Yzerman on Stamkos: ‘I can’t force him to sign a contract’

Lightning captain Steven Stamkos talks about the tough game 7 elimination, his resilient club, and making it further in the postseason than people expected.

Countdown to Stammergeddon: T minus five days.

On Saturday, Steven Stamkos will be free to negotiate with the 29 clubs not named Tampa Bay Lightning. Six days after that, if still without contract, he will become the National Hockey League’s most coveted unrestricted free agent in years.

Both Stamkos and the Lightning have agreed to keep negotiations private. Both sides have maintained publicly a desire to come to terms on a multi-year extension.

Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman spoke with Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times Monday and updated the talks.

Yzerman has had discussions with Stamkos and his representative, Don Meehan, since the captained recovered from his blood-cot issue in time to participate in Tampa’s final playoff game, but told Smith there has been no change in Stamkos’s contract status.

“We’re doing all we can to sign him,” Yzerman said. “What we look like if Stammer re-signs with us, it effects what we can do with our team.

“For us, we’d like to know sooner than later.”

Yzerman, who said a Stamkos extension was a top priority more than a year ago is feeling the crunch, with core players Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Jonathan Drouin, Ben Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy all in need of new deals in the next two years.

The 2015 GM of the Year is hoping for clairty on the two-time Rocket Richard winner’s future in Tampa by the draft this weekend.

“At some point on other players, I have to make a decision, whether it’d be restricted free agents, or potential trades or qualifying offers and things like that. I’ve got to make decisions and they can’t be put off forever,” Yzerman said.

Stamkos, 26, has said his decision will not be made lightly or quickly. Toronto, Detroit, Buffalo, Montreal and New York are among the teams that have been rumoured to take a run at Stamkos if he becomes available, but surely all other clubs should at least inquire about the 60-goal centre.

“I definitely want to stay. That hasn’t changed since the beginning,” Stamkos told reporters upon conclusion of the playoffs. “We’ll continue to engage and talk now that it’s not a distraction to the team and myself and the playoffs.”

As reported by Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, Yzerman had previously offered Stamkos an extension worth $8.5 million per season.

“To be honest with you, it’s out of my control,” Yzerman said Monday.

“He’s an unrestricted free agent on July 1. I can’t force him to sign a contract with us if he doesn’t want to. If he wants to go to July 1, he has that right.”

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