It appears more and more likely that the Tampa Bay Lightning will be seeing superstar and franchise player Steven Stamkos donning a new jersey come 2016-17.
The two sides never came close to hammering out a deal and with the Lightning reaching the Eastern Conference Finals without him, it's easy to believe that Steve Yzerman won't see much purpose in handing out a lucrative contract to him.
On the flip side, Tampa Bay played hardball with Stamkos and it's an easy way for a player of his talents to get fed up and decide to go elsewhere. There are a number of teams that have the money, patience and desperation to give Stamkos every penny that he desires. Such is life when you're one of the league's top pure goal scorers.
Stamkos is a sure bet for 40-50 goals and he could basically choose his team. Sure, powerhouses with little cap room like the Los Angeles Kings, Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues won't be able to afford him, but at least three quarters of the NHL teams have the room to sign him.
If he wants to take a pay cut, Stamkos can go just about anywhere, but it's fairly obvious he's going to receive a maximum contract term worth at least $10 million a season.
The real question then becomes who the top contenders are, and why he'd want to go play there. Here's a breakdown of the top eight teams who should be in the running for Stamkos, and why it makes sense for him to join them.
16 Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings have not been an elite team for years. Long gone are the days of Nicklas Lidstrom, a healthy Johan Franzen and in-their-primes Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg putting them in Stanley Cup contention.
Detroit will maintain a loyal fan base, but they do need someone more to cheer about. Zetterberg's on his last legs, and Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist are good, but not great, to carry a team on their own. They need a bonafide star.
15 Benefits of Playing in Detroit
Why wouldn't he want to suit up for one of the league's Original Six teams that has become the model and consistency of excellence? 25 straight playoff years (and counting) could entice Stamkos.
Playing with Dylan Larkin, Nyquist and Tatar could make this team one of the most lethal offenses we've ever seen. The Wings are a puck-possession team full of young speedsters. Stamkos could pot 40-50 with this core, no problem at all.
14 Vancouver Canucks
For some reason, Canucks ownership won't let GM Jim Benning full-on rebuild because they fear the fans won't be patient enough for one. That's odd because the fans have spoken by letting seats in the lower bowl remain empty for large portions of the last three seasons.
If ownership won't rebuild, Stamkos is the only player in this year's UFA class that can rejuvenate general fan interest and ticket sales.
13 Benetifs of Playing in Vancouver
Other than the fact Vancouver is a beautiful city, Stamkos has to know how desperate the team and its fans are for a new star.
He could play with the Sedin twins or form a new line with upcoming star hopefuls in Bo Horvat, Jake Virtanen and Brock Boeser. Stamkos would have a tough time saying no to a) a lot of money b) living in Vancouver and c) being a hero this city deserves and needs.
Stamkos instantly would become Vancouver's Batman.
12 Minnesota Wild
Despite four consecutive seasons in the playoffs, Minnesota has not been able to get past the big dogs like the Chicago Blackhawks or Dallas Stars. They simply have no depth outside of superstars Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.
The Wild have always been a defense-first team that has never been able to score a whole lot, but adding Stamkos could buck that trend. He and Parise can do the scoring and the rest of the team can play defense.
11 Benefits of Playing in Minnesota
It's the State of Hockey, for crying out loud. Stamkos has surely enjoyed playing in a non-traditional hockey market like Tampa Bay, but if he's looking for a more vibrant fan base, no state has more passionate and loving fans than Minnesota.
This team is on the rise in the Western Conference, but they just need one more piece to become contenders. How could Stamkos pass on playing with consistent 30-goal man Parise? And why wouldn't he want to be the shining star in Minny?
10 Nashville Predators
The Preds once again had a heart-wrenching playoff loss, this time in a seven-game defeat against the San Jose Sharks in the second round. It's clear they don't have the star power to compete with the elite squads.
But throw in Stamkos and we have a very different story. Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg, Roman Jose, Shea Weber and Pekka Rinne round out a very solid core, and Stamkos' arrival could make them the Western Conference's top team.
9 Benefits of Playing in Nashville
The Predators have some talented young forwards, a very deep defensive core and one of the league's few elite netminders. Stamkos knows that the deeper teams (Chicago, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Washington, St. Louis and Anaheim) can't afford him.
