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Frank Seravalli

TSN Senior Hockey Reporter

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Steven Stamkos is days away from unrestricted free agency after nearly a full year of negotiating with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Lightning GM Steve Yzerman said last weekend not to “rule anything out,” but Stamkos is still the runaway leader atop TSN’s Top 40 Free Agent list. At 26, Stamkos can become the youngest superstar to hit the open market in league history.

Around the NHL, teams have been clearing salary cap space to make a run at Stamkos.

The Vancouver Canucks were the latest team to do so on Monday, placing forward Chris Higgins on waivers for the purpose of buying out the final year of his deal. If Higgins is bought out on Tuesday, Vancouver will have nearly $11 million in space to try and finally land the heir apparent to Henrik Sedin at centre.

Detroit shipped Pavel Datsyuk’s $7.5 million cap hit to Arizona last Friday. The Red Wings have nearly $18 million in space after forward Drew Miller re-upped with a $1.025 million deal on Monday.

Sabres GM Tim Murray said Saturday he could go as high as $12 million per year for Stamkos, while checking all of the other boxes with his interest in Stamkos “only as a centre” and in “geography” with his team located just on the other side of the lake from Markham, Ont.

Aside from the Canucks, Red Wings, Sabres, Maple Leafs, Canadiens and Rangers, could there be a dark horse team out there for Stamkos? What about the New York Islanders, where Stamkos could play on a line with close friend John Tavares for the foreseeable future? New York has oodles of cap space.

Stay tuned. The Stamkos chatter is only just heating up.

Since TSN’s Top Free Agent list was last released earlier in June, a few names have jockeyed up and down the list. Jimmy Vesey joins at the No. 6 spot, given that two teams have now said he could immediately join their roster in a top-six role out of Harvard University. He becomes a free agent on Aug. 15 — though the Sabres have exclusive negotiating rights until then.

Veteran defenceman Brian Campbell rose after the Panthers decided to sign Keith Yandle to a monster new deal. James Reimer fell since no team appears to be in the market for a No. 1 goaltender anymore.

Forwards Matt Martin and Darren Helm both joined the list, since a premium is going to be placed on skating this summer, with the league focusing on speed. Ben Lovejoy was also added after an impressive Stanley Cup playoff run with the Penguins.

Pittsburgh chose not to qualify 25-year-old defenceman Justin Schultz at $3.9 million, as expected, making him a pending UFA. Schultz said his intention is to re-sign in Pittsburgh, so he could always come to terms on a deal for less than that prior to July 1.

Thomas Vanek and Jared Cowen also joined the list after being bought out of their contracts last week.

Here is TSN’s Top 40 Free Agent list as we approach Friday’s Frenzy: 

 

The Top 40 Free Agents

 
RK PLAYER TEAM POS AGE GP G PTS 15-16
1 Steven Stamkos TBL C 26 77 36 64 $7.5 M
2 Milan Lucic LAK LW 28 81 20 55 $6 M
3 Kyle Okposo NYI RW 28 79 22 64 $2.8 M
4 Loui Eriksson Bos LW 30 82 30 63 $4.25 M
5 Andrew Ladd CHI LW 30 78 25 46 $4.4 M
6 Jimmy Vesey Harvard LW 23 33 24 46 -
7 Mikkel Boedker Col RW 26 80 17 51 $3.75 M
8 David Backes StL C 32 79 21 45 $4.5 M
9 Frans Nielsen NYI C 32 81 20 52 $2.75 M
10 Jason Demers Dal RD 28 62 7 23 $3.4 M
11 Troy Brouwer StL RW 30 82 18 39 $3.66 M
12 Brian Campbell Fla LD 37 82 6 31 $7.14 M
13 David Perron Ana LW 28 71 12 36 $3.81 M
14 Kris Russell Dal LD 29 62 4 19 $2.6 M
15 Jamie McGinn Ana LW 27 84 22 39 $2.95 M
16 Dan Hamhuis Van LD 33 58 3 13 $4.5 M
17 Lee Stempniak Bos RW 33 82 19 51 $850 K
18 James Reimer SJS G 28 40 2.31 .922 $2.3 M
19 Eric Staal NYR C 31 83 13 39 $8.25 M
20 Darren Helm Det RW 29 77 13 26 $2.13 M
21 Shane Doan Ari RW 39 72 28 47 $5.3 M
22 Matt Martin NYI LW 27 80 10 19 $1 M
23 Jiri Hudler Fla RW 32 72 16 46 $4 M
24 Luke Schenn LAK RD 26 72 4 16 $3.6 M
25 Justin Schultz Pit RD 25 63 4 18 $3.9 M
26 Jason Chimera Wsh LW 37 82 20 40 $2 M
27 Radim Vrbata Van RW 35 63 13 27 $5 M
28 Teddy Purcell Fla RW 30 76 14 43 $4.5 M
29 Ben Lovejoy Pit RD 32 66 4 10 $1.1 M
30 Roman Polak SJS RD 30 79 1 16 $2.75 M
31 Kris Versteeg LAK RW 30 77 15 38 $4.4 M
32 Thomas Vanek Min LW 32 74 18 41 $6.5 M
33 Dale Weise Chi RW 27 71 14 27 $1.03 M
34 P.A. Parenteau Tor LW 33 77 20 41 $1.33 M
35 Shawn Matthias Col LW 28 71 12 28 $2.3 M
36 Sam Gagner Phi C 26 53 8 16 $4.8 M
37 Chad Johnson Buf G 30 45 2.36 .920 $1.3 M
38 David Schlemko NJD LD 29 67 6 19 $625K
39 Jared Cowen Tor LD 25 37 0 4 $3.1 M
40 Jhonas Enroth LAK G 28 16 2.17 .922 $1.25 M