Speculative chatter: Will Steven Stamkos stay or will he go?

We break down how the Lightning will fare without their captain if he decides to bolt.

Occasionally the Raw Charge staff will get together and have a roundtable discussion about a topic concerning the Lightning or hockey in general. We first chatted about the course of action when it comes to Matt Carle, and now we’re onto the $10 million-dollar question: Steven Stamkos. Wait, that’s not a question. Oh well.

waffleboardsave: Well, here we are, the week of free agency, which in a couple of days. All eyes have been/are/will continue to be on our guy.

Is it as easy as saying the Bolts were one game away from the Stanley Cup Final, and lost to the eventual champion (again) without the captain, so we have nothing to worry about if we lose him for nothing?

GeoFitz4: I don't think it's as simple as that. Without a doubt, this team, right now, for next year, is better with Stamkos than it is without him. There's still a little bit of a question mark at the second center position if Stamkos is gone. Either you're plugging a declining Valtteri Filppula in there or you're giving Vladislav Namestnikov the chance to seize the second center spot. Vladdy has the speed, the two-way ability, and the playmaking to be capable of doing that. If he's with Drouin as his right wing, one of them has to commit to shooting the puck more because both can't be thinking pass all the time. Their left wing would be either Ondrej Palat or Alex Killorn. While they're both good complementary players, they aren't high end goal scorers either. Killorn and Kucherov would give the line some size and jam with Killorn and Kucherov would be the primary goal scorer of that line. That would leave Palat, Johnson, and Drouin to make up your other line.

The biggest issue with Namestnikov is that he has only gotten limited chances to prove himself in the top six. When he's been there, he's had some short periods of being good. But he hasn't shown the consistency to stick there. Yet. That could change if he's given the chance with the right line mates. Realistically, I think putting Killorn and Kucherov with Namestnikov would be the best option.

On the other side of the equation though, if you have Stamkos and you're putting him on a line with Palat and Drouin and leaving Killorn, Johnson, and Kucherov together, you've got two top lines that are exciting. You also then have Namestnikov in the wings to step into the top six in case of an injury. There aren't too many other great options for the top six to do so next season unless you get a resurgence from Ryan Callahan.

But, will the team be better in two or three or four years with Stamkos than without? That's hard to say. Either way, you'll have to look at guys like Adam Erne, Brayden Point, Matthew Peca, Mitchell Stephens to grow into top six roles to replace players that the team will be forced to move on from because of salary cap issues. That need will only be heightened if Stamkos is on the roster and eating up a lot of salary cap space.

waffleboardsave: Yeah, there's so much depth on this team in all positions and it's hard to imagine where else Stamkos believes he'll have the best shot of winning that can also afford him. We're all just assuming here, but what do you do if you're Stamkos? In my opinion, it's largely been the Canadian media that's been responsible for giving weight to the notion that Stamkos and Cooper don't get along. If that's all I followed I'd definitely believe that he's done. But if he actually were, I think (I hope) he'd have the decency to tell the team too, don't you think? It just feels like he has one foot in, one foot out.

John Fontana: The truth is that if Cooper and Stamkos are at odds in the way it’s been shaped by certain press sources, the problem would carry over beyond Cooper/Stamkos. One might suggest that is the situation and point to Vlad Namestnikov as further proof that players and the coach don't get along, but Namestnikov's role has been in flux, much as his play has been.

I think this, not Cooper or Namestnikov but the media, is another aspect we need to worry about in losing Stamkos. Why? Because the press (U.S. national and Canadian alike) have a habit of having the Lightning on the backburner in coverage. There's a grander failing on that — team coverage — that's already in place just because TB is not a top media market. How much further does the team get ignored — through good play or mediocrity — without a perceived superstar like Stamkos?

loserpoints: If Stamkos will accept $8.5M, re-sign him. If not, let him walk. The reasons are obvious and have been discussed ad nauseam. Hedman and Kucherov are both priorities and the team still needs room for Johnson, Palat, Drouin, Killorn, Namestnikov, Koekkoek and the rest of the pipeline. Locking up $9 or $10 million per year in Stamkos into his mid-30s just doesn't make sense and no matter how much anyone discusses it, it still won't make sense. The salary cap structure means teams need to secure young high-end players into long term deals during their RFA period. And anyone paying for the next contract after that is going to overpay.

Stammer has been a great captain and will be missed if he leaves but the long-term health of the franchise is most important and the math is pretty easy here. If the team had been smarter with Callahan, the situation would be different but they weren't and this is the consequence. A hard cap means a hard ceiling for contracts regardless of the popularity of the player and this is a perfect example of that reality. Yzerman is doing the right thing by setting the max budget and refusing to go over it.