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

Steven Stamkos, first row center, and teammates relax for a fun picture with the East championship trophy Wednesday.
Steven Stamkos, first row center, and teammates relax for a fun picture with the East championship trophy Wednesday.
Published Jun. 18, 2015

TAMPA

That Steven Stamkos went without a goal in his first Stanley Cup final likely left a bad taste in the Lightning captain's mouth.

But it didn't sour the opinion of general manager Steve Yzerman, who said Wednesday that Stamkos played through a "few" injuries and helped bring Tampa Bay two wins from a championship.

"As our captain, he did everything that we've asked of him," Yzerman said. "He put the team ahead of himself. He played through injury. He played hard. He's a tremendous leader, a very unselfish guy and a big reason we got to Game 6 of the finals."

Stamkos is the face of the franchise, and the Lightning wants to keep it that way. Yzerman made it clear Wednesday his "No. 1 priority" this summer is signing the star center to a long-term contract extension. And Stamkos also seems eager to get a deal done.

Stamkos, 25, is entering the final year of his deal and will make $7.5 million next season. The team can sign him to an extension starting July 1, and Yzerman said he planned to work on it "immediately."

"We said in September that we'd sit down at the end of the year and get that done, and that's my intention," Yzerman said. "We've got a good team. He's our captain, and it's our intention to get him signed to a long-term deal."

Stamkos could probably make something along the lines of the eight-year, $84 million deals Blackhawks stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane signed last summer. Stamkos said he isn't too worried about it, believing the contract talks will "take care of itself." He loves the future of this young team, saying this playoff run was the most fun he has had playing hockey.

"I've said it all along, I want to win a championship with this group," Stamkos said. "It's been a great ride this year. I know we'll have some talks, whether it's in the next day or weeks, I don't know. But we'll definitely be getting something worked out hopefully shortly."

Stamkos knows it could be a distraction if he goes into next season without having a long-term deal. It would become a big story, especially with the media in Canada with regards to Stamkos potentially returning to his hometown Maple Leafs.

"Whenever (the Lightning) want to start talking, we'll be there listening," Stamkos said. "We have a lot of time in this summer."

Hockey Night in Canada personality Don Cherry suggested in a series of Twitter posts Tuesday that there was a rift between Stamkos and coach Jon Cooper over how he was used during the postseason.

"That's the first I've heard of it," Cooper said.

"Everyone is entitled to their opinions," Stamkos said. "We know what goes on in here. There's definitely no issues like that."

Stamkos, who ranked second in the league with 43 goals in the regular season, had none in his final eight playoff games. He finished with seven goals and 11 assists in 26 postseason games.

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He declined to elaborate on whether he had any injuries in the playoffs.

"We battled through some stuff," Stamkos said. "I'm not a guy that is going to get into details about things because I didn't feel like it really affected my play. … I felt like I got stronger and better as the playoffs went on. Someone is going to write an article about this and say that's why I didn't score. That's not why I didn't score in the finals."

Stamkos said he'll take a couple of weeks off to get away from hockey, whether that's in Tampa or back home in Toronto. But his legendary training with former NHL forward Gary Roberts is looming.

"Gary has already texted me," Stamkos said, smiling.

Stamkos will ramp up his workouts, especially considering how his surgically repaired right leg — broken in a game against the Bruins in November 2013 — has improved. Stamkos saw it in an X-ray Wednesday.

"It looks phenomenal," he said. "I don't know if it's ever going to feel the same, but it didn't hinder me at all. I really had to get over that mental hurdle. It was still a little tough at the beginning of the year, but I think … once you get over that mental hurdle, you don't have to worry about that this summer.

"This will be the first in the last two I can really get into full training mode."

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