Opinion: Tampa Bay Lightning Must Re-Sign Steven Stamkos; Pieces to Move

Steven Stamkos uses body and stick positioning to begin directing a player a way.
Photo Credit: Andrew Fielder | Inside The Rink

With NHL free agency just under three weeks away, the Tampa Bay Lightning and captain Steven Stamkos still have not come to terms on a contract extension agreement. The 34-year-old has dawned the Lightning crest for all 16 years of his career. Lightning fans have seen a few players re-signed with the likes of Declan Carlile and Mitchell Chaffee, along with the Lighting re-acquiring one of the most important defensive pieces in the back-to-back Stanley Cups, Ryan McDonagh. This has left the Bolts fanbase wondering if there is enough cap space to bring back the captain, but General Manager Julien BriseBois reassured the fanbase there is.

It is no secret that the Lightning are still in cap trouble, as they have been for the last few years. They currently have a projected $5.335 million left in space, according to CapFriendly.com, as Brent Seabrook’s contract is up and comes off the LTIR books. While this may look like enough to sign the franchise player, the Lightning have four roster spots outside of Stamkos’. To re-sign Stamkos and fill out the team, they will have to ship out a couple of pieces. Some names come to mind: Conor Sheary, Tanner Jeannot, and Erik Cernak. JBB needs to make re-signing Stamkos the priority before free agency kicks off July 1st.

Why should it be the captain of the team who gets the short end of the stick by having to leave the team? He should not be. Stamkos has paid his dues in Tampa. He has been the heart and soul of the team, helped keep the core by taking team-friendly deals, and is coming off a 40-goal season to prove he is still a valuable asset by putting pucks into the net. It would be a slap in the face to Stamkos if they do not find a way to make things work and allow Stamkos to retire a Bolt.

Both Stamkos and the team have expressed their desire to make a deal work.

“For sure,” Stamkos said. “I’ve talked about it before. My perspective hasn’t changed. I’m hopeful that something obviously works out here because I do love it here and I still think that we have a chance to win with the group of guys that we have here.”

Via NHL.com/lightning and Chris Krenn

Stamkos has been pivotal to this Lightning team since being drafted with the first overall pick in the 2008 NHL Draft. At 34 years old, Stamkos is scoring at an incredible rate, despite the decline in performance the Bolts showed this past season. He has shown he is still a 30+ goal scorer after scoring 40 goals with 81 points during the 2023-24 regular season. His 81 points in 79 games this past season was his third-straight season, getting at least a point per game and the 12th time in his career, even with all the adversity he has faced with serious injuries.

On November 11, 2013, Stamkos suffered a broken tibia and was forced to miss extensive time due to the injury. On March 6, 2014, he returned to the lineup after missing out on the Olympics and 45 games of the Lightning’s season. Prior to the game, Stamkos was awarded captaincy after the departure of the previous captain, Martin St. Louis, and has led the Lightning ever since. Stamkos would put up 25 goals and 40 points in 37 games that season. Though swept by the Montreal Canadiens during the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Stamkos notched two goals and two assists.

His blistering one-time shot from the left side on the powerplay cannot be easily replaced. Losing that would be a major blow to what has been a stellar first powerplay unit with firing power from all over the ice.

Via SportsNet Youtube Channel

He is the team’s all-time leader in games (1,082), goals (555), points (1,137), and powerplay goals (214). He is second in assists with 582, just six back of St. Louis. While all this is impressive, his leadership in the room and on the ice is underrated. His commitment to the team and ultimate goal is a trait the Lightning need to keep. Many fans will remember Game 3 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final against the Dallas Stars very fondly. Out of action for seven months after having core muscle surgery, the captain returned to the lineup, and the hockey world was in shock. Stamkos played 2:47 in the first period, and that would be all he would play. It wouldn’t come without a huge moment, however. On his first shot, Stamkos ripped a shot top shelf on the far side past Anton Khudobin to put the Lighting up 2-0. Rather than heading back to the locker room, the captain remained on the bench the entire game to cheer the team on. You don’t see many players doing that.

Seeing Stamkos in a jersey other than a Tampa jersey is unbearable to think about, and not one that should happen. Because of all he has done and the performance level he is playing at for his age, he is a key figure to this Lightning team. They can still be cup contenders, especially with Brayden Point, Nikita Kucherov, Brandon Hagel, Victor Hedman, and Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Potential Moving Pieces

Sheary has two years left on a three-year $6 million contract he signed in the offseason prior to the 2023-24 season. Sheary has not played up to the contract he was given, as he had a disastrous 15-point season in 57 games. There have been many games that left fans questioning what his role exactly is on the team. While he has shown he can battle in the corners, he does so without a good result as he has been weak on his skates and stick, allowing opponents to come away with the puck and exit their zone with ease. Trading his contract away would give the Lightning more wiggle room to sign Stamkos and depth players that keep the Bolts in playoff conversations.

Though there has been nothing concrete about this, Jeannot has had his name circling social media with the potential of heading to the trade block. Jeannot re-signed with the Lightning in July of 2023 but, disappointingly, has not been worth the two years at $2.665 million AAV. Jeannot struggled this past season. He was inserted into the lineup 55 games, posting seven goals and 14 points. He is not known to be a goal scorer but has seemed off as a fourth-line grinder. The Lightning traded a ridiculous amount for Jeannot which has not shown to be a good trade. Tampa gave up Cal Foote, a conditional first-round pick in 2025, a second-round pick in this year’s draft, and a third-, fourth-, and fifth-round pick in the 2023 draft. For a rental, it turned out to be overkill as the Lightning would ultimately end their season losing in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Cernak is the more difficult of the three to choose to move, but if they are to move him, they will have to do so soon as his no-trade clause kicks in on July 1st. This one is more difficult as he is one of the few right-handed defensemen the Lightning have on their roster. While he is a top-four defenseman, they wouldn’t have to worry about losing that as McDonagh can replace him in that role. Cernak has been big on the blue line for the Lightning since joining the team in the 2018-19 season. Cernak puts his body on the line game in and game out by blocking shots and getting physical in the corners. But with that, he has seen time out of action often because of injuries. While injuries are inevitable, Cernak has been out of the lineup with an injury an insane amount. He carries a hefty $5.2 million cap hit over seven years, which can come in handy for the Lightning to fill holes.

We Got The Jack Inside The Rink

In episode 8 of the Inside The Rink podcast, Matty and Smitty are joined by new co-host Conrad Jack. After the long hiatus, we get back to hockey with a PACKED episode!Matt Rempe & the Devils vs. Rangers Line BrawlCould the Vancouver Canucks squander a playoff opportunity? Have the Winnipeg Jets finally figured out their lines?Flyers Head Coach John Tortorella is a sound byte MACHINEOvechkin is on his way to 895, Who is next?McDavid joins elite company with 100 Assists in a seasonRyan Hartman was suspended 3 Games, was it worth 3 games??Can Auston Matthews hit 70 Goals this season?The Eastern Conference Wild Card race is heating up, who lands the two playoff berths?For all of your hockey news and more from the show, visit us at insidetherink.com and watch us on YouTube! How to support us and our sponsors:TicketmasterColumbia Sports ApparelESPN+ SubscriptionFanaticsDraft Kings – CODE ITR
  1. We Got The Jack
  2. Episode 7. Player Safety First!
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Zachary Alvarado

Inside The Rink journalist covering the Wheeling Nailers and Norfolk Admirals of the ECHL. I am a Duquesne University Sports Information and Media major graduating in December. I have been passionate about hockey since I was 4 years old.

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