Friday, April 20, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Stamkos contract saga getting eerie feel

TAMPA

In mid June, two days after the Lightning's remarkable run to the Stanley Cup final ended, general manager Steve Yzerman was asked what his top priority was for the summer.

"I would like to get Steven Stamkos signed to an extension," Yzerman said. "That's my No. 1 priority."

Nearly six months later, there's still no deal for Stamkos, 25, the Lightning captain and face of the franchise, who is in the final year of his contract. The scary part for Lightning fans is that nothing appears even close to being done.

This has an eerie feel to it, to the point the once unthinkable seems increasingly possible: Stamkos could be in his final few months in a Lightning uniform.

MORE ON STAMKOS CONTRACT TALKS

Yzerman: Re-signing Stamkos summer's 'No. 1 priority'

Buckle up, Stamkos contract talks could get bumpy

Amid contract speculation and rumors, Steven Stamkos focuses on Lightning season

Ducks' stars have perspective on Stamkos contract situation

Agent cites 'due diligence' in Steven Stamkos contract talks

Before you shoot the messenger, there's a caveat: No one truly knows how this will end, except maybe Stamkos and Yzerman. Neither side has commented publicly on negotiations. Stamkos' agent, Don Meehan of Newport Sports, told a Toronto radio station early this month that they were still "engaged" with Yzerman and doing due diligence to the "nth degree."

But the longer this goes on, the more it could become a problem for Tampa Bay, which might soon be at a crossroads about what to do with its superstar. If Yzerman realizes he can't sign Stamkos, does he try to trade him by the Feb. 29 deadline to avoid losing him for nothing? Would Stamkos, who has a full no-move clause, approve a deal?

On the surface, an extension seemed easy. Stamkos, who has been with the Lightning since being drafted No. 1 overall in 2008, said he wanted to stay; loves his teammates, the city, the fans; respects Yzerman and owner Jeff Vinik. The Lightning hoped to keep Stamkos, one of the league's top scorers and ambassadors. But at what cost?

Stamkos could certainly warrant a deal similar to the eight-year, $84 million extensions that Blackhawks stars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews got in 2014. Stamkos might receive more as an unrestricted free agent in the summer; don't you think his hometown Maple Leafs would open the vault? This will be the richest contract in Stamkos' career, and he has earned the right to seek it.

But with the salary cap likely to remain flat in coming years, Yzerman is probably still pondering if he can sign Stamkos and still keep his championship-caliber core together. Can he give Stamkos $10 million or $11 million a year — a hefty bump over his $7.5 million cap hit this season — and find room for Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Victor Hedman and Ben Bishop, who all will need new deals after next season, and Nikita Kucherov, a restricted free agent this summer? Hedman is a no-brainer to lock up. Bishop, due to the emergence of Andrei Vasilevskiy, could be let go. But who else?

Yzerman loves depth, building an organization by drafting and developing, inserting younger (and cheaper) players when need be. But if Stamkos is gone, can Johnson be a No. 1 center? How would he replace Stamkos' scoring? This is Yzerman's toughest decision yet, even more so than dealing Marty St. Louis in 2014.

NBC analyst Pierre McGuire, who said before this season he'd be "very, very surprised" if the Lightning didn't sign Stamkos, is now "nervous." McGuire believes this saga is a concern for the Lightning, with it becoming "more about the individual than the team."

"The longer you go along, the questions start to be more about an individual than about the team," McGuire said. "And when that starts to happen, it affects the fiber of the team. … You try to get these done, put to bed sooner rather than later, and if you can't, then at some point you're in a precarious position.

"It's a tricky thing, especially as you get closer and closer to January, only because the media scrutiny is going to be out there more and more, especially from Canadian cities to cities that think, 'Maybe if Steven Stamkos ever becomes an unrestricted free agent, we have a chance to get him.' That's a difficult thing because players start to wonder, 'Is he one of us or someone else?' "

Stamkos' teammates say his contract hasn't been a distraction. But what happens when there's a media circus in Toronto for the Lightning's game there Dec. 15? How about when the Lightning is preparing for a playoff run and Stamkos is part of trade rumors at the deadline?

