Toronto Maple Leafs: Steven Stamkos and Tweetgate

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Mar 31, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steven Stamkos (91) goes after a puck against the Toronto Maple Leafs during the first period at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

How do the Leafs Fit Into This?

After this season the Leafs will have 11 players under contract next season (12 if you include Nathan Horton) with a combined cap hit of $46.7 million, while Tampa Bay will have 13 players under contract for $47.6 million.

The obvious difference between the Leafs and Lightning is the fact that Tampa Bay is a contending team that wants to stay that way and the Leafs are trying to build into a team that will be a contender. Will Stamkos take the chance to leave a good situation with the Lightning and move to his hometown and wait for that chance to compete for the Stanley Cup? Having Mike Babcock as a coach doesn’t hurt and seeing the talent that is on the way could make Toronto an option.

Dec 8, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Antoine Bibeau (30) congratulates goaltender Garret Sparks (31) after a win over the New Jersey Devils at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto defeated New Jersey 3-2 in an overtime shootout. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Leafs currently have forwards James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak, Leo Komarov, Daniel Winnik, and Joffrey Lupul signed to contracts next season, so there is flexibility with their forwards.

Having Kessel’s retained salary of $1.2 million until 2022 on the Leafs cap along with Tim Gleason‘s buyout at $1.33 million for the next two seasons does not help matters. However, the fact that the team is not going to be big spenders on a lot of free agents mean that they can rely on more younger players and bargain free agents to fill their roster.

Does that also mean that they can make room for Stamkos? Sure, but they will have to be smart about it. What would Stamkos want to make if he is on the free agent market? $11-12 million a season over the next seven seasons as a UFA?

This would all depend on who is interested in Stamkos and can realistically afford to make him a big offer. The Leafs have been less committed to spending big money at free agency because they want to focus on drafting and developing, but if they do not have to give up anything but cap space to acquire Stamkos then why not?

It does not hurt to at least consider an offer, but the one thing the Leafs have to avoid is making a trade for Stamkos, especially if the Lightning want a significant player in return. It would be hard for the Lightning to give up Stamkos without anything in return so they may want to try to do what they did with Martin St. Louis and get something in return for him. The Leafs also have the benefit of having a lot of younger forwards waiting for their chance to move to the NHL and no major commitments to forwards over the next three to five years. The Lightning do not have time on their side so they will have to make a decision soon.

Dec 29, 2014; Newark, NJ, USA; New Jersey Devils GM Lou Lamoriello and New Jersey Devils co-head coach Adam Oates talk during the first period of their game against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

This would be similar to when the Atlanta Thrashers traded Ilya Kovalchuk, after they were not able to re-sign him to a deal so they got assets back for him. Do you remember the GM who traded for Kovalchuk? If you guessed Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello then you were correct.

Now before people get too excited about the possibility of the Leafs trying to get Stamkos, a reality check is necessary. Stamkos has a no-movement clause, so unless he is willing to waive it, expect him to remain with the Lightning until the end of the season.

The Leafs are also committed to taking a patient approach to building a contender so unless they can get Stamkos without giving up a lot — or anything — then it could make sense if he is willing to be a part of the process and be patient towards building a winner.

Next: Maple Leafs News: Bernier, Teams Scouting Leafs, Stamkos Sponsorship Deals

So until the Lightning and Stamkos sign on the dotted line, or agree to a contract, there will be a lot attention towards this situation and for good reason. Especially when Stamkos and the Lightning come to Toronto on Tuesday to play the Leafs after everything that has happened this week. Next time Stamkos will be weary of what he does on his social media accounts then maybe he can avoid starting Tweetgate.