LAS VEGAS — The Steven Stamkos era with the Tampa Bay Lightning could very well be coming to an end.

After opening up significant salary cap space by trading defenseman Mikhail Sergachev to the Utah Hockey Club and forward Tanner Jeannot to the Los Angeles Kings, Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois met with Don Meehan, the representative for the long-time Tampa Bay captain, during Day 2 of the 2024 Upper Deck Draft at Sphere on Saturday. The conclusion from those discussions: Stamkos is poised to seek greener pastures.

“The plan is for Steven to test the free agent market,” BriseBois said. “Our respective positions haven’t changed following today’s trades and I understand that when you get this close to free agency, it can be tempting to see what the market has to offer to you. That was a risk I was taking when I didn’t go to Steven a year early to try to lock him up and get a contract done.

“And to be fair I did tell Donny today that I think it’s in the best interest of our organization to explore all options in the coming days, whether it be via trades or by getting to free agency and seeing how we can use this cap space to improve the makeup of our team.”

The 2023-24 season was the last of an eight-year, $68 million contract ($8.5 million average annual value) that Stamkos signed on June 29, 2016, and he can become an unrestricted free agent when the market opens at 12 p.m. ET on Monday.

“As of now, we’ve both agreed to get to July 1,” BriseBois said. “It doesn’t mean we can’t circle back to one another, but we’re both going to go ahead and follow through with our due diligence, seeing what’s out there and seeing what’s best.

“My responsibility is to see what’s best for the Lightning organization, and Steven has to do what’s best for him, his career and his family. So, unless something changes between now and July 1 — and it doesn’t look like it will — we will get to July 1.”

Stamkos was vocal with his displeasure at the beginning of last season that the Lightning had opted not to give him an offer of an extension last summer. Obviously the disappointment still resonates with the 34-year-old.

“Steven’s earned the right to test free agency,” BriseBois said. “I didn’t go to him last season to get a deal done. I did go to him quickly after this season, and I was taking a risk by doing that that we may end up here, and now here we are. And to be fair, I think both parties have tried to get a deal done up to this point. We just haven’t been able to yet.”

If the projected parting of the ways between Stamkos and the Lightning does occur, it closes one of the most storied chapters in franchise history.

The Markham, Ontario native was the face of the franchise before he’d ever played for the team. Months prior to the Lightning selecting Stamkos first overall in the 2008 draft, the slogan “Seen Stamkos?” was omnipresent in the Tampa area, splattered on T-shirts and on billboards.

He didn’t disappoint.

Named captain on March 6, 2014, he has been a member of the Lightning for the entirety of his 16-season career, playing 1,082 games and scoring 1,137 points (555 goals, 582 assists), including 81 points (40 goals, 41 assists) in 79 games this season.

He’s Tampa Bay’s all-time leader in games played, goals, points, even-strength goals (336), even-strength points (707), power-play goals (214), power-play points (422), overtime goals (13), game-winning goals (85) and shots (3,332). He was a member of the Lightning’s Stanley Cup-winning teams in 2020 and 2021, and has 101 points (50 goals, 51 assists) in 128 playoff games.

With Stamkos looking to be headed elsewhere, BriseBois said the Lightning are looking to get stronger up front, given the newfound financial flexibility the team has.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported Saturday that the Lightning could be eyeing free agent wing Jake Guentzel, who has 227 goals in 520 career games.

Another path could be via trade for Maple Leafs wing Mitchell Marner, who Lightning coach Jon Cooper said in the past is one of his favorite players after coaching him while the two represented Canada at the 2017 World Hockey Championship. Marner is entering the final season of a six-year, $65.358 million contract ($10.893 million average annual value) he signed Sept. 13, 2019.

Whatever direction the Lightning choose to go, BriseBois said the team now has more options to improve.

“As a group, we got younger and we now have a war chest of cap space to go out and improve our team in free agency,” Brisebois said. “And the hope is that this newfound cap space, our favorable taxation situation, the opportunity to be on a competitive team and to play with some great players, should make us an appealing destination when free agents have to make decisions on where to sign come July 1.

“The unexpected consequence of this newfound cap space today is that a number of teams are now reaching out about players that might be available. … That’s another avenue that we will be exploring in the coming days here.”

As for the trades earlier in the day, the Lightning acquired defenseman J.J. Moser, forward Conor Geekie, pick No. 199, used to select wing Noah Steen, and a second-round pick in the 2025 NHL Draft from Utah in exchange for Sergachev.

Not long afterward, Tampa Bay netted pick No. 118, used to select defenseman Jan Golicic, and a second-round pick in the 2025 NHL Draft from the Kings for Jeannot.

“I don’t know exactly how we’re going to use our cap space,” BriseBois said. “I just know that we had very little of it this morning, and now we have more of it to invest in improving our team.”

A team that likely won’t feature arguably the greatest player in franchise history in Stamkos.



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