GM 'very hopeful' Lightning can re-sign Steven Stamkos

Steven Stamkos' best goals of the season (1:29)

Look back at Steven Stamkos' best goals of the regular season and playoffs as the Lightning star approaches free agency this offseason. (1:29)

Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois said that he's "very hopeful" the team can re-sign captain Steven Stamkos, as the Lightning star approaches unrestricted free agency this offseason.

"Obviously Steven Stamkos needs a contract, and we want him part of that group," BriseBois said, two days after the Lightning were eliminated by the Florida Panthers in five games.

The general manager indicated he has started "very preliminary" talks with Stamkos and his agent, calling it a priority to get the deal done.

Stamkos' future with the Lightning has earned leaguewide attention ever since he expressed frustration about his contract status in September. This was the final year of his eight-year, $68 million contract. Stamkos, 34, said he had been "disappointed in the lack of talk" about an extension, having expressed a desire to get something done before the regular season started.

BriseBois said before the season that it wasn't just a matter of bringing Stamkos back but making sure the Lightning remain "a legitimate Stanley Cup contender year in and year out for the remainder of his tenure" if they did.

After winning back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2020 and 2021 and losing in the Stanley Cup Final in 2022, the Lightning have been eliminated in the first round in consecutive seasons.

The noise around Stamkos grew so loud that BriseBois had to declare that Tampa Bay wasn't trading him months before the NHL trade deadline on March 8.

Stamkos had 40 goals and 41 assists for the Lightning this season in 79 games. He had five goals in five games against the Panthers.

"From the trade deadline on, Stammer elevated his level of play, which was incredible to see," BriseBois said. "For someone who has already earned his Hall of Fame plaque and has accomplished so much for so long, for him to play arguably his best two months of hockey of his career, at the time when our team needed it most, was incredible."

BriseBois especially praised his captain's leadership this season, after the Lightning saw veteran voices such as Alex Killorn and Pat Maroon leave the team last offseason. "You were all able to see how he led on the ice, what's hard to see is how he elevated his leadership game off the ice," BriseBois said. "Nobody in our group raised their leadership game more than Steven Stamkos did to fill that void."

Stamkos said Wednesday that he was excited to begin contract talks but cautioned that the process was early. He reiterated his love for the city.

"I'm in my 16th season here. It's crazy when you think about it. It certainly doesn't feel that way from a physical or mental perspective, because I still love coming to the rink every day and interacting with the fans," he said. "Everything that is hockey in this city is amazing and I love it."

The Lightning players and coach Jon Cooper said they can't imagine Stamkos leaving.

"I don't think there's going to be too much conversation. I hope not, anyway," Cooper said after Game 5. "He belongs here. We know it. He knows it. He and I have grown up together. He's in control of his own destiny so I don't know what's going to happen. But he feels like a Bolt for life."

Forward Brandon Hagel praised Stamkos for handling the pressure of the season and his very public contract situation.

"Just the way he played this year, with everything going on. We had a lot of adversity. A lot of times when maybe things were a little dark. He rallied us together. His performance speaks for itself," Hagel said. "When I look at Stammer, I believe he's a Bolt for life. That's just the vibe I get from him."