Trade clears hurdle for possible Stamkos pursuit

“This is a transaction that wasn’t for today,” Lamoriello said. “This gives us the opportunity to do things.”

It paves the road for the Maple Leafs to go after Stamkos on July 1, should he hit the market, without any financial or salary cap barriers.

Stamkos, 26, has given no indication that he has any interest in playing for his hometown team. The NHL’s second-richest franchise likely could have afforded an eye-popping deal for Stamkos even with Phaneuf, but the Leafs are infinitely better positioned to tempt Stamkos today than they were yesterday.

In 669 days on the job, Brendan Shanahan and Co. has gotten out from under crippling contracts to David Clarkson, Phil Kessel and now Phaneuf.

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