Teammates stand behind Steven Stamkos during contract saga
The NHL schedule makers did the Lightning - and captain Steven Stamkos - a favor, with Tuesday's much-anticipated trip to his hometown of Toronto the second half of a back-to-back.
That meant no morning skate, and no appearance by Stamkos, at the Air Canada Centre, much to the chagrin to the circus of assembled media, which included USA Today and ESPN. Though there's expected to be close to a sellout crowd for tonight's game against the Maple Leafs - and who knows what they'll say - Stamkos will only have to address the media following the game before catching a flight to Washington, D.C.
That limited any potential distraction for the Lightning (15-13-3), though coach Jon Cooper insists any of that speculation around Stamkos contract hasn't impacted his dressing room. Stamkos, in the final year of his deal, his uncertain status the talk of the hockey world.
"If there's any distraction, it's created by the media," Cooper said. "That's not what's going on in our lockeroom. Is everybody aware that Stammer's contract is coming up at the end of the year? You'd have to be on Mars not to know that. But it's not a distraction in our room."
Whether that's true or not, teammates have publicly echoed the same message, even after Stamkos' "accidental" like of a TSN tweet last week that refers to him potentially playing for his hometown Maple Leafs created a stir.
"I know Steve, I know his character, what he feels, how he feels about this team and the players in this room," veteran wing Brian Boyle said. "We don't question him one bit. Sometimes things get blown out of proportion and we'll stand together and stand up for him, because he's a guy that's done everything right his whole career. He's a young guy that's a captain of an NHL team for a reason. He wants to win here, that's something that he leads by example and we follow."
Goalie Ben Bishop points out the obvious, the Lightning (15-13-3) are still battling for a playoff spot, their focus on the ice tonight against the Maple Leafs.
"We're fighting for our lives," Bishop said. "I don't think anyone is going to be worried about (Stamkos contract). I don't think it'll be as big a distraction as people think it is."
Stamkos has said he's not been distracted by his contract, and tried to make sure it doesn't "creep into the room." The fact his agents at Newport Sports and general manager Steve Yzerman declined to publicly discuss negotiations have helped. Stamkos is tied for the team-lead with 11 goals, but is in a nine-game goal drought, his longest since his rookie season in 2008.
"We're always there for him," wing Alex Killorn said. "He's been dealing with this the entire year and some of last year, so I think he's ready for it, and I don't think it's going to effect him. He's the leader of this team and he's showing that all yaer. I think the medija and stuff, there's been a lot said about him in the media, it could be easy for him to react a certain way. But he's been great about it the entire year."