Stamkos, Hedman and Cooper All Key Pieces of the Lightning’s Future

Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman are top priorities on the Lightning’s offseason to-do list.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman miss practice Tuesday

On Wednesday, GM Julien BriseBois opened the end of season exit interviews by expressing the importance of keeping Lightning captain Steven Stamkos.

“Obviously Steven Stamkos needs a contract and we want him to be a part of that group.”

“You all saw how, from the trade deadline on, Stammer elevated his level of play, which was incredible to see. For someone who has already earned his Hall of Fame plaque, has accomplished so much already, and has been accomplishing so much for so long, for him to play arguably the best two months of hockey of his career — it started around the trade deadline, and he carried it all the way through that series against the Panthers — for him to do that, at the time when our team needed it most, was incredible.”

“The aim is for him to continue to play on a contending Tampa Bay Lightning team going forward.”

BriseBois shared that he and Stamkos spoke briefly to initiate talks about a contract extension after the team landed in Tampa, following their Game 5 loss against the Panthers Monday night. BriseBois then reached out to Stamkos’ agent to begin preliminary discussions of the negotiation process.

“It’s obviously a priority to see if we can get this done,” BriseBois said. When asked how confident he is that they will be able to finalize everything soon he said: “I’m very hopeful.”

Stamkos agreed that they were in the very early stages, but said he is hopeful they can get an idea of where things stand in the next couple of weeks.

“We’ll have to have those discussions, but I’m certainly excited that we’re going to have those, hopefully soon, and then we can go from there. I had a short conversation with Julien after the game, he reached out to my agent, so that’s all that we have right now. But hopefully there are some discussions. You’ve got to start somewhere, so looking forward to that.”

“At the end of the day, winning is still what fuels me. Being a big part of that culture fuels me,” Stamkos said of what goes into making his decision.

Jul 12, 2021; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) and defenseman Victor Hedman (77) celebrate on a boat during the Stanley Cup Championship parade.

“Obviously, certain things have changed now, I have an amazing young family that has put roots down in this city, and I really enjoy living here and playing here. So, from that perspective, the decision is more than just me now. There are different factors than there were last time, but nothing’s really changed in terms of my mindset and where I wanted to be and play, and that was here. That certainly hasn’t changed.”

“I’m hopeful that something works out here, because I do love it, and I still think that we have a chance to win with the group of guys that we have. So, we’ll see what’s in store in the next couple weeks.”

After starting the 2023-24 season with a level of uncertainty, at least from the outside looking in, it was clear both Stamkos and BriseBois were on the same page. As exit interviews proceeded, one by one, the players weighed in on the importance of keeping their captain in a Lightning uniform.

“It would be tough to look at this team without him here,” said Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman.

“The way he’s handled the whole situation, the way he’s played, he’s just been phenomenal. He’s led this team, especially in the playoffs — five goals, some big-time plays, the physicality, the speed that he plays with. It was fun to watch.”

Hedman finds himself in a similar situation that Stamkos was in last year, with his contract set to expire at the end of next season. The two have spent their entire careers together in a Lightning uniform and are best friends off the ice.

“This is all we know since day one of our NHL careers is playing here. We want to win for ourselves and the guys in that room, but for our fans and the community as well,” said Hedman.

BriseBois made it clear that re-signing the six-time Norris Trophy nominee is also a priority for the organization.

“I’ve been here for almost half my life,” said Hedman. “I couldn’t picture anything else, but it’s a process. It’s a business. Just moving forward here, my thought process is on next season and hopefully I won’t be in the same position as Steven, but you never know. Hopefully we can get something done in the summer. My plan is to retire as a Bolt and hopefully that will come true.”

Apr 21, 2024; Sunrise, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper looks on from the bench against the Florida Panthers during the third period in game one of the first round of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amerant Bank Arena.

When you mention Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, you have to also include head coach Jon Cooper.

Cooper’s current deal was set to be up at the end of the 2024-25 season. When asked about extension talks for the NHL’s longest-tenured coach, BriseBois responded by saying, “He’s got term.”

After being asked for further clarity, BriseBois would only briefly confirm that Cooper is signed beyond 2024-25, per Ed Encina from the Tampa Bay Times. That would mean that at some point, Cooper signed another extension with the Lightning.

“These guys, it’s been so much fun to be a part of. It’s a pleasure to coach them, a pleasure to push their buttons to get it going. It’s a pleasure when they get pissed off at me,” said Cooper.

“It’s so much fun, but at the end, the final goal is winning a championship. And when you do it, there’s nothing like it. That’s why I said it’s addictive and I still have a fire burning, and until that starts to fade, I’ll continue to be back.”

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