SUNRISE, Fla. -- As the final seconds of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s season counted down on Monday, many were likely wondering if this could also be the end of Steven Stamkos’ tenure with the team.

But not Stamkos.

“No, that never crossed my mind,” Stamkos said after Tampa Bay's 6-1 loss to the Florida Panthers in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference First Round at Amerant Bank Arena. “I’m out there battling to try to help our team win regardless at the end of the game. We’re trying to score and there’s some pride on the line for our group, so no."

Stamkos, who was selected by the Lightning with the No. 1 pick in the 2008 NHL Draft and has been their captain since March 6, 2014, can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. He was in the final season of an eight-year, $68 million contract ($8.5 million average annual value) he signed on June 29, 2016.

Before the season started, the two-time Stanley Cup champion (2020, 2021) expressed some frustration that contract talks hadn't yet begun.

"To be honest, I’ve been disappointed in the lack of talk in that regard,” Stamkos said on Sept. 20. “It was something that I expressed at the end of last year, that I wanted to get something done before training camp started. There haven’t been any conversations.

"I stated at the end of last year, too, I would love to extend and play here and finish out my career here, but that's out of my hands. I can't write the contract myself."

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In January, Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois insisted Stamkos would not be dealt before the NHL Trade Deadline on March 8 when addressing the forward’s contract situation.

"We're going to sit down and we're going to evaluate where we are as a team and where Steven is," BriseBois said. "We will see how we can make all of the parts work together.

"At the end of the season, we'll take stock of where we are as a franchise, and we'll address future contracts for all of our players whose contracts are going to be up in due time."

Stamkos, 34, led the Lightning against the Panthers with five goals in the five games. That came after he scored 40 goals and was third on the team with 81 points in 79 regular-season games.

In Tampa Bay's history, Stamkos ranks first in goals (555), points (1,137), power-play goals (214), power-play points (422) and games played (1,082). He is also second in assists (582), behind Martin St. Louis (588).

When asked if he thinks Stamkos’ future will be a big topic of conversation in the coming days, Lightning coach Jon Cooper said it shouldn’t be.

“I don’t know if there will be much conversation. I hope not anyway,” Cooper said. “He belongs here. We know it, he knows it.

“We’ve grown up together. He’s a heck of a player, but he’s also, you know, I mean, he controls his own destiny, but I don’t know what’s going to happen. But he feels like a Bolt for life, but only he and Julien can answer that one.”

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