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ANAHEIM – Steven Stamkos is not tired of being asked questions about his contract situation.
The Tampa Bay Lightning forward, and pending unrestricted free agent, still doesn’t have a new deal with the team for the 2016-17 season and beyond. And he’s not fretting facing constant queries from all over the hockey universe about his negotiations with Tampa.
“To be honest it hasn’t been that bad,” Stamkos said in a Wednesday interview with Puck Daddy. “Obviously this is the first time I’ve gone through something like this, but it hasn’t been as bad as I thought maybe coming into the year. It has been something that for me, has been quite easy to come to the rink and not worry about it and not think about it. It’s really something that hasn’t bothered me.“
For Stamkos, answering such questions is part of the game and part of the business. If you’re a star player without a new deal, you’re going to get queries about your contract. The 25-year-old Stamkos will hit UFA status on July 1 if he and the Lightning can’t come to a deal.
“It comes with the territory obviously,” Stamkos said. “You know when you’re in this position you’re going to get asked about it a lot."
Being in Tampa, a smaller non-traditional market, has probably helped with the lack of all-encompassing scrutiny.
“You understand you go into certain cities where there’s more attention, you’re going to get more questions about it,” Stamkos said. “That’s just the way it is, so it’s definitely easier I think being in the market that I am where you don’t get asked about it too much.”
Stamkos doesn’t believe outside questions about his contract have been much of a detriment to the Lightning this season. One year after their run to the Stanley Cup Final, Tampa is 12-11-3 and ranks 24th in offense at 2.31 goals per-game. Stamkos is going through his worst offensive season since his rookie year, on pace for 60 points and 35 goals. Stamkos hasn’t been under 43 goals in a full season since his rookie year.
“I haven’t really been asked about it much, whether we’re not playing well, it just hasn’t been a lot,” Stamkos said.
What about his teammates or the coaching staff?
“I honestly don’t read media at all,” defenseman Matt Carle said when asked about Stamkos and his contract.
Said Tampa coach Jon Cooper, “Steven’s human. Is he thinking in the back of his head, ‘If I'm at the end of the year and I don’t have a contract?’ I’m sure he is. But I also don’t think he’s sitting there saying, ‘I’m not going to play hockey again.’ You know what I mean? And I think, our team – we’re a close team and everybody is aware of the situation. But we would never, I would never ever say that’s in our locker room, affecting how we’re playing. Stammer’s leading the team in goals and points, so I don’t know, like – I can’t imagine it’s affecting (Tyler) Johnson and why he has two goals because Stammer’s not signed.”
The belief is that Stamkos is aiming for a contract at around $12 million per-year. But will it be with the Lightning? Recently, the Tampa Bay Times said there was an “eerie” feeling over the Stamkos contract situation.
Until a deal is done, the questions will only increase. The Lightning go through Toronto on Dec. 15, where their captain will likely face several questions about the deal. The Maple Leafs have long been rumored as a destination for Stamkos if he can’t sign with Tampa.
"For me it’s been easy. It’s been the same answer every time," Stamkos said. "I think with the relationship my agency and (general manager) Steve Yzerman have and how we’ve agreed to keep everything between us, there really hasn’t been much to talk about.“
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