Flyers lie low, kick around possible offer sheet to Stamkos

Steven Stamkos' agents met again with Lightning GM Steve Yzerman.
Steven Stamkos' agents met again with Lightning GM Steve Yzerman. (Associated Press)
Posted: June 30, 2011

ANOTHER DAY has passed and Steven Stamkos is no closer to being back with the Tampa Bay Lightning than he was yesterday.

As the drama continued to unfold, it remained apparent that the Flyers would remain on the sideline, trying to determine their exact interest level in the restricted free agent. For now.

The Flyers continued to mull over a possible offer sheet for Stamkos, whose agents reportedly met with Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman yesterday but left without a contract extension for one of the three top forwards in the NHL.

Because the Flyers did not put in an offer sheet yesterday for Stamkos doesn't mean they will not ultimately be a player in the race.

According to sources close to the situation, the Flyers are still seriously considering putting in an offer sheet, which could not even be accepted until tomorrow at the earliest.

How serious? The sources said the Flyers' brass spent a significant amount of time running the idea by team chairman Ed Snider on Tuesday night but decided to sleep on the decision.

Snider, 78, was the man behind the Flyers' charge to bring in star goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, which ultimately led to deals in which Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were shipped out of town.

Sources said it would "not be a hard sell" for Snider to buy in on Stamkos, as Snider has always been a "chips in the center of the table" kind of guy.

The Flyers continued to deliberate internally - with some in the hierarchy split as to whether putting in the right offer sheet would be enough to pry Stamkos out of Yzerman's tightly clenched fist.

Team sources told the Daily News yesterday that if an offer sheet were to come, it would be for around 12 years, $115 million, which would produce an annual cap hit of approximately $9.58 million. The deal also would include a no-movement clause that would kick in before the 2016-17 season.

An offer sheet of that size could pave the way for the second-richest deal in NHL history, just short of Alex Ovechkin's 13-year, $124 million deal signed with Washington in 2008. Neither Ovechkin nor Pittsburgh star Sidney Crosby, though, has come this close to becoming a restricted free agent.

Whether a deal of that magnitude is enough to force a low-budget team like Tampa Bay to walk away and accept the compensation of four first-round draft picks remains to be seen.

Yzerman reportedly has been given a green light to match any offer sheet - regardless of size - for Stamkos. The Flyers have been trying to determine internally whether Yzerman has been posturing.

"What else would he say?" one source said.

Let's keep in mind, though, that the entire Lightning franchise was just purchased last January for a total of $110 million in cash by owner Jeffrey Vinik, who is also a minority owner of the Boston Red Sox. The Lightning reportedly lost between $20 million and $25 million last season alone.

Meanwhile, the Lightning has been busy signing other free agents - Dwayne Roloson, Marc-Andre Bergeron and Eric Brewer - but hasn't been able to focus its attention fully on completing a deal with Stamkos.

There are two other holdups on the Flyers' end - other than trying to figure out whether Yzerman can match any offer, in this game of high-stakes chicken.

While the Flyers would not be against throwing a wrench into Tampa Bay's finances by offering a ridiculous sum of money, they are interested in making an offer only if they believe it will net them the player who would make them the odds-on favorite to win the Stanley Cup.

They have been creatively working on a plan that might include structuring the deal by severely front-loading it with a few years at the max salary of $12.86 million, giving it a "poison pill."

The Flyers have not had any direct conversations with Yzerman, and therefore would not know whether he has changed his stance on moving Stamkos' rights before tomorrow's offer-sheet vulnerability kicks in.

The only negative scenario of throwing an offer sheet at Stamkos is that the Lightning could tie up the Flyers' other free-agency plans if he does choose to accept. Tampa Bay would have 7 days to match any offer, but could wait until the seventh day to either accept or let Stamkos walk. That would prevent the Flyers from signing any other available free agents, because of salary-cap concerns.

"The Flyers are concerned that any player they might have wanted to target would already be off the market by the time this would work itself out," another source said.

It is precisely what has kept the Flyers from restarting negotiations with soon-to-be unrestricted free agent Ville Leino, a player Snider said he would like to see return. The Flyers have not had any communication with Leino or his agent since last Friday.

Calls to Leino, who is vacationing in his native Finland, on both his American and Finnish cellphones yesterday by the Daily News went unreturned.

According to team sources, the Flyers also have interest in small-ticket free agents Michael Ryder (Boston), Jamie Langenbrunner (Dallas), Erik Cole (Carolina) and John Madden (Minnesota), who are all ready to hit the market tomorrow.

There is no guarantee, though, by not entering the Stamkos sweepstakes that they would sign any of those players. And even without Stamkos or any of those other players, they are already close to a complete roster and could round it out with Phantoms players.

So, do the Flyers take a stab at signing Stamkos? Or do they count on signing one or two of those other players at a much discounted rate and leave a little space in the salary cap at the same time? That's what the brass spent yesterday considering.

Then again, as one team executive said: "We've never been afraid of anything."

For more news and analysis, read Frank Seravalli's blog, Frequent Flyers, at

www.philly.com/FrequentFlyers. Follow him on Twitter at

http://twitter.com/DNFlyers.

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