The sky is falling! The sky is falling! Hey, Tampa Bay Lightning fans, the sky is falling!
In case you missed it, the Bolts gathered yesterday for media sessions at Amalie Arena, and the big headline to emerge was that Steven Stamkos was disappointed he didn’t have a contract extension heading into the last year of his eight-year deal.
If you think that this means 2023-24 will be one giant farewell tour for the captain, take a deep breath and relax for a moment.
Tampa Bay Lightning: All is well that ends well
Let’s hit the way back machine to 2016. Stamkos didn’t have a contract extension heading into free agency, and everyone assumed he was gone for Toronto.
That didn’t happen. Tampa has since won two Stanley Cups, while Toronto held a borderline parade to finally make it out of the first round of the playoffs.
We fast forward to 2023, and Stamkos made waves yesterday when he stated:
"“To be honest I’ve been disappointed in the lack of talk in that regard. So it was something that I expressed at the end of last year that I wanted to get something done before training camp”"
Stamkos knows what he is doing when he makes that statement, he’s trying to place leverage on Lightning management.
It also doesn’t mean that he is actually threatening to go anywhere else.
Lightning management needed to prioritize Brandon Hagel first because he was due for a massive pay raise. Whatever the number that Stamkos wants will, in theory, still be in the ballpark of his current $8.5 million deal.
Part of the delay in getting a deal done is also due to Lightning Brass wanting to see the actual salary cap in 2024. For all the bold declarations of salary cap circumvention, these narratives also ignore that the cap has stayed flat these last three seasons, and the Lightning have had some far tougher choices than the rest of the league as a result.
So about that 2024-25 salary cap
The belief right now is that the 2024-25 salary cap will get bumped up to $87.5 million.
As it stands now, the Tampa Bay Lightning have 16 players locked up for next season, leaving Tampa with $12.3 million in total cap space if $87.5 million is the number.
So, if Stamkos were to sign at the $8.5 million rate he has now, that would leave $3.8 million to lock up five players at the league minimum of $775,000.
But, the salary cap also is expected to go up again in 2025 to $92 million.
With creative math, Tampa can make a deal that works.
The margins of the deal will be tight, and Julien BriseBois acknowledged that his job is to keep the team competitive moving forward and not turn into a retirement camp, but Stamkos has stated far too many times he wants to finish his career in Tampa to believe that his statement yesterday was anything more than standard contract negotiations.