As hockey fans and the media muse about free agency, salary cap space and tanking in hopes of landing the most promising picks in June's draft, the Toronto Maple Leafs are seemingly bent on improving its roster. After dealing with Dion Phaneuf, the team is reportedly interested having Tampa Bay Lighting captain and center Steven Stamkos.
Stamkos is slated to become a free agent after the 2015-2016 season and, should he decide not to sign an extension with his current team come July 1, the Maple Leafs are rumored to be ready to welcome him. Sportsnet Canada analyst Elliotte Friedman recently joined Dean Blundell and Co. on Sportsnet 590 The Fan Friday and talked about potential scenarios involving Stamkos. Blundell, citing an anonymous source, mentioned that Toronto may be prepared to make a play for the Lightning captain's negotiating rights this summer with the intention of paying $11-$12 million per year over an eight-year term.
Speculation about Stamkos' possible signing with the Maple Leafs has been floating around all season. Last month, the player added fuel to those rumors' fire when he liked a tweet by a user asking whether the Leafs should try to sign him. Stamkos later unliked said tweet and claimed that it was just an accident. Nonetheless, it was not the first time that the Markham, Ontario native clicked the like button on tweets hinting at a possible future with the Maple Leafs.
Moreover, it appears that Toronto is not the only possible destination for Stamkos. The Tampa Bay center is also reportedly mulling over a move to another Atlantic Division team, the Buffalo Sabres. According to Dave Stevenson of FanSided, it would be wise for Stamkos to take at least a look at the Sabres as a potential free agent destination. "The Sabres have a ton of cap space and desperately need a star like Stamkos so they will most likely be interested in signing him. Buffalo would speed up their rebuild significantly should they add the sniper," Stevenson explained.
Aside from a potential Stamkos deal, reports of another potential acquisition by the Maple Leafs have also surfaced. As the NHL's February 29 Trade Deadline approaches, another team captain and center is said to be interested in heading to Toronto. Larry Brooks of the New York Post reports that John Tavares of the New York Islanders might be inclined to leave his team.
Brooks wrote that the Islanders star might be frustrated with his situation in Brooklyn and could sign with the Maple Leafs in 2018 once his contract is up. Tavares will be 27 years old by the time his contract expires in 2018. He is currently in the fourth year of his six-year deal with the Islanders, which carries a cap-friendly $5.5 million cap hit.