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Five Questions: Stamkos on Hedman, playoff success

by Dan Rosen's Q&A feature called "Five Questions With …" runs every Tuesday. We talk to key figures in the game and ask them questions to gain insight into their lives, careers and the latest news.

The latest edition features Tampa Bay Lighting center Steven Stamkos:

TORONTO -- The questions are simple and direct. The answers leave room for debate and conjecture.

To Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos: Do you consider yourself a right wing or a center?

"I'm a natural center, have played center my whole life, so if the question is where am I more comfortable, I'm more comfortable playing center," Stamkos told during the NHL's Player Media Tour earlier this month. "But I think I proved last year I could play both and still be effective."

To Lightning coach Jon Cooper: Is Stamkos going to play center or right wing?

"Steven has clearly played more at center than on the wing in his career so obviously he's more comfortable at center," Cooper said. "However, he just proved in the playoffs that he can excel on the wing. It's a great weapon as a coach to have players that can play both center and wing."

So there you have it, maybe.

Stamkos sees himself as a center. He and Cooper are also correct that the Lightning captain proved last season he can play either position, because he switched in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and was better at right wing in the Lightning's past 15 games (six goals, 14 points) than he was at center in Tampa Bay's first 11 games (one goal, eight points).

Stamkos didn't score a goal in the Stanley Cup Final, but he hit a number of posts and had a handful of breakaways, proof that he was generating Grade A scoring chances.

Cooper wants Stamkos to play where the team needs him to play, where he will help them the most. He's been at center in training camp so far, in the middle of a line that features Jonathan Drouin on the left wing and Ryan Callahan on the right. He could start the season in that spot. He could also start at right wing. It's still not cut and dry.

However, there are other factors that go along with how Stamkos is going to be used.

He's still in contract negotiations with the Lightning for a new long-term contract. Stamkos said the contract negotiation is being kept private until there is something to announce, but it's hard to imagine his position not coming up in the talks between Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman and Don Meehan, who is Stamkos' agent.

That said, Cooper can't consume himself with Stamkos' contract negotiation and let it affect how he handles his lineup, nor can Stamkos allow himself to be consumed by what Meehan and Yzerman are talking about and let it affect the way he plays for the Lightning this season. There are too many more immediate issues to deal with from a team perspective.

"I don't think I'm going to let it affect the way I go about and be the leader of the team or change my approach because there is no deal in place right now," Stamkos said.

With that in mind, Stamkos fielded several questions from about the Lightning and how they will respond this season, to heightened expectations after losing in the Stanley Cup Final.

Here are Five Questions with…Steven Stamkos:

What we saw in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season from Victor Hedman -- the speed, rushes, breathtaking play all around -- seemed like a revelation, and a long time coming. Was it to you and the rest of your teammates as well?

"It was a coming out party in the fact that we were now on the biggest stage in our sport. He was the same player to us; just everyone else got a chance to see him. You get lost under the radar a little bit I guess playing in a non-traditional hockey market. I think people got to see what he can bring because of how we did as a team, got to the Final. Obviously, he played phenomenal, was an absolute beast and horse for us out there, so obviously the expectations have been raised for him. I know he's such a competitor, so he loves that. It was great to see. Heddy and I are the only guys left in Tampa from our rookie years, respectively. We've been through a lot together, some ups and downs, and for me it's going back to Day 1 until now, to see that transition, not only as a player but as a person, as a teammate, as a leader, it's fun to watch."

Hedman's expectations aren't the only type of expectations that have been raised; the entire Lightning team is expected to do great things this season. How will your team deal with raised expectations?

"I think it's about tempering the expectations. It's not hanging your hat on the fact that we got to the Final, it's about using that as motivation, using experience and knowledge that we gained to help us. The goal should just be the same as it was last year, just getting to the playoffs. It's so hard now that it's wrong to start thinking we made it to the Final and we'll be right back in that position. It could have been one round and out because Game 7 against Detroit could have gone either way. You have to realize how hard it is and just be prepared to have a more challenging year because teams aren't going to be surprised anymore."

What did you learn from last season, from going to the Cup Final, from experiencing Game 7s against Detroit and the New York Rangers, and winning them?

"As a team we learned how to win, and not just by scoring goals. Everyone talked about how offensive our team was and how we scored the most goals, but you need to play a certain way in the playoffs to win, and we figured that out. The perfect example is Game 7 in Madison Square Garden. Everyone wrote us off. New York was undefeated at the Garden in Game 7s. We just had that mentality to just go play, and have a tight game. We knew we could score late. We were comfortable playing those games. In the middle of the season maybe we weren't, but we learned how to win those games. Chicago knew how to win those games all along, so we get to the Final and they were just a little ahead of us. We have that experience now and hopefully that works in our favor."

Do you view your position switch in the playoffs last season as part of your leadership role on this team, that when asked by the coach to do something there was no complaining or questioning, at least not publicly, it's just something you did?

"Yeah, especially when you get to that time of the year. You're willing to sacrifice, to do anything to win. That's what you want your whole life is to win the Stanley Cup, so you do what is best for the team. As a player you just want to be put in a situation to help the team by hopefully playing well, doing your job. That's all you can ask for."

It was a short summer, the kind that every player wants, but the kind that can create a hangover effect for players going into the following season. How did you handle the summer, and do you worry about any adverse effects?

"It definitely started a little later than it would have in any other year, but to be honest I feel great. I didn't take as much time off as I usually would just because you kind of feel guilty seeing all the guys in the gym working out. But I feel great. Sometimes the adjustment of getting back into the swing of things isn't as difficult because it is such a short time that you're body adjusts quicker. I'm hoping that's the case."


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