TAMPA — Lightning captain Steven Stamkos isn't going anywhere.
At least not before the Feb. 29 trade deadline.
General manager Steve Yzerman made that clear Monday in a strong statement, saying that Stamkos, 26, will not be traded before the deadline, with the two sides continuing to work toward an extension.
"I have said repeatedly that it is our hope to reach an agreement with Steven on a new contract at some point," Yzerman said. "And with 27 games remaining in the season, our entire organization, Steven included, wants to focus on making the playoffs. I will keep the negotiating process strictly between the involved parties and have no further comment on the state of those negotiations."
The Lightning (30-21-4) is in a fight for its playoff life. Pittsburgh, with a point in a shootout loss Monday at Florida, tied Tampa Bay for the last wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference at 64 points. With his statement, Yzerman ends the speculation that would surround Stamkos heading into the deadline Feb. 29, when the Lightning will be fittingly in the captain's hometown of Toronto. Stamkos, in the final year of his contract, would be difficult to trade. He has a no-move clause that agent Mark Guy said Stamkos hasn't been asked to waive.
But Stamkos' agent Don Meehan raised eyebrows last week when he called the deadline a "sensitive issue" in a Toronto radio interview. And Stamkos on Thursday seemed to leave the door open when asked if he'd waive his no-move clause.
"I haven't even thought about that," Stamkos said. "I think the answer is we'll cross that bridge at the time, and I don't think that time is now."
Yzerman effectively shut that door, likely hoping to limit distractions for Stamkos and his team. Stamkos ranks second on the Lightning with 22 goals, but has just two in his past 12 games.
It didn't seem likely the Lightning would trade Stamkos. Tampa Bay was just two wins from hoisting the Stanley Cup last June, and believes it is capable of another run. And it's hard to think that the Lightning would have a better shot without Stamkos, who was unavailable for comment Monday.
There is a risk to not trying to trade Stamkos — the Lightning could lose its franchise player for nothing on July 1 if he leaves as a free agent. Yzerman's statement indicated hope he could still secure a long-term deal; the Lightning has reportedly offered Stamkos a deal with an $8.5 million annual average.
Contact Joe Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.