Lightning fans everywhere, Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman feels your pain.
He understands you want to know why center Steven Stamkos is unsigned. He gets that Stamkos' status as a restricted free agent open to offer sheets from other teams causes angst.
He knows you want information, yet … "We're not saying a whole lot about it," Yzerman said. "We're going to continue to talk quietly and work toward getting a deal done. I understand everybody's concern, but all I will say is I'm optimistic."
Fewer public statements — Stamkos' agent Mark Guy did not respond Saturday to a text message — helps both sides avoid saying the wrong thing. But as is said, nature abhors a vacuum, and when it comes to the Stamkos negotiations, that vacuum is filled with speculation, including:
• If Stamkos, 21, with a league-best 96 goals the past two seasons, really wanted to play in Tampa, he would have signed.
• The players association is pushing the center to get as much money as he can to set a new bar for players coming out of their entry-level contracts.
• Yzerman is worried the collective bargaining agreement that will be negotiated after next season will have a lower salary cap that will make large contracts even more cumbersome.
Former Flames GM and current TV analyst Craig Button said the rumors should be expected: "It's always in these times, before they get a contract done, all this stuff comes flying around the edges."
And it overwhelms the news of the day, such as Tampa Bay's intriguing signing of defenseman Matt Gilroy to a one-year, $1 million deal and that Yzerman still needs to sign a top-six forward.
His options are shrinking, with Brad Richards joining the Rangers on Saturday and former Lightning Simon Gagne signing a two-year, $7 million deal with the Kings. Still available are Jamie Langenbrunner, Jason Arnott and Chris Drury.
But it all is secondary to Stamkos, who apparently is being offered a five-year, $37.5 million deal that would pay $7.5 million a season.
Asked about the contract, first reported by Nick Kypreos of Canada's Rogers Sportsnet, Yzerman said, "I will say I'm optimistic we'll get a deal done."
What about the other stuff flying around the edges?
Well, Stamkos has said he wants to play for the Lightning.
Players association influence? "I would say no, because Newport Sports doesn't operate that way," said former Blue Jackets GM Doug MacLean of the firm that represents Stamkos. "They know the marketplace. Maybe some lesser agents would feel it, but they would not be influenced by the PA."
Besides, Button said, "Steven Stamkos is a unique player, so whatever contract he signs, if it is going to set a bar, it better be a bar for players like Steven Stamkos, and there aren't that many."
Concern about a new collective bargaining agreement? A good question, though the league prohibits teams from addressing labor situations.
"All I'm trying to do is negotiate a new contract and treat our players fairly and fit them into a budget and plan short term and long term," Yzerman said. "As far as the new CBA, I can't even guess what it's supposed to be."
Button said he can guess what is going on with Stamkos and the Lightning:
"I don't know if it's really all that complicated. You've got Vinny Lecavalier under contract. You've got Marty St. Louis under contract, and you're trying to keep your team intact and competitive. That's one of the parameters on Steve Yzerman's side. That's part of the exchange in negotiations. 'Steven, here's what we're trying to do. Here's why we think this will work for you.' Now, Steven has to weigh that as well."