At this point, the outcome is anyone's guess.

Comments
NHL makes right call in not suspending Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov

NHL makes right call in not suspending Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov

The NHL got it right.Nikita Kucherov, the Lightning's top scorer and best player so far in these playoffs, will play Saturday's Game 5 against New Jersey. He's not going to be suspended for his vicious hit on a Devils player in Tampa Bay's Game 4 vic...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Lightning’s Hedman a Norris finalist again

Lightning’s Hedman a Norris finalist again

The Lightning's Victor Hedman is a finalist for the second consecutive year for the Norris Trophy, given to the top defenseman in the league. The other two finalists are Drew Doughty of the Kings and P.K. Subban of the Predators, it was announced Thu...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Turns out, Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy is ready for the playoffs

Turns out, Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy is ready for the playoffs

TAMPA — The second period was not even four minutes old Wednesday night when Devils right wing Patrick Maroon skated all alone toward Andrei Vasilevskiy. It was a moment that could turn a game and even a series.A goal and the score would be tie...
Published: 04/19/18
Shaquem Griffin: ‘Lightning is going to win the Stanley Cup’

Shaquem Griffin: ‘Lightning is going to win the Stanley Cup’

Former UCF and Lakewood High standout Shaquem Griffin understandably has been focused on the NFL draft next week in Arlington, Tex., where he is projected as a potential second-day pick.But the Lightning's playoff run  hasn't escaped his attenti...
Published: 04/19/18
Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Nikita Kucherov drives Lightning past Devils

Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Nikita Kucherov drives Lightning past Devils

Nikita Kucherov scores two goals and delivers some big hits as the Lightning beats the Devils, 3-1, in a physical Game 4 that pushes Tampa Bay to within one win of clinching the series.Meanwhile, the Rays beat the Rangers to as Jake Faria pitche...
Published: 04/19/18
Lightning holds off Devils and David Puddy

Lightning holds off Devils and David Puddy

NEWARK, N.J. — The Devils pulled out all the stops for Wednesday's Game 4 of their Stanley Cup quarter final series with the Lightning by inviting David Puddy at the Prudential Center.For those who do not know who he is, Puddy was Elaine's...
Published: 04/19/18
Lightning stands up to Devils, pushes its way to 3-1 series lead

Lightning stands up to Devils, pushes its way to 3-1 series lead

NEWARK, N.J. — Bachman-Turner Overdrive's Taking Care of Business shook the walls of the Lightning locker room not long after it dispatched the Devils in Wednesday's Game 4 of their first-round playoff series.The 3-1 win was sparked by Nikita K...
Published: 04/18/18
Roger Mooney’s takeaways from Lightning-Devils Game 4

Roger Mooney’s takeaways from Lightning-Devils Game 4

I guess the lesson here is never believe a hockey player when he says what happens in a scrum at the end of a playoff game doesn't carry over into the next game. It sure looks like the Lightning and Devils won't be vacationing together this summer.Th...
Published: 04/18/18
Lightning-Devils: How Tampa Bay worked its way to a 3-1 series lead

Lightning-Devils: How Tampa Bay worked its way to a 3-1 series lead

Times columnist Tom Jones gives his thoughts while watching the broadcast of Game 4 of the series between the Lightning and Devils:Hard work beats everythingWe watch the Lightning all season long and marvel at its skill. Nikita Kucherov, Steven ...
Published: 04/18/18
Restraint? Ha. Lightning-Devils mix it up in early going of Game 4

Restraint? Ha. Lightning-Devils mix it up in early going of Game 4

NEWARK, N.J. — Both sides were in agreement Tuesday that the shenanigans during the final minute of Monday's Game 3 would not carry over to Game 4."I think the emotion of a game in a series carries over, (but) what happened at end I don't think...
Published: 04/18/18