TAMPA — Star center Anze Kopitar reportedly was closing in on an eight-year, $80 million deal with the Kings on Wednesday.
Is Lightning captain Steven Stamkos next in line for a big deal?
There was no sense Wednesday that a Stamkos extension was imminent. Nor was there a guarantee one will get done. Both sides continue to not publicly discuss negotiations. But a Kopitar signing may at least help move talks along, giving Stamkos another benchmark. Like Kopitar, 28, Stamkos is a center who can be an unrestricted free agent July 1.
Kopitar's $10 million annual average would put him behind only Blackhawks star forwards Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews next season. Stamkos, 25, is 2 1/2 years younger than Kopitar and plays a different game. Stamkos is a more prolific scorer but has two fewer Stanley Cups than Kopitar's two.
Stamkos has maintained that he wants to stay in Tampa Bay and said the lines of communication with the team remain open. He has disputed claims that negotiations are at a stalemate. General manager Steve Yzerman said on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday that he'd like to keep Stamkos and would continue to work toward it.
With the trade deadline approaching Feb. 29, it'd make sense for the Lightning and Stamkos to get some clarity, even with the All-Star having a no-move clause. There's still a question of what the Lightning can — or is willing — to pay Stamkos, with wing Nikita Kucherov a restricted free agent this summer and center Tyler Johnson, wing Ondrej Palat and defenseman Victor Hedman among those due new deals after next season.
Also, knowing what will happen with Stamkos may help Yzerman to decide whether to deal wing Jonathan Drouin, whose November trade request became public last week. Drouin is the kind of young, skilled and relatively inexpensive forward the Lightning would need to fill a void left by Stamkos.
Stamkos is heating up on the ice, which helps not only the Lightning, winner of three straight, but his value. His two goals in Tuesday's 4-0 win over the Avalanche gave him nine in his past 12 games and 20 goals for the season, putting him on pace for his fifth 40-goal season. Stamkos has flourished on a line with skilled forwards Palat and Vladislav Namestnikov.
"It's just going to keep getting better and better, hopefully," Stamkos said. "The more we play with each other, the more chemistry and awareness we have on the ice."
ON THE BOARD: With Palat and Johnson having missed good portions of the season with injuries, it was encouraging that both snapped lengthy goal droughts Tuesday. Palat scored his first goal since Oct. 23 and Johnson his first since Nov. 25.
"It doesn't matter who you are. You just can't miss that much time," coach Jon Cooper said. "It takes getting hit and getting up and down the ice and finding out what you can and can't do, especially against fast teams. It takes a little bit of time.
"You can see Palat's really coming into his own, and so has Johnson. When those guys get rolling with the way the other guys are going, it's going to be a big boost for us."
NUTS AND BOLTS: Goalie Ben Bishop's shutout Tuesday, his 12th with the Lightning, moved him into a second-place tie with Daren Puppa on the team's all-time list.
Contact Joe Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTImes_JSmith.