The Tampa Bay Lightning still are struggling to get star forward Steven Stamkos under contract. We've put together this slideshow to discuss why the Lightning should consider this not an "if" situation, but a "when."
The Lightning must keep Stamkos—they know it, Steven knows it—and it's probably what's taking so long to get this thing resolved.
Stamkos is in a rare class of NHL athlete. His name is mentioned among the game's greats along with Ovechkin, Crosby and the Sedin twins.
He's in national commercials and promotions, gracing the cover of EA Sports NHL 2012 video game.
He is a primary reason why the Lightning get any games on national television.
At 21 years of age, Steven Stamkos has so much of his NHL career ahead of him. He's already making an assault on the Tampa Bay Lightning record books. In just three years he ranks sixth all-time among Lightning goal scorers, third in scoring power-play goals and ninth in points.
He hasn't even grown into his frame. Heck, the kid can barely shave. Imagine what he'll be at 26 or even 30...nearly a decade from now.
Since becoming Lightning general manager, Steve Yzerman seems to have been making all the right moves. In just one season he reshaped the roster for a team that missed the playoffs three straight years into a squad that came within one goal of advancing to the Stanley Cup final.
To lose a player the caliber of Stamkos because he couldn't work out a deal would be a damaging blow to the credibility of Yzerman as a GM—one that could very well define his tenure in Tampa Bay.
No contract may be more important than the one he's working on for Steven Stamkos.
It's been a rough seven years for the fans since the Tampa Bay Lightning took home the Stanley Cup. After the NHL lockout robbed the Lightning's opportunity to defend and cost them goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, Palace Sports and Entertainment sold the franchise to Oren Koules and Len Barrie (also known as "The Cowboys" by John Tortorella).
The Cowboys would fire their Stanley Cup-winning coach Tortorella and GM Jay Feaster for ESPN's Barry Melrose and Brian Lawton. Melrose would be fired early into his first season with the team, with Rick Tocchet taking over.
Meanwhile, the Cowboys began battling for the control of the franchise, struggled to make payroll and began trading away pieces of the Stanley Cup squad.
Finally, after the nearly putting the team into bankruptcy, nearly trading away star player Vincent Lecavalier and completely destroying the fan base, the Cowboys sold to billionaire Jeff Vinik—who paid cash for the team.
Under Vinik, the franchise has morphed into one of the most respected in sports (ranked the No. 2 best sports franchise by an ESPN the Magazine article), drawn respect around the league, put a great product on the ice and putting money into renovating the St. Pete Times Forum into a first-class hockey facility.
The fans have responded.
But all of this good will would be undone if the franchise lost their best young player in Steven Stamkos.
You don't get much close to playing for the Holy Grail than the Tampa Bay Lightning did this past season.
Overall the Lightning haven't lost all that much this offseason.
Forward Sean Bergenheim and defenseman Randy Jones, both role players, cashed in on playoff success for greener pastures. Goalie Mike Smith went after a starting opportunity in Phoenix, while Simon Gagne moved on to LA Kings.
Of the losses, only Gagne really hurts because of his scoring prowess, but considering he's been oft-injured the last few seasons, the loss isn't completely damaging.
To fill those voids, Tampa Bay brought in forward Ryan Shannon (Ottawa), Brent Connolly (the 2010 first-round pick) and Tom Pyatt (Montreal) while adding defensemen Bruno Gervais (NY Islanders), Matt Gilroy (NY Rangers) and goalie Mathieu Garon (Columbus).
If the Lightning can get Stamkos and fellow restricted free agent Teddy Purcell back in the fold, there's no reason why this team can't compete for the Southeast Division title and another shot at the Stanley Cup.
Let's face it, guys who can put in 40-plus goals a season are rare. When you find one, you desperately need to hold on to them or get a king's ransom for the services in return.
The loss of Stamkos would leave a gigantic goal-scoring hole in the Tampa Bay Lightning lineup. Sure, if they got a decent return in a trade, some of that would get filled but let's just look at the current roster.
We know Marty St. Louis is going to put in points, but his production will suffer without his linemate.
Vincent Lecavalier was once that guy, but he's not anymore and doesn't show any signs of ever become that caliber of player again.
Gagne is gone. Purcell should be back but he's no 40-goal scorer.
Really, unless your name is Ovechkin or Crosby, you're not going replace Steven Stamkos with one player. It would take two to three solid scorers to try to replicate what Stamkos gives you.
The Lightning simply don't have that on their current roster.
Brad Richards is gone. He was really the only free agent of consequence that could have at least come close the Stamkos' production.
After two weeks of free agency, the pickings are slim and none in the goal-scoring department, unless you want to try to catch lightning in a bottle with a geezer forward like 41-year old Teemu Selanne or 38-year old Alexei Kovalev.
Four first-round picks sounds like a windfall until you consider that many of the first-round picks in this year's NHL draft may never play a shift in the big league.
Like most sports drafts, the NHL Entry Draft is a crapshoot. In hockey, it's even more difficult as you're trying to project what a 17- or 18-year-old kid may be in five to six years from now.
If a team tries to trade for Stamkos' rights, it would take a Fort Knox load of picks, prospects, talent, and cash to make Tampa Bay want to pull that trigger.
Let's face it, only one guy (Corey Perry of Anaheim) scored more goals than Stamkos did this past season. If what you're getting back doesn't equal 45 goals and 91 points, you're not getting the value for the talent.
You don't trade or refuse an offer sheet on a 21-year-old scoring phenom that has his head on straight, is a team guy and one of the best players in the world.
You don't do it.
You don't see Washington trying to deal Ovechkin.
You don't see Pittsburgh trying to deal Sid the Kid.
Vancouver's not parting with either of the Sedins.
You don't trade Steven freaking Stamkos.
Stamkos has already won a Richard Trophy, led the team deep into the playoffs in just his third season, dominating your record books and the face of your franchise.
No player has scored more goals the past three seasons as Stamkos.
You don't let that slip away.
You do whatever it takes to get this kid back into the fold.