Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman can add “rumor killer” to his already impressive resume.
With the trade deadline approaching, there was rampant speculation that Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, could be sent packing if Tampa Bay believed they could not lock him up to a new contract. Yzerman put a stop to that talk Monday afternoon, however, releasing a statement that said, unequivocally, Stamkos isn’t going anywhere before the post-season.
“As February 29th approaches, I am stating today that Steven Stamkos will not be traded before the NHL’s trade deadline,” Yzerman’s statement reads. “I have said repeatedly that it is our hope to reach an agreement with Steven on a new contract at some point, and with 27 games remaining in the season, our entire organization, Steven included, wants to focus on making the playoffs. I will keep the negotiating process strictly between the involved parties and have no further comment on the state of those negotiations.”
Now that Yzerman has put a stop to potential trade talk, the concern now becomes that the Lightning could lose Stamkos for nothing or far less than they could have gotten at the deadline. If Stamkos makes it clear he will not be re-signing with the Lightning, he could have his exclusive negotiating rights traded before July 1. Generally, however, trades for negotiating rights fetch far less than trades for players under contract.
Even if his rights were traded, though, Stamkos would hit the open market and be free to sign with whichever team he chooses barring a new deal by July 1.
It’s not surprising the Lightning are willing to risk losing Stamkos as a free agent, though, considering how well the team has played over the past month and a half. Since Jan. 1, Tampa Bay is 12-5-0 and have rebounded from their mediocre start to the campaign. Though they currently sit in a wild-card spot, the Lightning are only two points back of the Boston Bruins for the third playoff position in the Atlantic Division, three points behind the Detroit Red Wings for second-place in the Atlantic and only six points back of the division-leading Florida Panthers.
With their play of late, a return to the Stanley Cup final isn’t a far-fetched goal for the Lightning and Stamkos’ presence in the lineup increases the likelihood Tampa Bay can battle their way through the wide-open Eastern Conference. Stamkos has said throughout the season he wants to win a Cup with the Lightning.
“Like I've always said, I envision myself winning a championship here and want to do that," Stamkos told the Tampa Bay Times’ Joe Smith in December. "Obviously (we) got close last year, and I'm the captain of this team, and I want to be that leader."
In 55 games this season, Stamkos has 22 goals and 42 points, putting him second in both categories for the Lightning. He’s one of the most lethal power play shooters in the game, too, and he’s fifth in the league this season with 11 power play tallies.