With that in mind, Nashville could offer him the best chance to win a Cup now out of all the teams that could afford him. There are so many stars and young, exciting players in The Music City. It's a prime opportunity for Stamkos to chase his cup(s).
8 Montreal Canadiens
After a terrible collapse in the last five months of the 2015-16 season, the Habs went from a sure-bet in the playoffs to one of the league's worst teams.
Max Pacioretty, P.K. Subban and Carey Price round out a nice core, but the die-hard fans of Montreal are running out of patience. This team hasn't been to the Cup Final since 1993 and 2016 appeared to be their year in the East.
Stamkos could be the final piece that gives the Habs one of the league's most dangerous core-fours in history.
7 Benefits of Playing in Montreal
Who wouldn't want to play for the most historic franchise in NHL history? Sure, it's tough for some to play in the hockey-crazy market of Montreal, but Price, Pacioretty and others have embraced the pressure.
Stamkos is a pure goal-scorer, one that the Canadiens really could use. Their offense is one of the league's worst, but Price single-handedly nearly took them to the Eastern Conference Final in 2014-15 despite that issue.
Now if they have Stamkos, they're far and away the top team in the East, and Stamkos could be hero number one in one of the league's best hockey markets.
6 Florida Panthers
A rebuild that has taken 20-something years may finally come to an end, as the Panthers won this year's Atlantic Division, typically one of the most difficult in the NHL.
With Jaromir Jagr, Roberto Luongo, Aaron Ekblad, Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck, Reilly Smith and Aleksander Barkov, this core is one of the deepest in the league.
Stamkos could be that one piece that separates Florida from the rest of the Eastern Conference. Why not join a team that's loaded with stars already?
5 Benefits of Playing in Florida
He's obviously used to playing in the state of Florida, where it's not the most traditional hockey state. Stamkos wouldn't have to face intense pressure from the media, like he would if he went elsewhere.
Along with Jagr, he could mentor the other Panthers' rising stars. Florida won the Atlantic Division without too many problems. Adding Stamkos to the mix basically guarantees they'll be a top dog in the East.
Perhaps no team has a longer championship window than the Panthers right now. Perhaps Stamkos believes he could make a dynasty in The Sunshine State.
4 Winnipeg Jets
The Jets completed their fifth season in Winnipeg and failed to build off of a 2014-15 playoff season. Still, it's nearly impossible to not be excited about this team's future.
There's a reason The Hockey News pegged them to win the Stanley Cup within the next five years. With a good mix of veterans like Dustin Byfuglien, Blake Wheeler, Drew Stafford and Bryan Little, Stamkos could flourish right away.
3 Benefits of Playing in Winnipeg
The Jets own the second-overall pick in this year's draft, meaning they'll add Finnish sensation Patrik Laine OR Jesse Puljujarvi. Their selection will be a top-tier player and make an impact right away.
That guy will join a young core that includes Mark Scheifele, Nikolaj Ehlers, Jacob Trouba, Joel Armia and Tyler Myers. Basically, Winnipeg has the deepest prospect group and young talent in hockey.
Stamkos would give himself the prime chance to win multiple Cups in Winnipeg, and he'd already be the biggest star in the city's history. At least, we think.
2 Toronto Maple Leafs
The team most people peg as the favourites to land Stamkos actually makes a little too much sense for him to pass up on.
Besides Toronto being his hometown team, Stamkos would have the chance to be the biggest hero in the city's sports history. Maple Leafs fans have suffered like no other, going 49 years (and counting) since they last made it to the Stanley Cup.
Mike Babcock instantly developed some of the team's top rookies and with Auston Matthews shortly joining them in the Draft, Toronto's future looks loaded.
1 Benefits of Playing in Toronto
So Stamkos gets to work with Matthews, William Nylander, Mitch Marner, Morgan Reilly, Nazem Kadri and the league's best head coach, should he join there?
Talk about being spoiled. Again, Stamkos should want to play for his hometown. If he turns them into a powerhouse, he'll have a legacy long-cemented in Toronto. They'll be able to give him the max contract he'll obviously seek and he'll rejuvenate an impatient franchise.
It all makes sense for Stamkos to join Toronto.