1. No matter where he goes, Steven Stamkos will wind up by being the richest player in hockey by the first puck-drop in October.
2. If I’m Lightning G.M. Steve Yzerman, I’d walk away from Stamkos and wish him the same kind of “good luck” that Islander G.M. Garth Snow did for his once-beloved forward Kyle Okposo.
3. When all is said and done, if — and when — Stamkos says “Bye-Bye, Tampa,” the Lightning will be better off without him.
4. Reason Number One: Jon Cooper’s squad showed in the playoffs that they are a dangerous team without Stevie-We-Wonder.
5. Reason Number Two: Yzerman will have his hands full with key performers such as ace defenseman Victor Hedman, crack penalty-killer Brian Boyle and — if he’s not traded — Vezina Trophy runner-up Ben Bishop. They become Unrestricted Free Agents over the next two summers.
6. Reason Number Three: Jonathan Drouin has entered the Bolts roster as a younger, cheaper and potentially as a good player down the line, as Stamkos was in his prime.
7. Naturally, Stamkos is Numero Uno in The Hockey News “Free Agency Power Rankings.” And if you haven’t guessed already, Okposo is runner-up to Stevie-We-Wonder.
8. The next quintet on The Hockey News list includes: (3) David Backes; (4) Milan Lucic, (5) Andrew Ladd; (6) Loui Eriksson and (7) Frans Nielsen.
9. THN’s bottom five includes James Reimer, Troy Brouwer, Radim Vrbata, David Perron and Kris Russell.
10. Edmonton is thirsting for a defenseman. (No, make that plural.) But who? Minnesota’s speedy Matt Dumba is a possibility, should the Oilers agree to part with center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
11. Then again Oilers boss Peter Chiarelli just may be asking too much. In that case, Stars G.M. Jim Nill might listen to a deal for his Jason Demers.
12. Every year, I love finding who I consider the “Free Agent Sleepers.” My latest choices include Colorado’s right wing Mikkel Boedker. At 26, this speed merchant has plenty of potential. All he requires are the right linemates. My runner-up is right wing Jiri Hudler. Granted, he’s 32, but due for a comeback.
13. The most disappointing news for the Alexander Radulov Marching and Chowder Society is that the Rapid Russian hasn’t found an NHL contract fat enough for him to devour. Hence, it appears that he’ll remain home-bound with Salavat Yulaev Ufa.
14. Loui Eriksson’s agent J.P. Barry reports that the Slick Swede has had a half dozen teams contact him. If you want to believe the rep — your call, not mine — Barry believes that he can fetch a five-year contract in the open market.
15. Bruins G.M. Don Sweeney knows a bit about dealing with agents. Sweeney retorts that he’ll take one last run at Eriksson, but that the two parties might not be able to come to a deal.
16. Look for Milan (The Hulk) Lucic to exit the Left Coast and return to his Eastern stamping grounds. Wouldn’t it be something if he winds up in the Land of Beans playing for the team that made him, famous — The Big, Not So Bad, Bruins?
17. Speaking of RFAs who could receive offer sheets and force their team to let them go, don’t forget about Lightning ace Nikita Kucherov. At 23, he’s already posted back-to-back 60-plus point seasons and is only getting better. Teams are sure to be flooding him with offers as the Lightning will have many important decisions to make.
18. A major-major question in The Windy City: Would Andrew Ladd take a discount to stay with the Blackhawks? Frankly, with the moolah available, I don’t see any reason why; do you?
19. Back to Stamkos for an important cautionary note: More than one seasoned journalist is pointing out that Steven’s health could figure into his Free Agent salary.
20. Regarding Stamkos’ health and contract talks, The Hockey News Editor in Chief Jason Kay asserts, “The blood clots that sidelined him this past season have to be worrisome — to the player and the team — even if he comes with assurances, he’s no more susceptible to a recurrence than the next guy.”
21. Since mid-season, our eyes and ears have been assailed with stories about the eventual trading of Edmonton’s right wing Jordan Eberle, Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk (of New Rochelle, N.Y.) and Slovakia’s greatest star by way of the NHL, Zdeno Chara.
22. Therefore, it’s about time one or two or all three of these worthies moved to icier rinks. What’s your call? I say: 1. Eberle; 2. Shattenkirk; 3. Chara. Age favors the first two and lack of speed and Chara’s 39 years — not to mention fat contract — militate against my buddy Big Z.
23. Still, there has to be a team that can use someone with Z’s experience, competitiveness and leadership qualities who’ll at least kick his tires.
24. Too bad “best beard” doesn’t factor into trades; otherwise I’d deal for Nashville’s Barret Jackman. (I wonder whether he’d vote for me.)
25. Many consider Yzerman among the top six general managers. That status will either rise or fall with a resolution of the Stamkos Follies.
26. Just to show you how totally absurd some NHL execs can become during Free Agent Frenzy, we must look backward at L’Affaire David Clarkson. Then, wince in disbelief and take two aspirins and a glass of water.
27. Totally flummoxed by what was a career year — call it exceptional good luck on Clarkson’s part — the Maple Leafs high command gifted him with (time for a gulp!) a seven-year $36.75 million deal with a $5.25 million Cap hit.
28. Hey, it wasn’t David’s fault. And he’s such a nice guy you have to feel for him, considering his subsequent injuries and the fact that he played only 23 games for Columbus this past season. Two goals, two assists. ‘Nuff said.
29. Then again that’s the Free Agency trap door. Teams pay premium for past production and never get for which they pay. And that’s sure to happen with Eric Staal, 31, and David Backes, 32.
30. And speaking of trades, it’s normal for hockey bosses to be criticized for not making deals. That happened to then Rangers G.M. Neil Smith at the 1990 league meetings. Smith had the perfect squelch: “I offered my hotel room maid two used towels for two clean ones!”
31. Or, Harry Neale’s classic: “There’s the trade where you’ll give up your headache and get one of theirs in return, only you just don’t know how bad!!”