This article is part of our From the Press Box series.
Steven Stamkos' status as a pending unrestricted free agent has become the story in Tampa, as the Lightning have fallen well short of expectations so far this season. Their star is now goalless in his last 10 games while collecting five assists, a slump that's symptomatic for a Lightning team that's seen its goal-scoring average drop by nearly three-quarters of a goal this year.
There's a lot of noise around the club's centerpiece, as his contract status has become a possible distraction. To begin to understand this dynamic, we need to rewind back to last season's playoffs, in which he was shifted to the wing from his usual center position and saw reduced playing time. Coach Jon Cooper implied that Stamkos had a hand injury, but other reports indicated that Stammer was unhappy with the changes.
Those rumors have persisted through the early part of this season, and any underlying tensions between Cooper and Stamkos may only have gotten worse when news broke in early December that Cooper had signed his own contract extension.
We're left to wonder if this is yet another reason that Stamkos contract talks either have not taken place or have stalled completely. With the trade deadline looming at the end of February, there's continuing speculation that the Lightning might like to trade him, but Stamkoas has the right of refusal thanks to his no-trade clause.
Stamkos is younger than almost any big-name player in recent memory, and that makes him very interesting to the