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2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs

End of an Era if Steven Stamkos Played Final Game with Lightning

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Florida panthers at lightning
Florida Panthers goaltender Spencer Knight stops Steven Stamkos in the second period of a game on October 19, 2021 at Amalie Arena in Tampa. (Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire)

SUNRISE — The possibility that Steven Stamkos played his final game with Tampa Bay on Monday night was a hot topic following Game 5 between the Panthers and Lightning.

Stamkos, the face of the Lightning for 16 seasons, can become a free agent on July 1.

There has been plenty of talk about his future with the only team he has ever played for.

If Monday’s 6-1 loss to the Panthers was indeed his final game with the Lightning, that does not feel right.

It would be hard to picture ‘Stammer’ playing for any other team.

That could happen, however, in a few months.

One has to assume Stamkos and general manager Julien BriseBois will be talking soon.

“I don’t know if there will be much conversation,” coach Jon Cooper said Monday night. “I hope not, anyway. He belongs here. We know it. He knows it. This is two seconds after a game. He and I have grown up together. He’s a heck of a player. He’s also, I suppose, in control of his own destiny.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen, but he feels like a Bolt for life. Only he and Julien can answer that one.”

Stamkos, 34, is likely looking for some sort of long-term contract.

Those kind of deals to players of a certain age rarely age well.

But on the other hand, not many 34-year-olds come off 40-goal seasons as the future Hall of Famer did this year.

Over the past three seasons, Stamkos has averaged more than a point a game, as he has done for his entire career.

His five goals in five playoff games against the Panthers were outstanding as he was, perhaps, Tampa Bay’s best player in the series.

The last time Stamkos was a UFA, he signed with Tampa for eight years and $68 million.

For the entire preceding season, there was speculation as to what Stamkos would do.

Indeed, he listened to other offers, perhaps as a bargaining chip.

The entire hockey world, and then some, knows that Stamkos belongs in Tampa for the rest of his career.

But hockey is a business and stranger things have happened.

The Lightning have slid since winning back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2020 and 2021.

For two straight postseasons, it has been eliminated in the first round.

This year, it took a late-season rally to make the playoffs.

BriseBois will surely be looking to do some rebuilding.

He may have to give up assets along the way.

Favoring retention of Stamkos, even at his current salary, are the expected salary cap increase and that the Lightning have no other big-ticket contracts due this year.

Negotiating new contracts is much simpler in years in which you do not win a championship.

There are fewer raises to hand out for outstanding seasons.

All of Tampa Bay’s high-priced stars are tied up for multiple years with the exception of Victor Hedman who has one year remaining on his current eight-year deal.

The only other contract expiring at over $1 million is between Anthony Duclair and Matt Dumba, both of whom could just be short-term rentals.

Stamkos did not create a distraction about the contract during the season, although he was rumored to have had discussions with BriseBois before the season.

For all we know, he and BriseBois may already have a handshake deal.

When asked postgame whether he was thinking about it as time wound down in the elimination game, Stamkos politely low-keyed it, making it clear that he was thinking of winning, not his future.

This was not the time to question whether he planned to stay.

Only it had to be asked.

And it was.

“No, that never crossed my mind,” Stamkos said. “I’m out there battling to try to help our team win, regardless. At the end of the game, we were trying to score. There’s some pride on the line for our group.”

For the most in-depth coverage of the Florida Panthers:

STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
EASTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS
FLORIDA PANTHERS (ATL1) V. BOSTON (A2)/TORONTO (A3)
BEST-OF-7 SERIES
GAME 1

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