Stamkos: I want to stay with Lightning
Captain Steven Stamkos wants to make one thing clear:
The superstar center, in the final year of his current contract, wants to stay with the Lightning long-term, and believes an extension can still be worked out. Stamkos, 25, denies any rumored rift with coach Jon Cooper, and says both his representatives at Newport Sports and the Lightning are "definitely still talking."
"Like I've always said, I envision myself winning a championship here and want to do that," Stamkos told the Tampa Bay Times Saturday. "Obviously we got close last year, and I'm the captain of this team and I want to be that leader."
There have been reports indicating Stamkos likely won't remain in Tampa Bay, including from well-respected TSN reporter Bob McKenzie Wednesday, who wrote that is his "feeling."
There's a sense among some in the hockey world that Stamkos has already decided he's as good as gone.
"Absolutely not," Stamkos said. "Not even close. That's why people say, 'I've got a feeling. I think, speculate, there's so much information out there that's probably false. Like the ones about my parents moving to Tampa (which Stamkos said is not true). That just comes with the territory."
Stamkos understands why Lightning fans are concerned. After all, Stamkos said at last year's All-Star game in January that the plan was to sign a long-term deal with the Lightning one year from free agency, much like Blackhawks stars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews did in 2014. General manager Steve Yzerman said in June his "No. 1 priority" over the summer was to get a long-term deal done with Stamkos.
Yet, still, there's no deal.
"That was obviously the hope, it hasn't gotten done," Stamkos said. "But there has been a lot of situations in the past where guys have signed later in the season and this isn't the first time, even (Kings center Anze) Kopitar is going through it this year. It's not the first time someone in my position has been unsigned at this point in the season. Obviously we'll see what happens."
One highly speculated reason for the contract holdup is an alleged rift between Stamkos and coach Jon Cooper. It began when Stamkos was moved to right wing during the playoffs, and continued to pick up steam after Cooper got his contract extension earlier this month. James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail wrote this week that Stamkos is likely to bolt in free agency because of his issues with Cooper.
"That's false too," Stamkos said. "That's the thing. There's been so many different articles written about Coop and I. How do they know what's going on in the room? A lot of it is speculation, a lot of it is a story that needs something to make it seem legit, there needs to be a reason (he's still unsigned). Why no one has had any concrete stuff is because there hasn't been anything to talk about..
"I think obviously the people who know me and are close to the situation know what's true and what's not true."
Stamkos won't get into specifics of negotiations, offers or contract demands, per the long-running media blackout his agents at Newport Sports and Yzerman have agreed to. It's unknown what Stamkos is looking for money-wise, whether it's in the expected $10 million-$11 million per year range. It's also up for debate if the Lightning can, or is willing to, pay the asking price.
Until there's an agreement or announcement, there will continue to be more questions as the trade deadline approaches Feb. 29, with Stamkos holding a no-move clause. If the two sides can't come to a deal, would Stamkos waive his no-move clause?
"When we cross that bridge, we'll go over it then," Stamkos said. "There's still a lot of time before then. A lot of things can happen. It's probably not something I can give an answer to right now. Still a couple months away. There's a lot of things that can happen before then."