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Stamkos testing free agency, Blue Jackets looking to make a splash on the draft floor and more: Around the League

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Photo credit:Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports
Tyson Cole
15 days ago
Welcome back to Around the League — the column here at CanucksArmy where we deliver news and notes from around the National Hockey League, oftentimes through a Vancouver Canucks-tinted lens!
It’s draft day! And unfortunately for Vancouver Canucks fans, they’re without a first-round pick for the third time in the past five seasons. But just because the team won’t have much action doesn’t mean there will be a lack of “ooh’s and aah’s” on the draft floor with all of the drama set to take place tonight. There’s been rumours swirling already, let’s get into it.
 

Steven Stamkos set to hit free agency

Whoa. Now, this is a big one. Stamkos’ agent, Don Meehan, confirmed with TSN’s Pierre LeBrun that his client would be testing free agency on July 1st.
Steven Stamkos was the first-overall pick of the 2008 NHL draft and is the longest-tenured Tampa Bay Lightning player. This past season made it a decade that Stamkos enjoyed captain honours for the club. In what was his age-34 season, Stamkos has shown no signs of slowing down. He had his seventh 40-goal season of his career and finished with 81 points in 79 games.
It was believed Stamkos would always re-sign in Tampa Bay for most of the season. But after an offseason trade, that marriage looks more and more like it’s heading for an ugly divorce.
In the 2021-2022 season, the Lightning traded away Ryan McDonagh after their third straight Stanley Cup Finals appearance due to cap issues. Just two seasons later, they decided to bring him and his $6.75M per season contract back. This move leaves the Lightning with $5.335M of available cap space. Ultimately, that amount looks like it’s not going to be enough to retain their franchise sniper.
One place that would make sense for the Ontario Native is the Detroit Red Wings.
Before accepting a role as the General Manager of the Red Wings, Steve Yzerman was the GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Yzerman and Stamkos’ camp have agreed upon two long-term contracts that have paid the player $105.5M for 13 years. Could these two agree on a third contract?
There were some questionable trades earlier this week out of Detroit that would make this move possible. The Red Wings traded last year’s second-round pick, defenceman Andrew Gibson, to the Nashville Predators for forward Jesse Kiiskinen and Tampa Bay Lightning’s 2024 second-round pick. Detroit immediately flipped that second-round pick along with Jake Walman to the San Jose Sharks for future considerations – A.K.A. nothing. Walman’s coming off a career year where he scored 12 goals and 21 points in 63 games. This move was clearly a cap dump, but Walman only makes $3.4M per season. How desperate was Yzerman to clear this room, and for what?
The writing may be on the wall now that his former captain, Stamkos, is set to hit the free agent market.

Blue Jackets to make a splash on the draft floor

It looks like the hottest commodity on the draft floor tonight is going to be the Columbus Blue Jackets first-round pick. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman said this today on his 32 Thoughts podcast.
“The draft really starts here. [at Columbus’ pick] In terms of action, I think Columbus is the centre of the universe when it comes to potentially moving down and there are teams out there that believe that the Blue Jackets are motivated to do something big, they would like to make a splash.”
Rumours have circulated that the Philadelphia Flyers are interested in USNTDP forward Cole Eiserman. But once those reports came out, the San Jose Sharks traded one pick ahead of the Flyers in hopes of drafting the American sniper. Now, the Flyers have put the aggression on and want to pay it forward by jumping ahead of the Montreal Canadiens for the Russian forward Ivan Demidov.
It had been reported Philadelphia made an aggressive offer for the fourth-overall pick, which Columbus countered. The reported trade was 12h-overall, 32nd-overall and Colorado’s 2025 first-round pick, which was rejected on the Flyers end. But they aren’t the only team in the mix for this pick.
Both sides are reportedly still working on a trade. But that’s not the only team the Blue Jackets are talking to.
According to LeBrun, the Hurricanes are interested in the pick and have a much more enticing, flashy, familiar player to dangle in front of new Blue Jackets GM Don Waddell.
There’s word that the Hurricanes restricted free agent forward Martin Necas may be on the move for a first-round pick. Doesn’t it just make sense for Waddell to want to trade for a player he drafted who wants a fresh start and an elevated role in the lineup? Who would the Hurricanes be interested in at fourth overall, though? Given the high skill and disbelief in Demidov in the top three, any team trading up would likely be for the Russian star. Demidov had 26 goals and 60 points in the MHL last season and has one year remaining with SKA St. Petersburgh before he’s NHL-eligible.
Will we see another draft pick trade? Yesterday, the San Jose Sharks acquired the 11th overall pick from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for the 14th and 42nd overall picks. Today, the Montreal Canadiens move up to pick 21, trading the 26th, 57th, and 198th pick to the Los Angeles Kings.

Nashville Predators extend Juuse Saros

Last night, during the NHL awards, The Athletic’s Chris Johnston reported that the Predators signed Saros to an eight-year paying him $7.74M annually.
Saros, 29, finished with a 35-24-5 record but had the worst statistical season of his career. However, his worst year still included a 2.86 goals against average (GAA) and a .906 save percentage (S%) — still excellent numbers at the NHL level. The Finnish goaltender has a career 2.63 GAA and a .917 S%, so there’s no question they want to lock him up during his prime.
However, the selection the Predators made in the first round of the 2020 draft makes even less sense with this move.
With the 11th overall pick in that draft, Nashville selected goaltending prospect Yaroslav Asrkarov. The Russian phenom projected to be the best goaltending prospect since Andrei Vasilevskiy in 2012. Askarov had a 5-4 record with a 1.21 GAA and a .951 S% in his draft-plus-one season — the same season the Predators signed Saros to a four-year, $5M per extension.
The plan was to let Askarov finish his contract in the KHL and groom in the AHL until Saros’ extension is done. This would have been when Askarov could handle the backup duties next season, take the year to learn from Saros and trade him around the deadline. And it’s not so outlandish to think that Arkarov is ready for the jump. He appeared in two games in the NHL last season, registering a 1.47 GAA and a .943 S%.
The rumour mill has started to swirl, and the asking price for Askarov is high. The Predators are asking for a top-five pick. Could the goalie-hungry Columbus Blue Jackets part ways with their fourth-overall pick in exchange for the 22-year-old netminder?
There’s always a lot of chatter with minimal results. Let’s hope we get the results and see an active draft tonight in The Sphere in Las Vegas.

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