Steven Stamkos’ Reaction Sparks Free Agency Speculation

They might like it or they might not, but the Tampa Bay Lightning will have to accept an early arrival of the offseason this year following their early first-round loss to the Florida Panthers.

The recent back-to-back Stanley Cup champions fell 4-1 to their neighbors after losing Game 5 by a stunning 6-1 result that painted a clear picture of where things stand in Tampa in terms of their roster and their chances at putting together a deep postseason run in the next few years.

Steven Stamkos lingered on the ice longer than any other Bolts player.

Could this be his final appearance in a Tampa Bay jersey?


— The Athletic (@TheAthletic) April 30, 2024

With the summer approaching fast and no more games left to play, the first thing the Lightning will have to think about is what to do with long-time Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos, who waited for everybody to leave the ice following the Monday, April 29 loss before skating off of it himself.

As The Athletic’s X account pondered on April 29, “Could this be his final appearance in a Tampa Bay jersey?”

His reaction to the loss by waiting to leave the rink in last place, while a respectful move by the veteran, also sparked speculation about Stamkos having potentially played his final game with the Lightning.

Steven Stamkos Will Become a Free Agent on July 1

Stamkos is entering free agency for the first time in his career this summer after spending 16 seasons in Tampa Bay. That will be the case unless the Lightning and the veteran can agree to an extension before July 1.

The team’s captain turned 34 last February and will finish next season playing at age 35, which might give pause to an aging Lightning team when it comes to signing him to another hefty contract. Stamkos is about to complete an eight-year, $68 million deal active through June 2024.

Stamkos led Tampa Bay to four Stanley Cup Finals in the last 10 years including trips there in 2015, 2020, 2021, and 2022, but he could only take his team to lifting the chalice in back-to-back seasons to start this decade, failing to beat the Chicago Blackhawks in 2015 and the Colorado Avalanche in 2022.

The Lightning drafted Stamkos with the No. 1 pick of the 2008 NHL draft and he debuted right off the bat in the campaign following the event and kicked off a few months later.

Stamkos appeared in 79 games as a rookie and since his debut, he’s played 1,082 regular-season games for Tampa Bay scoring 555 goals and 582 assists for 1,137 points. In the postseason, Stamkos has accrued 50 goals and 51 assists through 128 games, including Monday’s loss to Florida.

Pretenders & Contenders: Potential Steven Stamkos Suitors

With Stamkos about to reach free agency, it’s reasonable to find analysts trying to find potential places where he could extend his career playing from next season onwards.

Bleacher Report analyst Lyle Fitzsimmons wasted no time listing five top landing spots for Stamkos if he truly entered free agency in an article published right after the Lightning were eliminated on Monday, April 29.

Fitzsimmons included the Lightning, the rebuilding Anaheim Ducks and Chicago Blackhawks, and current playoff teams in the Nashville Predators and, coincidentally or not, the Florida Panthers.

Jon Cooper says Steven Stamkos belongs in Tampa and feels like a Bolt for life but only Stammer and GM Julien BriseBois can answer that one 👀

— B/R Open Ice (@BR_OpenIce) April 30, 2024

Speaking after the game, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper let reporters know his thoughts about Stamkos and what he thinks should happen next.

“I don’t know if there’s going to be much conversation. I hope not, anyway” Cooper told reporters in his postgame press conference on April 29. “He belongs here. He knows it, we know it. This is two seconds after a game, but he and I have grown up together. He’s a heck of a player.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen, but he feels like a Bolt for life.”

Stamkos mentioned after Game 5 on Monday that he was not thinking about his future with the Lightning’s season on the line on Monday as the game was about to end.

I asked Steven Stamkos about if he was thinking about his future as the clock was winding down?

He was not.

Jon Cooper said ultimately only Stamkos and BriseBois knows what is next on that front. #GoBolts

— Evan Closky (@ECloskyWTSP) April 30, 2024

“No, that didn’t cross my mind,” Stamkos told reporters in his postgame press conference, via Evan Closky. “I’m out there battling to try and help our team win.”

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