The future of Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steven Stamkos has been a hot topic in the NHL this season as the two sides remain unable to work out a new contract extension.
If the team is unable to sign him to a new deal, he will become an unrestricted free agent after the season and probably be one of the top players to ever hit the open market when you combine his age, skill, and level of production. As the two sides seem to remain far apart on a new deal, there seemed to be an extremely slim chance that the Lightning could try to make sure they get something for him and trade him before the Feb. 29 deadline instead of running the risk of losing him for nothing.
On Monday, general manager Steve Yzerman did his part to squash that possibility.
"As February 29th approaches, I am stating today that Steven Stamkos will not be traded before the NHL's trade deadline," Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said in a statement released by the team.
"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."
This is a tough spot for the Lightning.
On one hand, the risk of losing a player like Stamkos for nothing other than salary cap space would be a tremendous loss to the organization. Players like Stamkos don't come along very often, and they are nearly impossible to replace if they happen to get away. And even though the team would pick up some additional cap space, there isn't another player on the open market (or realistically available in a potential trade) that compares to Stamkos.
But the Lightning also have a legitimate shot to win a Stanley Cup this season, and that probably won't happen without a player like Stamkos in their lineup.
Now that they are finally starting to get healthy the Lightning are looking like the team that reached the Stanley Cup Final a year ago. As of Monday, they have won 11 of their past 15 games and are in the last Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference, just one point ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins. They are also only two points out of second place in the Atlantic Division. The Eastern Conference at this point is still wide open and other than the Washington Capitals nobody else has been able to really separate themselves from the pack. This is a Lightning team that can still win right now, and it is going to need to Stamkos over the next 27 regular season games and playoffs if it is going to do it.
The risk of losing him for nothing is a big one, but it's one the Lightning probably have to take if they want to win a Stanley Cup. The window will probably never be more wide open.