The Columbus Blue Jackets Should Inquire On Pending UFA Steven Stamkos

By Dan Dukart on May 2, 2024 at 1:45 pm
Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos
Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

Steven Stamkos may have played his final game as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

And if the pending UFA does choose to test free agency, the Columbus Blue Jackets should do everything in their power to court the 34-year-old center. The Lightning captain is coming off a sensational season where he posted 40-41-81 in 79 regular season games and added 5-1-6 in five playoff games. It should be said that the Lightning are "very hopeful" the team can re-sign their star player, so it's far from a given.

Stamkos, who has worn the "C" for Tampa Bay for the past 11 seasons, checks a ton of boxes. He's a center, a proven winner, and has shown that he can still produce in a big way, even on the wrong side of 30. From the Blue Jackets standpoint, those are all enticing attributes. Stamkos, who would not come cheap, still fits into the club's salary cap structure. With a projected $23.5M in salary cap space next season, there is room to fit him in, even when accounting for a notable group of pending RFAs (aside: even if there was no room, shouldn't the Blue Jackets be in the business of collecting good players and figuring out the rest later?).

But more to the point, Stamkos would be a perfect example for the team's plethora of young players to learn from. Adam Fantilli, in particular, comes to mind as someone who could benefit from the example set by the two-time Stanley Cup champion. The Blue Jackets need more help down the middle, and an addition like Stamkos would allow Fantilli to slot into the 2C slot for a year or two, with the thought being that he would eventually replace him. That would also allow for Boone Jenner to fall into a lesser role, either as the team's 3C - his ideal spot, in my humble opinion - or on the wing alongside either of those two centers. 

Lastly, Johnny Gaudreau would benefit in a huge way from the addition of Stamkos. I wrote about why Gaudreau produced at a career-low pace this year, and one of the key takeaways was he needs to play with another player (or two, as he did in Calgary) who can find open space, win puck battles, take away attention from him, and finish off plays. That sounds like Stamkos. 

It's easy to daydream about this match made in heaven. But in all reality, Stamkos has little reason to want to come to Columbus. His services will be in high demand, and there will be teams in a better position to win now, who are also able to pay him his market value (even teams like Nashville or Florida, who, on top of being win-now teams, also play in states that don't have a state income tax). Of course, it was a surprise when Gaudreau picked Columbus, too, so never say never. 

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