Lightning face pressure in 2024 due to Steven Stamkos’ contract

Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports /

One of the less talked about stories of the Tampa Bay Lightning‘s 2023 offseason is the fact that Steven Stamkos is eligible for a contract extension on July 1st. It seems like only yesterday that Tampa Bay fans were anxious about the prospect of him leaving the team for the Toronto Maple Leafs when free agency loomed in 2016. Instead, the captain signed an 8-year, $68M ($8.5M AAV) contract that runs through the 2023-24 season.

The Lightning are facing significant salary cap challenges both short and long-term, with limited money to re-sign their eight pending free agents and improve the team for next season. Additionally, in 2024-25, they will have only nine players on the roster and around $26.9M in cap space, with Brandon Hagel also needing a new contract.

Stamkos’ impending free agency highlights the fact that the Lightning’s current championship window may be closing. The team’s core players are aging, with Stamkos set to turn 34 and Victor Hedman turning 33. Hedman showed concerning signs of decline last season. Nikita Kucherov will turn 30 next month, with Andrei Vasilevskiy turning 29 in July.

While Stamkos has not shown significant signs of decline, having tallied 34 goals and 84 points in the 2022-23 season, and even reaching a career-high 106 points in 2021-22, the Lightning should be acutely aware that their current core of players is aging and that the 2024 season may represent their last, best chance to capture a championship. Stamkos’ impending free agency serves as a reminder of this reality.

While the Lightning will remain competitive past next season, it may become increasingly difficult to field a championship-caliber team as core players age. The team’s limited draft capital means that they will need to get creative to bring in new talent and develop their current prospect pool as well as they possibly can. Finding diamonds in the rough will be crucial to maintain their competitiveness.

Brayden Point, Mikhail Sergachev, Anthony Cirelli, Erik Cernak, and Nick Perbix all in their mid-20s will ensure that the Lightning remain competitive well past next season, but a Stanley Cup run cannot be guaranteed. GM Julien BriseBrois will need to work his magic to give the team a chance at another championship past 2024. Otherwise, the 2022 Stanley Cup Final loss to the Colorado Avalanche may have been their last opportunity. The Lightning can’t afford to let any year go to waste, like in 2023, with core players like Stamkos, Kucherov, and Hedman not getting any younger.

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