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Stamkos contract is Lightning's top offseason priority

by Corey Long

TAMPA -- Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said Wednesday his top priority during the offseason will be to sign captain Steven Stamkos to a contract extension.

Stamkos, 25, was the first pick of the 2008 NHL Draft and has been the face of the Lightning since forward Martin St. Louis was traded to the New York Rangers last season.

The 2015-16 season will be the final one of Stamkos' contract, and if unsigned he would become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2016. The soonest the sides can discuss a contract is July 1.

"He is our No. 1 priority," Yzerman said. "We've got some other restricted free agents and other contracts we have to do, but that's the No. 1 priority."

Stamkos hasn't talked much about his contract situation for the most part but said Wednesday he loves playing for the Lightning.

"Players, coaching staff, management, ownership, this is one of the best groups I've ever played on," Stamkos said. "I've been here for so long, this is my home now. It's been unbelievable for me to see the transition here, and it starts with [Jeff] Vinik, the owner here. I know there's going to be a lot of questions about what’s going to happen in the next couple of weeks, but those things will be taken care of in time."

Stamkos' contract, signed in July 2011, was for five years, $37.5 million, an average annual value (AAV) of $7.5 million.

During All-Star Weekend in January, Stamkos told the Toronto Sun he could envision a contract similar to the eight-year, $84 million extensions Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews signed with the Chicago Blackhawks last summer (an AAV of $10.5 million).

Pittsburgh Penguins forward Sidney Crosby signed a 12-year, $104.4 million extension prior to final year of his contract in June 2012 (an AAV of $8.7 million).

Stamkos was second in the NHL in the regular season with 43 goals in 82 games and had seven goals and 11 assists in 26 games during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He did not score a goal in six games during the Stanley Cup Final loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.

Stamkos became a more physical presence on the ice and tied for fourth on the Lightning with 62 hits during the playoffs. He also moved to right wing to help boost his scoring chances.

Yzerman said he continues to see Stamkos' game evolve.

"I think he can play anywhere on the ice, and once the puck drops you play to your responsibilities," Yzerman said. "As our captain he did everything that was asked of him. He put the team ahead of himself. He played injured, he played hard. And one of the main reasons we got to the Final in his attitude."

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