TAMPA — Now that GM Steve Yzerman made it clear publicly Monday that C Steven Stamkos isn't getting traded, the Lightning captain is relieved to focus on hockey the rest of the season.
"It's been a tough year in that regard to deal with that stuff," Stamkos said. "So hopefully this lightens the load a little bit. I've said all along from training camp that I wanted to be here and I want to win a championship here."
Stamkos, 26, in the final year of his contract, could be an unrestricted free agent July 1. He has a no-move clause, but had not been asked by the Lightning to waive it. Monday's statement by Yzerman that Stamkos won't be dealt at the Feb. 29 deadline was a mutual decision.
"Obviously this is a decision by both parties that we thought was the best route on something that I wanted," Stamkos said. "I'm obviously looking forward to not having to deal with all the questions for the remainder of the season and just focus on hockey and just do my best to help the team win."
Stamkos entered Tuesday's home game against the Sharks second on the team with 22 goals, on pace for his lowest goal total in a non-lockout or injury-shortened season since his rookie year.
"Obviously I feel like I have more to give, and maybe this helps just coming to the rink and focusing on my game and what I have to do to lead this team and help this team continue our playoff push," Stamkos said.
The Lightning has said that Stamkos' contract saga has not been a distraction, but players were happy to hear the captain is staying.
"We never really thought anything differently," C Tyler Johnson said. "To us, he's part of our group. He's our captain. He's our guy. We don't listen to the media. You guys make everything crazy. So we stay away from that as much as possible.
"It's exciting that we know we've got this group, don't know what's going to happen anywhere else, but we have a lot of confidence in this group. We took it pretty far last year, and hopefully we take it one step further."
LINING UP: C Vladislav Namestnikov, still banged up from a hit Sunday, did not play. The Lightning went with seven defensemen, allowing D Slater Koekkoek to play in his first game since Thursday's callup. RW Jonathan Marchessault returned to the lineup and RW Erik Condra was scratched. G Ben Bishop started. Coach Jon Cooper (sick) wasn't at morning skate but was at the game.
MILESTONE WATCH: D Matt Carle played his 700th career NHL game Tuesday against the Sharks, who drafted him in 2003.
"It's kind of fitting how it's coming against the team that I played my first game with," Carle said. "It's a special night. Any time you get these milestone games come up, you take time to reflect a little bit on your career and the people that helped me along the way. 700 sounds like a lot, but it's gone by pretty quick."
NUTS AND BOLTS: The Lightning lines were switched up to start Tuesday's game, with the Triplets back together and Stamkos at center with Ryan Callahan and Alex Killorn. "We haven't scored a lot lately," Stamkos said. "So we'll try to spark something."
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