USATSI_8599581_154158418_lowresThe dust has settled on another NHL season and teams are beginning to assess what they have to do in the off-season in order to remain competitive. For the Tampa Bay Lightning, that means signing Steven Stamkos to a contract extension.

“He is our number one priority,” general manager Steve Yzerman said. “We’ve got some other restricted free agents and other contracts we have to do, but that’s the number one priority.”

The final year of Stamkos’ current contract is the upcoming 2015-2016 season, which means he could become an unrestricted free agent come the summer of 2016. The two sides can start discussing a new deal on July 1.

The current contract was signed in July of 2011 and was for five years to the tune of $37.5 million, carrying an average annual value of $7.5 million.

Stamkos hasn’t had a lot to say about the contract situation, which makes sense considering he was just in the Stanley Cup Final and all. He does like playing in and for Tampa, though.

“Players, coaching staff, management, ownership, this is one of the best groups I’ve ever played on,” Stamkos said. “I’ve been here for so long, this is my home now. It’s been unbelievable for me to see the transition here, and it starts with [Jeff] Vinik, the owner here. I know there’s going to be a lot of questions about what’s going to happen in the next couple of weeks, but those things will be taken care of in time.”

There are some comparison points in terms of money to discuss. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews were top priorities for the Chicago Blackhawks when they re-upped last summer with eight year extensions worth $84 million each. And Sidney Crosby, a top priority for the Pittsburgh Penguins, signed a 12-year deal worth $104.4 million prior to the last year of his contract in June of 2012.

Most signs point to Stamkos generating some kind of raise, even though his post-season performance left a lot to be desired. He’s still the focal point of the Lightning franchise and Yzerman isn’t just blowing smoke when he says he’s the top priority for the team.

Stamkos finished second in the regular season with 43 goals in 82 games, plus he had seven goals in 26 games in the playoffs. He was held without a goal against the Blackhawks in the Final, but some have argued that his game is evolving. If that evolution continues, he could become one of the most well-rounded players in the National Hockey League – a considerable fixture to build a team around.

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