By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com Bruins InsiderFollow @hackswithhaggs
BOSTON Heres a tantalizing question for all of those still drunk off the glorious Boston champagne party following the Bruins' Stanley Cup season.
What better reason is there to go for NHL broke than putting all the chips on the table for an explosive, exciting 50-goal scorer not even close to approaching the prime of his pro hockey career?
Were talking, of course, about the one and only Steven Stamkos.
The 21-year-old has cashed in 96 goals over the last two seasons for the Tampa Bay Lightning, and is considered to be the type of player Boston hopes Tyler Seguin to be once he's fully developed.
Stamkos will become a restricted free agent at noontime on Friday when free agency begins, and any team can legally push a drunken sailor offer sheet toward Stamkos bursting with cash, perks and anything else a creative GM could dream up in the nights leading up to July 1.
Thats exactly why the Bruins should grow bold and make the Stamkos move while they have a chance at the explosive force of hockey nature.
The rare opportunity has presented itself with Boston sitting way under the salary cap with more than 10 million to spend once the number goes up this season and Stamkos and Lightning GM Steve Yzerman have been unable to find common ground on a long term deal in the days leading up to Friday.
Its not easy for the Lightning as they scrounge around for some way to fit Marty St. Louis, Vinny Lecavalier and Stamkos under the same salary cap while overturning the couch cushions looking for loose change.
There is no magical cap exemption in the NHL collective bargaining agreement to bail out the Lightning, and Stamkos heads up some talented names among the RFA group that include defenseman Keith Yandle and Drew Doughty. Unfortunately the Bruins dont own their own 2012 second-round pick given up in the Tomas Kaberle deal, and that precludes them from sending any offer sheets with an average annual value between 4.7-7.8 million.
That development leaves the Bs out of the RFA sweepstakes for Yandle and Doughty, but still leaves them in play for a Stamkos-level player that should command upwards of 7.5 million per year.
Instead Yzerman is left to publicly vow that hell match any offer sheet thrown Stamkos way over the next few weeks if it devolves to that point, and privately hope none of the other GMs go for the kill.
If the Bruins hypothetically offered Stamkos an eight-year offer sheet at 8 million a season there is little way for them to lose anything as an organization.
If they somehow ended up with Stamkos the Bruins would surrender their next four first round picks in drafts that are likely to see them pick close to No. 30 after collecting top 10 players in each of the last two drafts through the shrewd Phil Kessel deal brokered by Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli. Sure, the Bruins would have some tough cap decisions after next season, but that will be under a new NHL CBA with uncertain terms.
Planning too far ahead for a new CBA can be disastrous as the Bruins should know firsthand after letting Mike Knuble, Brian Rolston, Sergei Gonchar and Michael Nylander walk away coming out of the lockout a series of moves that left the Bs with nothing more than an expansion team-level roster.
The Bs could pair Stamkos and Seguin together for the next decade and feature their game-breaking offensive forces that would make the offense hum. And that's not to mention the power play, which would click like it hasn't since Marc Savard caught Matt Cookes blindside elbow. It would literally be the most impactful move the Bs could make with Michael Ryder (4 million) and Tomas Kaberle (4.25 million) potentially coming off the books, the future of Savard (4 million) seriously in doubt and another 5 million plus floating in for the 2011-12 season. The NHL salary cap website capgeek.com has the Bruins currently sitting with 12.097 million in cap space, and with Brad Marchand set to cost the Bruins somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 million per season.
That is some serious monopoly money the Bruins are playing with, and Stamkos is Boardwalk and Park Place combined with hotels mortgaged to the hilt.
Stamkos-to-Boston sounds pretty good for a Bruins team coming off their first Stanley Cup trophy in 39 years, and would play awfully well to a burgeoning and hungry fan base that showed up 1.5 million strong at the Rolling Rally parade.
There are bushels of money to be made at Bruins Inc. these days, and the organization needs to find ways to be even bigger, better, badder and more exciting than they were last year. Thats not an easy feat, but pushing for Stamkos would do just that on all fronts.
Theres also the argument to be made the Bruins simply need to pull the offer sheet trigger in a conference thats quickly improving.
With Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin returning to health for the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Eastern Conference will be much more of a dog fight next year and beyond.
The Bs also have another need to improve substantially: There is a virtual certainty that the Detroit Red Wings will be migrating their winged wheels to the East in two years when the league realigns. The Red Wings will immediately become another obstacle in the way of the Black and Gold, and the Bs will need to match their talented roster.
Boston must gain offensive explosiveness and generate pure speed from all spots on the ice, and Stamkos holds both of those qualities among an ever-expanding tool box that saw him get stronger and grittier around the net this season.
Add that to the toughness he displayed by returning to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals after nearly getting his nose ripped off by a Johnny Boychuk slap shot, and Stamkos is the definition of a franchise player worth altering the long range plan for.
Theres obviously the chance Tampa Bay matches any offer sheet -- as Yzerman has guaranteed he will do -- and is forced to blow up part of the Bolts roster in order to retain their young superstar.
But theres really no down side here for the Bruins.
All is fair when it comes to competition within the NHL, and there are few chances to significantly weaken the only Eastern team that stood between the Bruins and their Stanley Cup in the conference finals. The Lightning are a hockey club on the rise, but salary cap complications could suck the gigawatts right out of Tampa Bay's attack in very short order.
The RFA offer sheet is a cold, ruthless and unmerciful move in the fraternal world of NHL GMs, but one can be certain nobody is going to do the Bruins any solid favors after they won the Cup this spring.
Its the right time to be bold and take chances with a team shooting to become the first to repeat as Cup champions in the last 15 years of the NHL.
The next few days or week should be the only chance the Bruins will ever have to seize Stamkos as Boston hockey property, and it could be the only chance theyll get at a proven 50-goal scorer in a long, long time.
Its a little crazy and very risky, but the Bruins should do whatever it takes to make Stamkos the newest member of the Stanley Cup Champions.
That certainly has a nice ring to it, doesnt it?