Bolt out the door? The Steven Stamkos contract dispute

For the Tampa Bay Lightning, a lot has been certain. One certainty has been strong teams that can and will make deep playoff runs. Lightning general manager Julien Brisebois has a situation on his hands full of uncertainty: Steven Stamkos does not have a contract heading into next year.

Not only does Stamkos not have a contract signed yet, he also has publicly voiced his frustration. Stamkos wanted a contract extension before training camp. Brisebois did not deliver. The possibility of Stamkos leaving– for real, this time— is very real. What would that mean for him and for the Lightning?

What happened the last time Stamkos was a pending free agent?

Steven Stamkos did not have a contract heading into the 2016 National Hockey League (NHL) free agency period. NHL circles were abuzz. Where would one of the most high-profile free agents ever take his talents to? Would teams instead balk over the severe health risks Stamkos posed to himself? At the eleventh hour, the Lightning re-signed him to the contract he currently has: an eight-year contract that would pay him $8.5 million per year.

Since then, Stamkos has broken several all-time scoring records for the Lightning. His impact on and off the ice for Tampa Bay has been incomparable. He has become invaluable to the Lightning. There is no good reason to lose him. The unfortunate thing for the Lightning organization, though, is their lack of communication may come back to bite them.

What happens from here?

Steven Stamkos has reason to leave, and at the end of the day it is the player’s choice on if he stays or leaves. Plenty of teams are willing to pay a lot of money to be the setting of the final years of Stamkos’ legendary career. Maybe he goes to Detroit after being heavily rumored to go there in 2016. Perhaps he has a change of heart and stays with the Lightning.

Julien Brisebois has some convincing to do in order to keep Steven Stamkos in town. Taxes in Florida are low, but what if Tampa Bay falls out of playoff contention? Can Tampa even afford to pay Stamkos what he wants? They have had to lose a key player each year since 2019 either via trade or walking in free agency. Does Stamkos join that list? It is highly possible, but an unfathomable prospect for the team he has given half his life to.

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