TAMPA — While the Lightning will return their core group next season, it will be Steven Stamkos’ final season under his current eight-year contract, which brings into question his future in the organization beyond 2023-24.
Stamkos has been the face of the Lightning for 15 years since the team made him the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2008. He is the franchise’s record holder in goals and points, and can surpass Vinny Lecavalier for most games played in a Lightning uniform with 35 more games.
Asked about his contract situation during Tuesday’s end-of-season media availability, Stamkos, 33, reiterated that he wants to remain with the Lightning for the remainder of his career. He is eligible to sign an extension July 1.
“Listen, hopefully there’s a conversation this summer and then we’ll go from there,” Stamkos said. “There’s probably some uncertainty on the (salary) cap going forward. But in my eyes, this is the only jersey I ever want to wear in my career. So we’ll see what happens this summer.”
Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois has more pressing roster decisions. The Lightning have just 15 players signed for next season and have a list of potential unrestricted free agents that includes forwards Alex Killorn, Corey Perry, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Mikey Eyssimont; defenseman Ian Cole; and backup goaltender Brian Elliott. Forwards Ross Colton and Tanner Jeannot can be arbitration-eligible restricted free agents.
Asked about Stamkos’ contract situation, general manager Julien BriseBois said that he’d like to sign Stamkos and forward Brandon Hagel — who has one more year left on his deal — to extensions, but whether the team is able to do that this offseason is unclear.
“The hope would be to keep both,” BriseBois said. “Depending on what happens with the cap here and different things, are we going to be able to do it this year? We may not be able to do it this year, but we’ll have those conversations, and once we’ve kind of settled on something, we can make that public.”
BriseBois has to expect the salary cap to increase by only $1 million next season, to $83.5 million, but commissioner Gary Bettman said in March that it could increase by up to $4.5 million if hockey-related revenues exceeded expectations to allow the players to pay off their remaining escrow debt.
When Stamkos was signed to his current extension following the 2015-16 season by then-general manager Steve Yzerman days before he could have become an unrestricted free agent, he talked about wanting to be a career Lightning player as a priority.
Stamkos took a deal worth an annual average of $8.5 million, significantly less than eight-year extensions that had been received before his by Patrick Kane while with the Blackhawks and Chicago’s Jonathan Toews ($10.5 million annual average each) and the Kings’ Anze Kopitar ($10 million). But Stamkos taking less money than what he could have asked for allowed the Lightning to lock up other players around him, including defenseman Victor Hedman, who signed an eight-year extension the following week ($7.875 million average).
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This season, as Stamkos reached 500-goal, 1,000-point and 1,000-game milestones with the Lightning, he consistently spoke about how special it was to reach those marks with one organization.
“I’ve said that from day one,” Stamkos said Tuesday. “Especially in today’s game, to be able to be with one organization and to do some pretty special things that I was able to accomplish this year with some of those milestones, that means a lot to me to have done that with one team.
“So to win the championships are obviously the highlights, and hopefully there’s more to come. But yeah, that’s what I like to do is finish here.”
Point a finalist for Lady Byng Trophy
Lightning center Brayden Point was named one of three finalists for the Lady Byng Trophy, awarded annually to the “player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of play.”
Point scored a career-high 51 goals — one of five players to reach at least 50 goals in the regular season — and took just two penalties, the fewest of this career.
He can become the third Lightning player to win the Lady Byng, following Marty St. Louis, who won the award three times,and Brad Richards, who won it in 2003-04.
The Devils’ Jack Hughes and Kopitar are the two other finalists for the award. The winner, which is selected by a vote of members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, will be announced during the NHL Awards on June 26.
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieintheYard.
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