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The most intriguing Steven Stamkos free-agent scenarios

Restricted free-agent Steven Stamkos(notes) is in talks with the Tampa Bay Lightning on a new contract, and we really wish he'd speed things up. EA Sports has to pump out millions of these "NHL 12" games and it's going to be a bitch to redesign the cover in a Philadelphia Flyers motif.

Or the Toronto Maple Leafs. Or, let's face it, any of the other NHL teams that would go all-in for a guy who is one of the best hockey players on Earth at the tender age of 21.

All signs point to Stamkos remaining with the Lightning, of course. From Rob Longley of the Toronto Sun:

- He considers Martin St. Louis(notes) to be like a big brother after the veteran forward became a mentor to Stamkos during the kid's rough beginning to his career under the Barry Melrose regime.

-- Stamkos recently said the two sides were "close" while general manager Steve Yzerman this week remained optimistic that a deal would be done.

-- Yzerman is on record as saying the Lightning will match any offer sheet forwarded to Stamkos.

But that hasn't stopped the rumor mill from churning or the fans from picturing No. 91 in their team's sweater.

Here are some of the sexiest, intriguing and diabolical scenarios for Steven Stamkos and his next contract.

The Philadelphia Flyers tender an offer sheet to Stamkos

It is going to happen!

Wait, no, it probably won't!

Hold on, they've tendered an offer sheet! Wait, no, again, that's crap. From The Courier Post:

Despite Internet reports stating the club tendered the 21-year-old Tampa Bay Lightning superstar a 12-year, $115 million offer sheet, a source within the Flyers organization confirmed Wednesday that the club has not.

"No, not at all," the Flyers source said.

According to the NHL's Collective Bargaining Agreement, a team would need to have enough salary cap space available to cover the average salary of an offer sheet to a restricted free agent. If the Flyers offer Stamkos $115 million over 15 years, the cap hit would be $9.58 million.

The Flyers, who cleared $108 million in salary with last week's trades of Mike Richards(notes) and Jeff Carter(notes), are $8.3 million under the cap and would need to clear an additional $1.28 million to make the proposed 12-year contract offer, which Stamkos cannot sign until at least Friday.

Bottom line is that Stamkos on the Flyers would make Philly fans regret shedding a single tear for Jeff Carter or Mike Richards. He'd be the team's best offensive player and biggest star since Vintage Lindros.

Part of the problem here for the Flyers is that they know Tampa Bay will match, according to Tim Panaccio of CSN Philly:

"Whoever does this, Tampa has to match," said the source. "It's a bad position, but you have no choice. If you don't sign this player in that market, you are guaranteeing yourself you have no upside with your fans. Yzerman knows that."

So do the Flyers and the rest of the NHL.

"I cannot believe Philly is seriously considering an offer sheet," said one prominent person familiar with the talks. "[Owner Jeff] Vinik is a billionaire. Tampa will match any amount. It's an exercise in futility."

Or simply a chance to be an annoying bully that causes additional headaches for a conference foe.

In other words, Flyers hockey …

The Toronto Maple Leafs tender an offer sheet to Stamkos

They have the money, the need and the general manager who may or may not be a complete hypocrite when it comes to offer sheets.

From Mike Ulmer of the Leafs website:

Why it could work: If the Leafs tendered the maximum salary, $12.86 million, the Lightning might think twice about matching especially if they were closing in on Brad Richards(notes). The Lightning are said to have lost between $20-$25 million last season and that kind of contract might be unsustainable. The Leafs could get some breathing space by dealing Mike Komisarek(notes)  to teams working to reach the cap floor. Stamkos is a Unionville kid who grew up a Leafs fan. His uber-trainer is former Leaf Gary Roberts(notes). His potential for endorsements would likely be much higher in Toronto.  Vinny Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Ryan Malone(notes) account for nearly $18 million in payroll or a little less than a third of the team's player salaries.  All three have no-trade contracts and aren't likely to accept a deal.

Tendering an offer sheet to put a financial squeeze on a team? How very Kevin Lowe of Mr. Burke.

The Florida Panthers turn heel, attempt to poach Stamkos

This delicious rivalry-building idea sprung from the keyboard of Tampa Tribune scribe Erik Erlendsson:

In fact, the only one team I would realistically be worried about entertaining an offer sheet to Stamkos would be the Florida Panthers. If I'm Florida, and I have all that space available just to get up to the salary floor, I would seriously entertain the thought just because even if you don't believe you will get Stamkos, it could seriously hamper the salary structure of a division opponent (even after realignment)

This really is the most devious notion we've read all year, and would love nothing more than to see it happen. But it would require Steven Stamkos to sign with the Panthers … and then what if the Lightning doesn't match?

Whoops.

Someone offers Stamkos the max contract for 1-year

The most Stamkos can be offered is $12.86 million, a.k.a. 20 percent of the salary cap ceiling. Could you imagine a situation where some team that thinks they're perilously close to winning the Cup offers that max deal to Stamkos for one season, just to make a run at it?

Steven Stamkos re-signs with the Lightning for a huge cap hit, necessitating significant roster changes

It would royally suck for this franchise to lose its young cornerstone player because of the financial foibles of previous regimes. It would also suck if keeping him meant blowing up the team.

Vincent Lecavalier(notes) isn't getting $10 million of base salary next season because of GM Steve Yzerman. He didn't give Ryan Malone or Mattias Ohlund(notes) $5.5 million salaries. He took over a franchise that was mismanaged within an inch of its life, and managed to turn it into a conference finalist.

If Stamkos wants to stay and wants to win, then he has to be willing to put Yzerman and the Lightning in a position to keep him and win. He can log on to Cap Geek like the rest of us and see the reality of his surroundings.

Steven Stamkos re-signs with the Lightning for a manageable cap hit

This is actually our favorite scenario, because it's what's best for the player and the franchise.

Mike Brophy of Sportsnet sees a cap hit of around $7.5 million for Stamkos:

If he signs for $7.5 million, it would not financially cripple the Lightning's attempt to win the Cup based on what winning teams have spent the past few years -- especially with the salary cap continuing to rise.

They're renovating the building, they're changing the sweaters, they're doing all they can to reconnect with fans who were jaded by the Koules/Barrie Circus. Losing

Steven Stamkos isn't a dagger to the heart of the franchise, because it's not as if he'd leave without significant compensation coming back to the Lightning. But it would set the franchise back considerably after so much progress had been made under Yzerman and Vinik.

Which is why they'd match any offer sheet, but most likely they'll just sign him to their terms.

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