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Tampa Bay Lightning hope to open up contract extension discussions with Steven Stamkos

Nov 6, 2010, 1:15 PM EDT

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The Tampa Bay Lightning are one of the most improved teams in the NHL this season and Steven Stamkos might just be the league’s most explosive offensive talent so far. He leads the league with 20 points and shares the goal scoring lead with Brandon Dubinsky and Patrick Sharp at 10.

Being that he is in the third (and final) year of his entry-level contract, it’s natural to wonder (and worry) how much progress is being made between the player and team when it comes to a new deal. Normally, I’m a proponent of reaping the benefits of the natural motivation that comes with a contract year – just look at the elite production the Dallas Stars are enjoying from Brad Richards – but in cases of young phenoms such as Stamkos, it’s good to wrap them up as soon as possible.

Teams are allowed to sign would-be free agents to deals once they have one season left (the Washington Capitals did it with Alex Ovechkin and the Pittsburgh Penguins signed Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in similar situations), so the Lightning could sign Stamkos right now if they wanted to.

Still, Damian Cristodero points out that there is no timetable for negotiations, yet he shares some details about the situation between the team, Stamkos and his agent Mark Guy.

Speculation is he could sign for at least five years at up to $7 million per season. Tampa Bay would love to get a deal done before the season is finished and Stamkos becomes a restricted free agent.

“Both sides are open to it,” Guy said. “It’s going to depend on the factors that come into negotiations. But both sides are comfortable and happy to start the process and get something done before the season is out.”

“I’d like to get it done as soon as possible,” Stamkos said. “It’s a great organization. They’re going to do their stuff. But for me, I’m just focused on my game.”

It’s difficult to argue with Stamkos being worthy of such a deal. After all, he is scoring at an elite level and has plenty of room for improvement at only 20 years old. One must wonder if the Lightning wish that the NHL didn’t close up the loopholes that should ban lifetime contracts in this case.

There are two players who could be especially impacted by the Stamkos negotiations in Tampa Bay: Vincent Lecavalier and Victor Hedman. Adding a hefty $7 million-plus annual salary cap hit would make Lecavalier’s bad value deal even more glaring, potentially justifying another round of trade speculation. Meanwhile, Hedman will be in the same contract year situation next season as Stamkos is in now, so the Lightning might have to make some tough choices in the next two summers.

Either way, signing a unique talent like Stamkos (and Hedman) is a good problem to have. We’ll fill you in as more details surface, even if that takes a while.

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