LAS VEGAS — Here is why Lightning center Steve Stamkos said he is not worried about his contract situation:
"I think it's close," he said of a new deal. "I don't think it's far off. As close as we are, it's not something I'm really worried about."
They are the most declarative statements yet during a months-long negotiation that has produced angst among Tampa Bay fans worried about losing a franchise player, and a news blackout as both sides have kept negotiations out of the media.
"The less said the better," general manager Steve Yzerman said. "The more you comment, the more likely one of us can say something that can be misconstrued."
And no one wants that with negotiations at crunch time.
Stamkos, 21, with a league-best 96 goals the past two seasons, and whom NBC analyst Pierre McGuire called "one of the true marvels of the league," can be a restricted free agent July 1. If that happens, another team could sign him to an offer sheet, though the Lightning could match the offer.
It is a messy process and potentially just nine days away. But talks seem ready to heat up.
Stamkos said he had an "informational" meeting last weekend in Toronto with his agents, Don Meehan and Mark Guy. He said he believes the agents will meet Yzerman at this weekend's draft.
Speculation is the deal will be worth about $7 million a season.
"I'm thinking things are going to get done," said Stamkos, who at tonight's NHL awards show at the Palms Hotel is up for the Ted Lindsay Award as the league's most outstanding player.
"Tampa is a great organization. With the success we had this year, there are only going to be bigger and better things. You want to be part of that. Whatever happens happens, but I have confidence things are going to get done well before (July 1)."
What is the chance the Lightning loses Stamkos? First, consider Yzerman, when asked about perhaps facing an offer sheet, said, "We're prepared to deal with anything."
Then, consider that acquiring Stamkos through an offer sheet would cost a team four first-round draft picks as compensation. That's a hefty mortgage on a team's future.
But beyond all that, former Blue Jackets GM Doug MacLean said, "You just don't lose franchise players. Trust me, with a franchise trying to recover from what they're trying to recover from, you don't lose those players. Not a snowball's chance in hell. Not going to happen."
Still, rumors persist negotiations have hit a dead patch — a question Stamkos blipped over — and Toronto, Stamkos' hometown team, is preparing an offer sheet as high as $9 million a season. A Twitter debate wondered if Stamkos is worth $12 million.
"I think there's a lot of overreaction right now because it's kind of a dead time," McGuire said of the speculation. "The Stanley Cup has been awarded, the draft is later this week. … You have a lot of people with agendas trying to drive the marketplace and leaking a lot of stuff. At the end of the day I would be shocked if Steve Stamkos wasn't playing for the Tampa Bay Lightning."
"You obviously want to get it done as quickly as possible," Stamkos said, "and with all the questions being asked, it does creep into your head. But for the most part, I have the mentality that it's going to get done and it will be great for both sides and I'll be playing for Tampa Bay next year, where I want to be."