Early offseason signs point to Steven Stamkos staying with Tampa Bay Lightning

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Florida Panthers at Tampa Bay Lightning
Credit: Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

Just three weeks after being eliminated in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Steven Stamkos and company are already back on the ice for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Practicing with Nikita Kucherov, Stamkos appears to already be focusing on the 2024-25 season, one that comes with a lot of question marks.

The 34-year-old is one of the biggest unrestricted free agents on the market this summer, and many are surprised why a deal has not already been made to keep the future Hall-of-Famer in Tampa Bay. Is Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois planning on letting Stamkos walk in free agency? After the effort Stamkos showed in the latter half of the regular season and the playoffs, it seems like he wants to remain a Bolt for life.

Despite losing in the first round to the Florida Panthers in just five games, Stamkos stood out with his effort and play. The Lightning captain led them with five goals and also had one assist. But their rival Panthers have advanced to the Eastern Conference Final against the New York Rangers after disposing of the Lightning in five games and the Boston Bruins in six.

Stamkos’ expiring contract had a salary-cap hit of $8.5 million, which should not be the price for the veteran forward coming out of his prime. That being said, Stamkos had 81 points (40 goals, 41 assists) this season, meaning he’ will still be looking to get paid coming off a productive season.

Training with long-time teammate Kucherov might be a sign that Stamkos and the Lightning are working out a contract before free agency begins on July 1. Another sign could be the words that newly re-acquired Ryan McDonagh had to say after being traded back to his former team by the Nashville Predators on Tuesday.

“The leadership there is obviously still tremendous,” McDonagh stated. “I called (Stamkos) today and he’s just getting off the ice with (Kucherov). What is it, May 21st or whatever? … How can you not be excited to join a group of guys like that, who are working on their game here after just being bounced in the first round? That’s the standard that the coaching staff, management and the players have built there.”

Related: Stanley Cup Playoffs: staff predictions for conference finals

Lightning bring back Ryan McDonagh, hope to re-sign Steven Stamkos

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New York Rangers at Tampa Bay Lightning
Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

McDonagh, who requested the trade back to Tampa Bay where he helped the Lightning win the Stanley Cup in 2020 and 2021, will not interfere with their efforts to get a deal done with Stamkos. According to BriseBois, it is still possible, and potentially already in the works. McDonagh has two seasons at $6.75 million per remaining on his contract.

“We still have some cap space,” BriseBois stated. “Steven Stamkos is not signed yet, right? That’s ongoing. We’re still able in my mind to get something done that makes sense for the organization with Steven, even after acquiring Ryan McDonagh. And depending on what happens with other players, we’ll address other needs. But we still have some cap space to get done what I think we need to get done this offseason.”

For the Lightning, getting the deal done with Stamkos should be the top priority. The long-time captain, two-time Stanley Cup champion, 1,137-point scorer and franchise icon is not someone BriseBois would like to let walk away.

“Steven was up front saying he wanted to stay. That’s his strong preference,” BriseBois said. “I’ve mentioned that’s our strong preference as well. And now we’re still working on how we make this happen for it to make sense for both sides.”

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