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Steven Stamkos downplays Toronto media frenzy

Lightning center and captain Steven Stamkos, left, works against Blue Jackets defenseman David Savard during the first period of Monday’s game in Columbus. Stamkos, a native of Markham, Ontario, just outside Toronto, returns tonight to face the Maple Leafs. His soon-to-expire deal has set off speculation there.

Associated Press

Lightning center and captain Steven Stamkos, left, works against Blue Jackets defenseman David Savard during the first period of Monday’s game in Columbus. Stamkos, a native of Markham, Ontario, just outside Toronto, returns tonight to face the Maple Leafs. His soon-to-expire deal has set off speculation there.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — There's expected to be a media circus today in Toronto when Lightning C Steven Stamkos arrives in his hometown.

But Stamkos isn't concerned, downplaying it after Monday's morning skate at Nationwide Arena. That was much to the chagrin of a reporter and camera crew that came in from Toronto-based TSN, Canada's ESPN.

"We'll deal with that when the time comes," Stamkos said.

His uncertain contract saga, the All-Star in the final year of his current deal, has been a hot topic in the hockey world. And Toronto, the self-proclaimed center of that universe, promises to be buzzing, especially after Stamkos' "accidental" like on Wednesday of a TSN tweet about the Markham, Ontario native playing for the Maple Leafs.

Stamkos is expected to only be available postgame tonight, thanks to the back-to-back schedule, with Lightning executive vice president for communications Bill Wickett making a rare road trip to help coordinate. Stamkos insists it's not a distraction for him or his team.

"That's what so great about this group, we all support each other and have each other's backs," Stamkos said. "We don't let that stuff creep into the room. As tough as it's been on that standpoint, I don't think I've allowed myself to bring that stuff into the room, and I don't think anybody else has been really bothered by it."

There has been a lot of speculation surrounding Stamkos, but he told the Tampa Bay Times Monday that a Toronto Sun report that his parents have moved to Tampa is not true.

MORE INJURIES: Tampa Bay played without five regular forwards Monday against the Blue Jackets, with LW Jonathan Drouin (lower body), LW Ondrej Palat (lower body) and C Cedric Paquette not expected to play on this three-game trip.

Coach Jon Cooper said the trio stayed in Tampa for further testing. Johnson (undisclosed) is on the trip but Cooper said he probably will not be ready for Friday's game at the Capitals.

RW Erik Condra (lower body) is closest, having skated on his own after Monday's morning skate at Nationwide Arena. But Cooper said Condra's availability by Friday's game is "dicey."

NEXT UP: With the injuries, the Lightning made two more recalls from AHL Syracuse, wings Joel Vermin and Yanni Gourde.

Fittingly, Vermin got hurt, injuring his hand Monday after just one shift. He is out indefinitely.

Gourde, 23, an undrafted 5-foot-9 forward, was thrilled to get his first NHL call-up after stints in the ECHL and AHL.

"It's a dream come true," he said.

Gourde was a healthy scratch Monday, as the Lightning went with 11 forwards (down to 10 after Vermin's injury).

NUTS AND BOLTS: Former Lightning coach John Tortorella, who took over in Columbus in October, said he's enjoying the teaching aspect with the rebuilding Blue Jackets, reminding him of his early days in Tampa Bay. … Forward prospect Brayden Point, who hasn't played with WHL's Moose Jaw since Nov. 17 due to a shoulder injury, returned to practice for Team Canada's Junior National team.

Contact Joe Smith at joesmith@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.

Steven Stamkos downplays Toronto media frenzy 12/14/15 [Last modified: Monday, December 14, 2015 11:03pm]
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