Steven Stamkos (Rick Madonik/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
The Tampa Bay Lightning have exclusive negotiating rights with Steven Stamkos for four more days, and GM Steve Yzerman won’t be giving up that right. Yzerman said the Lightning are still “doing all we can” to ink Stamkos to a new deal.
Steven Stamkos is this off-season’s biggest free agent, and he may be the most coveted players to hit the free agent market in the past several seasons. But even as off-season deals get made that see negotiating rights change hands, the Tampa Bay Lightning remain focused on finding a way to find to come to terms with Stamkos on a new deal.
Lightning GM Steve Yzerman told the Tampa Bay Times’ Joe Smith that Tampa Bay is continuing to work on a contract, and it doesn’t sound as though Yzerman is willing to give up his right to speak exclusively with Stamkos. In fact, Yzerman seems primed to let exclusive negotiations go with no concern for the June 25 deadline, at which point all teams are free to talk with Stamkos.
"We're doing all we can to sign him," Yzerman told Smith. "To be honest with you, it's out of my control. He's an unrestricted free agent on July 1. I can't force him to sign a contract with us if he doesn't want to. If he wants to go to July 1, he has that right."
Yzerman did say, however, that he’d like to know which avenue Stamkos is going to take “sooner than later.” The Lightning enter the off-season with six players from last year’s end-of-season roster set for restricted free agency and four, including Stamkos, set to become unrestricted free agents on July 1. It’s not as if the players set to become RFAs are the kind Yzerman wants to let walk, either. The six RFAs include Nikita Kucherov, Alex Killorn, J.T. Brown, Vladislav Namestnikov, Cedric Paquette and Nikita Nesterov.
As Yzerman pointed out to Smith, the future of the franchise — and what direction Tampa Bay goes with regard to its free agents — will have a lot to do with Stamkos’ decision. Yzerman also has contracts for Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Jonathan Drouin, Andrej Sustr and goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy to worry about next season as each will become RFAs, and the biggest concern will be locking up defenseman Victor Hedman, who is set to become a UFA in July 2017.
"At some point on other players, I have to make a decision,” Yzerman told Smith. “Whether it'd be restricted free agents, or potential trades or qualifying offers and things like that. I've got to make decisions and they can't be put off forever.”
And Stamkos’ decision — one way or the other — will play a major part in the decisions Yzerman makes.