Is this goodbye Steven Stamkos? Lightning Brass and agent confirm he will test free agency.

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Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) celebrates his goal against the New York Islanders during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, April 1, 2023, in Tampa, Fla.
(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Steven Stamkos is still on course to become a free agent even after the Tampa Bay Lightning cleared significant salary cap space with trades made at the NHL draft.

General manager Julien BriseBois and agent Don Meehan on Saturday independently confirmed their stances have not changed with respect to Stamkos signing a new contract with the club before free agency opens Monday.

“We’re both going to go ahead and follow through with our due diligence, seeing what’s out there and seeing what’s best,” BriseBois said following the conclusion of the draft. “My responsibility is to see what’s best for the Lightning organization, and Steven has to do what’s best for him, his career and his family. So, unless something changes between now and July 1 — and it doesn’t look like it will — we will get to July 1.”

BriseBois said he did not increase his previous offer to Stamkos after trading two-time Stanley Cup-winning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev to Utah and depth forward Tanner Jeannot to Los Angeles on Saturday.

While each side has expressed a willingness to make something work, there was a chance of a separation when BriseBois did not approach Stamkos and his camp a year ago about a possible extension.

“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 said following the draft. ”I was taking a risk by doing that that we may end up here, and now here we are. And to be fair, I think both parties have tried to get a deal done up to this point. We just haven’t been able to yet.”

BriseBois added that he told Meehan it was in the best interest of the organization to explore all options in the coming days, including trades and other free agents.

“Steven’s earned the right to test free agency,” BriseBois said. “We’ll cross that bridge when we get there in terms of if in fact we do end up going our separate ways.”

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Stamkos at 34 becomes one of the top players available to the league’s other 31 teams. He has been the face of the franchise since the Lightning picked him first in the 2008 draft, and he has served as captain since 2014, lifting the Cup twice as part of the organization’s back-to-back run in 2020 and ’21.

Injured during a vast majority of the bubble playoffs four years ago, Stamkos scored a memorable goal on his first and only shot of the series in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final. It is one of his 50 in the playoffs as a member of the Lightning.

Stamkos during the regular season has scored 555 goals to go along with 582 assists for 1,137 points in 1,082 games. He ranks 30th on the career regular-season goal-scoring list and is third among active players behind just Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby.

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