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The Stamkos Circus is in town as NHL free agency inches closer

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Here’s what we know as free agency inches closer.

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2016 Honda NHL All-Star Skill Competition - Bridgestone NHL Fastest Skater
Will any of the players on the bench with Steven Stamkos be his teammate next year?
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

It’s difficult not to get lost in the Sea of Steven Stamkos. (It’s okay if you have though. Take a deep breath. We’ll get through this together.) There seems to be new developments (or no new news) and speculation and ranking of teams every hour. It doesn’t help that everyone’s waiting for the Stamkos domino (Stamino?) to fall:

At first, the question seemed to only be two-sided: Will Stamkos stay with his Lightning or move on? With a third option throws in the mix, it’s now become complicated. Everything is happening. We’ve tried our best to break down all the options that are on Stamkos’ table, as the free agency clock strikes at noon Friday.

Option 1: Stamkos re-signs with the Lightning.

Well, at this point, this is kind of the least fun option after all that’s been reported and rumored.

Pros: For one, Stamkos gets to keep all the money. He stays with his team, the Lightning have their captain. Life is good, let’s make another serious run for the Stanley Cup.

Cons: Stamkos re-signing with the Lightning at the rumored $8.5 million eats into the signings of other Lightning players who will command a lot of money. Also, since the media has suggested something might be awry with the captain and his coach, I guess that might mean more awkward times ahead. Or least more columns about it.

Likelihood of this happening: Medium high. Stamkos has given no indication he actually wants to leave. What’s better than continuing to live and working in Florida, where there are no income tax?

Option 2: Stamkos signs with another franchise.

Depending on the time of day and who you’re talking to, the number of teams showing their interest in Stamkos seem to fluctuate. Going all the way back to July 2014 when Stamkos innocently favorited a tweet about returning to his hometown (which he did yet again more than a year later), the Maple Leafs have been the front-runner in speculation. After the Red Wings made the Magic Man’s contract pretty much magically disappear at the draft, Detroit suddenly became a serious suitor. There’s also the Sabres because they have a lot of money to spend, and maybe a small part of them wants to prove that people do want to move to Buffalo and be part of the Sabres.

Then there are the Islanders. And the Bruins. Do the Canucks still want Stamkos after Jim Benning was fined for talking about him? The Canadiens could use a top center, but does that change with Andrew Shaw’s deal? Is there a dark-horse team that might swoop in and snatch Stamkos?

Pros: It depends on how you look at it. If Stamkos signs with another team, then we can likely figure that he went for the money and to a team he feels there’s a fit. Good for him. Meanwhile, the Lightning would lose their captain, but they’ve proven they can win without him. His absence means the Lightning are in a better spot to re-sign other players, most notably, Victor Hedman.

Cons: Stamkos loses his best chance to win the Stanley Cup in the immediate future. The Lightning lose their face of the franchise, their captain, their 60-goal scorer, for absolutely nothing. I don’t know in what scenario that’s ever okay, to lose a star for nothing, no matter how skilled your team is and has been without him.

Likelihood of this happening: High, especially with each passing hour that brings us closer to free agency. On the other hand, the Lightning’s offer is still there for his taking and Stamkos hasn’t told the Lightning he's not coming back, which just adds to all the speculation that no one really knows anything.

Option 3: Stamkos re-signs with the Lightning, and then he’s traded.

Pierre LeBrun threw all of us into a loop, Steve Yzerman especially it seems, when he asked the GM at the NHL Draft about signing and then trading Stamkos.

It sounds like a genius move that no one ever considered until LeBrun brought it up. Now, that idea is gaining steam. It’s a “real possibility.”

Pros: All parties get what they want. Stamkos gets his max term of eight years from the only team that can offer it — the Lightning — and he gets to leave, because in this scenario, that’s what he wants to do. The Lightning also don’t lose their captain for nothing. Additionally, another added bonus for the team that Stamkos goes to, as written by Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston:

For teams looking to add Stamkos there may even be a benefit to completing that sort of maneuver with the Lightning. They would have to part with an asset, sure, but it also offers the chance to lower the player’s eventual cap hit by spreading it over eight years rather than the maximum seven they could offer on the open market.

Cons: Deals fall through. It feels really uneasy to sign Stamkos to a contract that the Lightning then need to trade. What if a team changes their mind for whatever reason? Even if there’s an agreement in place? If the other team isn’t bound to anything, they have every right to. And if that should ever happen, well the Lightning would be completely screwed.

Likelihood of this scenario happening: Low. There are one too many moving parts here, never mind the fact that a sign and trade has never happened in the history of the NHL. It’d be interesting to see this happen, but I have a hard time believing that the Lightning, Stamkos and the team he would want to go to would all be able to pull this off.

Following all the news surrounding Stamkos for what feels like forever now has left me feeling one type of way: Exhausted. I can’t be alone. But don’t say we weren’t warned. From the Toronto Sun’s Mike Zeisberger on Feb. 26:

See Stamkos play without a contract extension. See the rumour mill blow up with speculation as to whether the Tampa Bay Lightning will trade their captain if no agreement is reached by the upcoming Feb. 29 trade deadline. See the scuttlebutt regarding possible landing spots for Stamkos go off the charts.