA is a land of opportunity for the B's this off-season in the forward positions whether or not they sign him. Defensively, there is value to be had but the best may, again, be had either directly or made possible by a trade.
However, it's rare to be looking at an FA period and seeing so many different potential options for the B's.
One can only hope that Sweeney sees them, too.