Steven Stamkos NHL free agency
(Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire)

The Steven Stamkos era in Tampa Bay appears to be hurtling towards a bittersweet conclusion.

Tampa Bay Lightning GM Julien BriseBois has announced that captain Steven Stamkos is set to enter the NHL free agency market on Monday.

BriseBois’ Blunt Statement

“The plan is for Steven to test free agency,” BriseBois bluntly stated following the conclusion of the 2024 NHL Draft.

“Our respective positions haven’t changed after today’s trades, and I understand the temptation to see what’s out there when you’re this close to July 1st.”

Lightning’s Cap Space Windfall

This bombshell revelation comes on the heels of Tampa trading away key players Mikhail Sergachev and Tanner Jeannot on Saturday, freeing up over $11 million in precious cap space.

Yet even with this newfound financial flexibility, bridging the gap with Stamkos before Monday’s deadline appears increasingly unlikely.

The Risk of Waiting

The Lightning GM acknowledged that not approaching Stamkos a year earlier to secure an extension was a calculated risk. “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,” BriseBois admitted.

“My responsibility is doing what’s best for the Lightning organization, while Steven has to prioritize his career and family. Unless something drastically changes in the next 48 hours – which isn’t looking probable – we’ll arrive at July 1st without a deal.”

A Gut-Wrenching Prospect for Fans

It’s a gut-wrenching prospect for Lightning fans who have cheered Stamkos for 16 seasons as he shattered franchise records and hoisted two Stanley Cups.

Stamkos, 34, has been the face of the Lightning franchise since being drafted first overall in 2008. He has served as the team’s captain since 2014 and has been instrumental in their success.

The Toronto native poured in 1,137 points over 1,082 games, all in a Lightning sweater. Imagining him suiting up elsewhere seems unfathomable.

Father Time Waits for No One

But Father Time waits for no one – not even a legend like Stammer. At 34 years old and seeking one last lucrative contract, Stamkos appears ready to at least dip his toe into the free agent waters, even if his heart remains in Tampa.

Stamkos’ Right to Test the Market

“Steven’s earned the right to test the market,” BriseBois acknowledged. “We’ll cross that bridge in terms of going our separate ways if it comes to that.”

End of an Era

The potential departure of Stamkos would mark the end of an era for the Lightning. However, BriseBois remains focused on utilizing the team’s increased cap space to improve their roster. “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,” he said.

As the clock ticks down to the opening of free agency, the hockey world will be watching closely to see where Steven Stamkos, one of the NHL’s most electric scorers, will land.

For Lightning fans, the prospect of seeing their beloved captain in a different uniform is a difficult reality to face, but one that seems increasingly likely with each passing day.