For nearly a calendar year, the chatter about Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos and whether or not he would stay in Tampa or go elsewhere hung around Stamkos, the organization, and general manager Steve Yzerman like a mosquito that keeps buzzing in your ear and won’t go away. Stamkos re-signed with the Lightning to the tune of an eight-year contract at a salary of $8.5 million a year, a relief to all parties involved, as well as the Lightning’s fanbase, that a deal finally got done for less money than Stamkos would’ve received on the open market. With a gaggle of restricted free agents looking for new deals, a tough decision to make in regards to goaltending, and defenseman Victor Hedman facing unrestricted free agency next summer, Yzerman made a couple of decisions. He wasn’t going to let Hedman’s contract situation linger, and he took a big step towards making a choice as to who his future goaltender would likely be.
On the first day of free agency, the 25-year-old Hedman inked an eight-year extension with Tampa Bay worth $7.875 million a year, keeping one of the elite defenseman in the NHL on Florida’s Gulf Coast into his early 30’s. His extension will kick in after the end of the 2016-17 season. Hedman took to Twitter to show his excitement over his new contract:
Couldn’t be more excited to stay in Tampa for another 8 years! Let’s do this..
— Victor Hedman (@heds77) July 1, 2016
Speaking with the media soon after the extension was announced, Yzerman talked about how quickly the negotiations all came together.
“Our preference was to get something done quickly. It really helps from our perspective trying to plan for next year and beyond knowing the earlier you can know a guy’s cap number, it helps project other things and plan for others,” Yzerman said. “Obviously with Stammer and Victor, these are the two cornerstones, very important players to our franchise. Really, really good people representing our organization, high-character guys, great leaders. Good couple of days for the organization. We still have a few contracts to continue to work on and hopefully get those done over the summer.”
About an hour after Hedman signed his extension, the Lightning announced that 21-year-old goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy had inked a three-year extension worth $3.5 million a year that will kick in after 2016-17. Taken in the first round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Vasilevskiy has been seen as the team’s goalie of the future and proved his worth during the Eastern Conference Finals after Vezina Trophy finalist Ben Bishop was injured. Since the season ended, there has been a lot of talk that Bishop is on his way out due to the fact that he’ll be an unrestricted free agent next summer. Trade rumors and chatter were flying during last weekend’s draft, but it ended with Bishop still a member of the Lightning. At first glance, it looks like Vasilevskiy’s extension is the final nail in the coffin of Bishop’s tenure in Tampa. Yzerman knows that the decision is looming, but didn’t give a timetable as to when a choice would be made.
“We know I have to make a decision at some point,” said Yzerman when talking about his two goalies. “If one of these two guys is available (in the expansion draft), they’re gonna get claimed. We’ll have to make a decision at a point in the future.”
When pressed further about whether or not Vasilevskiy’s extension meant a decision had been made, Yzerman didn’t tip his hand.
“I have an idea in mind of what I wanna do and I really don’t wanna get into that with you, I don’t wanna share that with you, so we’ll just see how things play along here,” said Yzerman. “If something that makes sense happens, a day from now, a month from now, at the trade deadline, we’ll look at it and we’re prepared, if need be, and it wouldn’t be the worst situation in the world as we have two really good goaltenders to play the year out.”
Yzerman also hinted that the team could begin the season with both Bishop and Vasilevskiy in the fold, but don’t be surprised if a trade gets worked out at some point during this summer or before training camp. With Bishop set to see a big salary raise as a UFA and Vasilevskiy being a cheaper and younger option that is also very talented, it might behoove the Lightning to work out a Bishop trade (looking at you, Dallas) so Vasilevskiy can fully assume the starting role in net for the Lightning.
With Stamkos, Hedman, and Vasilevskiy taken care of, the team will now turn their attention to Nikita Kucherov, Alex Killorn, and Vlad Namestnikov, who are all restricted free agents. As we’ve talked about before on The Scrum Sports Show, the Stamkos domino would be the first one to fall, and now that it has, we should soon have a pretty clear idea of what the core of the Lightning will look like over the next several years.
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