TAMPA, Florida — Steven Stamkos insists he's focused on trying to help the Tampa Bay Lightning win the Stanley Cup, not his future with the defending Eastern Conference champions.
The two-time Maurice Richard Trophy winner as the NHL's top goal scorer reported to training camp without a long-term contract extension last week, saying he's not going to let the absence of a deal affect his preparation for the upcoming season.
Stamkos, 25, is entering the final year of a contract that pays him about $5.5 million this season. He is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent next July.
"I'm still the captain of this team. Nothing has changed in the way I approach the game," the three-time All-Star said. "I definitely love being here. We want to win a championship, and I want to be part of that."
The Lightning are coming off the most successful regular season in franchise history, followed by an exciting run to the Stanley Cup finals, where they lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games.
Signing Stamkos to an extension was the club's top priority this offseason. General manager Steve Yzerman remains hopeful a deal will be done "at some point" and Lightning owner Jeff Vinik reiterated during a fan event last weekend that he'd also like to see one of the league's most prolific scorers stay in a Tampa Bay uniform.
Stamkos has 276 goals and 498 points in 472 career games. Over the past six seasons, his 253 goals rank second in the league to Alex Ovechkin's 256.
Both sides have had little to say about the status of talks. It's thought that the first overall pick from the 2008 draft, could command a deal rivaling the eight-year, $84 million packages Chicago stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane received from the Blackhawks last year.
"Every player's contract expires at some point, and you go through the process," Yzerman said.
"I'm not going to elaborate. I'm not going to give regular updates on it," the general manager added. "Talking with Steven and Don Meehan and his colleagues at Newport Sports, we're going to keep it between us and hopefully work toward getting an extension done at some point."
Meanwhile, Stamkos said the situation won't be a distraction for him or his teammates.
"The guys understand it's a business. They know me as a player, as a leader. It hasn't changed the way I've approached anything. It hasn't changed my mentality coming into camp. The guys know what they are going to get and what to expect from me," Stamkos said.
"Whether it happens or it doesn't happen," the team captain added, "it isn't going to change the person that I am or the work ethic that I bring to the rink."
Teammates say they're motivated to build on last season's success.
To have a chance to return to the Stanley Cup finals, and win — the Lightning must first get back to the playoffs, which Stamkos said is not guaranteed.
"You have to have the mentality that nothing is going to come easy this year. It's so hard to go (to the Cup final)," he said. "We just want to continue to improve as a team, get better and be competitive. Anything can happen once you get into the playoffs, so the goal should be to get there."