TAMPA — Julien BriseBois’ main focus during his tenure as Lightning general manager has been to ensure that the team remains an annual Stanley Cup contender. He has had to navigate through severe salary-cap constraints and been forced to say goodbye to key pieces in order to do that.
And during Wednesday’s media day, on the eve of the Lightning’s first training camp practice, BriseBois made it clear that not even securing captain Steven Stamkos’ future with the organization will get in his way.
As he prepares for his 16th season, Stamkos is in the final year of an eight-year, $68 million contract he signed in 2016. He has made it clear he wants to wear only one NHL sweater.
Though refreshed from a lengthy offseason that allowed him to rest and get prepared, Stamkos thought it would be more eventful in terms of discussing a contract extension. Talks could have begun July 1.
“To be honest, I’ve been disappointed in the lack of talking,” Stamkos said Wednesday. “It was something that I expressed at the end of last year that I wanted to get something done before training camp started. There haven’t been any discussions.”
BriseBois’ response: Stamkos will have to wait.
The Lightning are up against this year’s $83.5 million cap, and though that cap is expected to jump considerably — projections are for a $4 million increase for 2024-25 and a $4.5 million jump the following season, according to salary website CapFriendly — BriseBois said he needs to see how this season plays out before trying to figure out how Stamkos fits with his Lightning plans.
“Steven and I share the common goal of bringing a Cup back to Tampa,” BriseBois said. “That’s our objective. In order for us to do that in future years, we’re going to need to spend our cap dollars as wisely as possible. In order for me to do that, I feel like I need to gather more information. I need to see how this season plays out. I need to see how the pieces of the puzzle fit this year. I need to see who steps up and is able to handle a bigger role. I need to see how the team performs.”
BriseBois said he’ll be better able to make that assessment after the season.
“I’ll have gathered that information,” he said, “and then I’ll be in a better position to have a clearer picture of what our puzzle looks like going forward, what roster needs we might have and then how to allocate our cap space in order to build the best roster possible not only for Steven to remain with the Lightning but for us to stay Stanley Cup contenders year in, year out for the remainder of his tenure with us and hopefully bring the Cup back to Tampa.”
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Stamkos didn’t anticipate an impasse as he headed into the offseason in April after a first-round playoff loss to the Maple Leafs.
“I guess it was something I didn’t see coming, but it is what it is,” he said. “I stated at the end of last year that I would love to extend and play here and finish out my career here, but that’s out of my hands. I can’t write a contract for myself.”
The Lightning did have a busy offseason, despite major cap constraints. They brought in forwards Conor Sheary, Luke Glendening and Tyler Motte, and defenseman Calvin de Haan; re-signed forwards Tanner Jeannot and Mikey Eyssimont; and signed forward Brandon Hagel to an eight-year extension that will kick in after this season.
Eight-year extensions for forward Anthony Cirelli and defensemen Mikhail Sergachev and Erik Cernak kick in this season. And for 2024-25, nearly $45 million of cap space is tied up in five players: goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, forwards Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point, and defensemen Victor Hedman and Sergachev.
Stamkos’ impact on and off the ice can’t be overstated. He has captained two Stanley Cup winners, is a future Hall of Famer, owns the career franchise record in nearly every offensive category and will one day have his No. 91 hanging from the rafters at Amalie Arena.
Having overcome a litany of injuries in his career, he is coming off two of his best seasons. He followed up his first 100-point season two years ago with a 34-goal, 84-point campaign in 2022-23. He has missed just two regular-season games the past two seasons — one for the birth of his second son, Chase — so he has been durable as he approaches his mid-30s.
“He’s coming off arguably his best two-years stretch of hockey,” BriseBois said. “He’s in great shape, and he keeps himself in great shape. Next summer when his contract ends, he’s going to be 34 years old, not 44 years old.
“So, I fully expect him to continue to be a highly productive player, not just for this coming year, but for years to come. … I know that for him, it would have been a lot easier for him to have a contract in place. But for me, in the grand scheme of things, I think this is the right course of action at this point.”
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @EddieintheYard.
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