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Lightning now must make a play with Steven Stamkos’ contract

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He moved around his room, in his house, in the name of his sport.

By now, Steven Stamkos belongs here at Amalie Arena. He knows the cooridors. He knows the training rooms. On the night when Game Seven was scheduled, he certainly knows his way to the ice.

And now, for the Tampa Bay Lightning’s next play.

It has to keep him here.

Stamkos, and his teammates, were at Amalie for a final time Wednesday, packing up, cleaning out, dealing with the sting of the way a season suddenly ended. It was not lost on them that it was a few hours from the scheduled start of Game Seven, had the Chicago Blackhawks not finished their season in six.

But now that the competition is over, another begins. General manager Steve Yzerman said that his team’s No. 1 objective this off-season is to sign Stamkos to a contract extension, the difficulty of which seems to shift wherever you talk.

Oh, Stammer will be back. He has another year to go on his current contract. But as an athlete heads into his final year, renegotiation often becomes a focus. It is that way, too, with Stamkos, who, despite his rough Stanley Cup Finals, remains the focal point of his team.

Rumors persist, however, that Stamkos wasn’t pleased with Coach Jon Cooper’s tinkering, and that he didn’t like the shift of positions. So soon after Marty St. Louis forced his way out of town, there is concern it could happen again. Analyst Don Cherry says Stamkos was unhappy, and Toronto columnist Steve Simmons suggested there is a rift between him and Cooper.

“I’ve been here for so long,” Stamkos said. “This is my home now, and I absolutely love it here. It’s been unbelievable to see the transition. It’s like night and day, and that starts with the owner, Mr. (Jeff) Vinik.

“It’s up to them. If they want to talk, we’ll listen. But I know these things take time. I’m not sitting here twiddling my thumbs. I’ll work out.”

For the Lightning, such a re-signing is essential. Despite Stamkos’ struggles in the post-season, he remains the player the others look to for a goal, for a hit, for a fight when it is needed. This is his team, and this is his town. It is still Stamkos who leads the team in jerseys in the stands.

Asked about the relationship with Stamkos, Cooper said, “I didn’t know there was a situation.” He then suggested that things said outside the room aren’t the same as things said inside, and that this was an “issue-free” team. He said Stamkos was the leader of the team, but he didn’t exactly gush warmly about him.

Still, as Stamkos pointed out, he has another year of contract. He will be back. No one is about to break up a young team that just got into the Stanley Cup Finals.

For the Lightning, it was a hard lesson to learn. Cooper said there were some chances, early in the series, to go up 3-1. Maybe things were different then. Then there were the injuries. Goaltender Ben Bishop missed a game with a torn groin. Forward Tyler Johnson broke his right wrist in the first game and didn’t score again. Stamkos hinted he, too, was banged up, but was quick to say that “it didn’t affect my play.”

For now, it’s time to throw the skates into a bag.

It’s time to leave the locker room.

It is time, sadly, to melt the ice.

Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit garysheltonsports@gmail.com.

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