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Stamkos, Doughty and the hurdles to a blockbuster contract

Sean Leahy
Puck Daddy

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So here we are on July 13 and two of the biggest names on the restricted free agent market -- Steven Stamkos and Drew Doughty -- remain unsigned.

At what point does this turn into a "Fan Hostage Crisis" for Lightning and Kings fans? We were at Day 13 of the Ilya Kovalchuk Wait-and-See a year ago at this time. And we're not sure how many more Twitter rumors LA and Tampa beat writers can take.

Doughty's agent, Don Meehan, told Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times yesterday that he hasn't spoken with Kings GM Dean Lombardi since June 23. Lombardi has obviously been busy adding Mike Richards, courting Brad Richards, re-signing Brad Richardson and dealing away Ryan Smyth since the week of the NHL Draft. But the ball is in the Kings' court to make the next move according to Meehan.

The sticking point is both the length and dollar amount according to Lombardi. It's been reported that the Kings are believed to have offered a nine-year, $65 million deal to Doughty.

But another facet of any NHL contract may also play a large role here: Job security.

Bobby Scribe of the LA Kings blog Surly and Scribe hears from a source that a no-movement clause could be a stumbling block in this contract negotiation:

Dollars matter. So does length. However, our source has told us Dean Lombardi has had Drew Doughty's contract offer for a while now and while the latter two items may need adjusting, we understand neither are in the realm of a deal killer (read: terribly outrageous).

The main sticking point may be the no-movement or no-trade clause Drew has allegedly inserted therein (you can probably guess it is a NMC). Absent this flexibility killer clause, this deal may have been done (as it becomes a more straightforward dollars and length discussion) when we told you but, alas, this is why Lombardi and Drew's people at Newport Sports Management, Don Meehan and Mark Guy (experienced agents though different personalities) get paid the big bucks.

No-movement clauses scare the ever-loving crap out of general managers, which is why they usually cost something monetarily from the player's side of the bargaining table. No one knows when a Dany Heatley/Ottawa Senators grenade will go off. One year, you sign Lubomir Visnovsky to a huge extension; the next year, you're trying to beat the clock on a trade before a no-movement clause kicks in. You never know.

The Tampa Bay Lightning haven't been as busy as the Kings in making roster moves, which explains the regular talks between GM Steve Yzerman and Meehan, who also reps Steven Stamkos. Development camp had stalled talks earlier this week, but Erik Erlendsson of the Tampa Tribune reports that the two sides are expected to speak again today.

(Keep in mind that Bobby Ryan and the Anaheim Ducks needed until mid-September to reach a deal last year.)

So with all the obsession about offer sheets, why hasn't a team rolled the dice on either of these two stars?

Ken Campbell of The Hockey News pondered why the offer sheet wasn't used a tool by GMs more often.

"But it is curious that nobody has done it, isn't it? After all, at the very least, the Panthers could have forced the Lightning to match the offer, which would have placed them firmly in salary cap hell and would have forced them to make moves to their roster that might have weakened them. That was the strategy the San Jose Sharks employed last summer when they signed Niklas Hjalmarsson to an offer sheet, then capitalized on the Chicago Blackhawks cap problems to sign goalie Antti Niemi.

It's impossible to prove there's collusion because the way the system is constructed for restricted free agents gives teams far too much ammunition in their argument. The biggest one is the team that falls victim to the offer sheet has the right to match. Which means there's a good chance any team signing a player to an offer sheet will miss out on him and do nothing more than drive up the cost of doing business for everyone. There's also the matter that the team has seven days to make its decision and that's an enormous factor on July 1. The Rangers, for example, could easily argue that if they had signed Stamkos to an offer sheet, the uncertainty of the situation would have caused them to miss out on Richards and if Tampa had matched, they would have missed out on both players."

There's also the fact, as Campbell brings up, that all GMs are on the same wavelength as Lombardi, who publicly displayed his pimp hand three years ago playing the "you go after my guy, we'll come after yours" card.

Both are special players. Both are big parts of the growth of their teams.

Stamkos has scored 96 goals over the past two seasons. Jewels From The Crown looked back and found that "only 13 defensemen in history have scored more points at 18-21 than Doughty, and that "of those 13, seven are in the Hall of Fame."

Conventional wisdom is that they'll both be signed. But on whose terms?

Photo credit: Getty Images

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