Steven Stamkos, Lightning still hopeful a deal can be reached
Captain Steven Stamkos said he's never thought he's taken his Lightning jersey off for the final times.
And Stamkos, due to be an unrestricted free agent July 1, maintains he "definitely" wants to stay in Tampa Bay long-term, he and the team still hopeful something can get done.
"I hope to be back," Stamkos said. "We have some unfinished business. This group has been unbelievable, this city has been unbelievable to me. I can't believe it's been eight years already, time flies. The last couple years, you can finally see that light, you still haven't got to it, but it's there, it's dangling right in front of us. When you start something, you want to finish it, and i really hope that can be the case."
Stamkos, who returned to the lineup for Thursday's Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final after missing two months due to a blood clot, said he'll need a few weeks to give his mind a break. But Stamkos plans to discuss with his family, agents, and GM Steve Yzerman in coming weeks potentially coming back.
Yzerman, who called signing Stamkos his "No. 1 priority" last summer, said he still wants to get the All-Star signed to a long-term deal. Stamkos said it's tough to envision being in this situation without a deal, but points out it takes time. The Lightning reportedly offered Stamkos an eight-year deal with an $8.5 million annual average, Sportsnet's Elliott Friedman reported earlier this season.
"It's not as easy as everyone thinks it is," Stamkos said. "There are certain cases where it works out right away, and certain cases where it takes a little longer. Until you actually go through it and live through it and nkow both sides of the spectrum where people are coming from, there's a lot of work to be done.
"It's not something that on both sides can be taken lightly. It's a big decision for an organization, it's a big decision for a player. The more time you take, just like the decision I made to come back and play, that took a long time too. There's a lot of things you have to check off before you're comfortable in making any decision. In any decision I've ever made in my life, especially as a professional athlete, it's not one that's made quickly or just for the hell of it. There's a lot of thought that's put into it.
Stamkos did say that any assertion that the NHLPA is pressuring him to strike a bigger deal this summer is "completely false." He also said he hasn't thought about or discussed the potential options awaiting him in free agency.
Yzerman said the last conversations he had with Stamkos' agents at Newport Sports were before the trade deadline, and the topic if him reaching free agency was not discussed. Yzerman wants Stamkos back, saying they'll do what they can to retain him.
"That's Stammer's decision," Yzerman said. "To be honest, it is out of my control. He's an unrestricted free agent on July 1. I can't force him to sign a contract with us if he doesn't want to. If he wants to go to July 1, he's got that right."
Stamkos is well aware of the salary cap implications going forward, with several other players needing to get signed in the next few years, including Nikita Kucherov (RFA this summer), Victor Hedman (UFA after next season) and more.
"It's tough to build teams, it's tough to keep teams together," Stamkos said. "Especially when you have so many great young players that are on entry level deals who are going to get a raise. There's some tough decisions to be made, not ony for this organization but for a lot of other organizations.
"I'm sure if both sides want it to work out, we'll work something out."