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Tampa Bay Lightning hope to open up contract extension discussions with Steven Stamkos

The Tampa Bay Lightning are one of the most improved teams in the NHL this season and Steven Stamkos might just be the league’s most explosive offensive talent so far. He leads the league with 20 points and shares the goal scoring lead with Brandon Dubinsky and Patrick Sharp at 10.

Being that he is in the third (and final) year of his entry-level contract, it’s natural to wonder (and worry) how much progress is being made between the player and team when it comes to a new deal. Normally, I’m a proponent of reaping the benefits of the natural motivation that comes with a contract year – just look at the elite production the Dallas Stars are enjoying from Brad Richards – but in cases of young phenoms such as Stamkos, it’s good to wrap them up as soon as possible.

Teams are allowed to sign would-be free agents to deals once they have one season left (the Washington Capitals did it with Alex Ovechkin and the Pittsburgh Penguins signed Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in similar situations), so the Lightning could sign Stamkos right now if they wanted to.

Still, Damian Cristodero points out that there is no timetable for negotiations, yet he shares some details about the situation between the team, Stamkos and his agent Mark Guy.

Speculation is he could sign for at least five years at up to $7 million per season. Tampa Bay would love to get a deal done before the season is finished and Stamkos becomes a restricted free agent.

“Both sides are open to it,” Guy said. “It’s going to depend on the factors that come into negotiations. But both sides are comfortable and happy to start the process and get something done before the season is out.”

“I’d like to get it done as soon as possible,” Stamkos said. “It’s a great organization. They’re going to do their stuff. But for me, I’m just focused on my game.”

It’s difficult to argue with Stamkos being worthy of such a deal. After all, he is scoring at an elite level and has plenty of room for improvement at only 20 years old. One must wonder if the Lightning wish that the NHL didn’t close up the loopholes that should ban lifetime contracts in this case.

There are two players who could be especially impacted by the Stamkos negotiations in Tampa Bay: Vincent Lecavalier and Victor Hedman. Adding a hefty $7 million-plus annual salary cap hit would make Lecavalier’s bad value deal even more glaring, potentially justifying another round of trade speculation. Meanwhile, Hedman will be in the same contract year situation next season as Stamkos is in now, so the Lightning might have to make some tough choices in the next two summers.

Either way, signing a unique talent like Stamkos (and Hedman) is a good problem to have. We’ll fill you in as more details surface, even if that takes a while.

Video: Flyers’ Read (upper-body injury) will not return versus Predators

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Philadelphia Flyers forward Matt Read is done for the night with an upper-body injury, the team announced.

Read, who only played three shifts today, was hit into the net by Nashville Predators forward Filip Forsberg during the first period. Flyers GM Ron Hextall announced the veteran forward suffered an upper-body injury.

There was no call on the play.

In 26 games this season, Read has six goals and 10 points.

Video: Radulov goes top shelf in the shootout and it’s pretty sweet

MONTREAL, QC - NOVEMBER 08:  Alexander Radulov #47 of the Montreal Canadiens looks on during the warmup prior to the NHL game against the Boston Bruins at the Bell Centre on November 8, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Boston Bruins 3-2.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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Alexander Radulov has been a pretty good acquisition for the Montreal Canadiens, and he continued to prove that Sunday against the L.A. Kings.

Radulov scored in the shootout against the Kings, helping the Canadiens to a 5-4 victory. He also scored in the second period and had two assists for a three-point night. Not bad.

But his shootout goal was sweet. Just made it look easy, as he went to the backhand, top shelf on Peter Budaj.

With reported tension between coach Michel Therrien and Max Pacioretty, the Habs captain scored twice and had an assist. Another three-point night.

So, the Habs got offensive contributions from their best players.

That said, one of their best players, Alex Galchenyuk left the game late in the third period after a collision with Anze Kopitar away from the puck.

Galchenyuk didn’t return for the overtime. In 25 games, he has nine goals and 23 points, emerging as the No. 1 center in Montreal when the season began.

The Toews injury isn’t getting better, so Chicago’s captain will sit versus Jets

NEWARK, NJ - OCTOBER 28:  Jonathan Toews #19 of the Chicago Blackhawks skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on October 28, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The Blackhawks face the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday, and they’ll do so without captain Jonathan Toews.

Toews will miss a fifth straight game because of a reported back injury.

On Sunday, per CSN Chicago, coach Joel Quenneville provided an update, saying the Blackhawks forward will now be kept off the ice for the next few days because the injury essentially isn’t getting any better.

The Blackhawks are coming off a 3-1 road loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday, and they’re going through a difficult time with injuries to key players. Not only is Toews out, but goalie Corey Crawford has been sidelined for two to three weeks after undergoing an appendectomy.

Scott Darling will start in net tonight for Chicago, which has a three-point lead in the Central Division.

The Jets will be without their top point producer Mark Scheifele for a second straight game with a lower-body injury, per NHL.com.

Buffalo’s depth on defense is dwindling

BUFFALO, NY - OCTOBER 18:  Josh Gorges #4 of the Buffalo Sabres skates against the Boston Bruins at First Niagara Center on October 18, 2014 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jen Fuller/Getty Images)
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The Buffalo Sabres aren’t known for their depth on defense, so when they have to deal with injuries at that position, things can get complicated.

Well…I guess things are about to get complicated.

On Sunday, the Sabres announced that Josh Gorges (pictured) will miss “weeks” because of a non-displaced fracture in his foot. The injury occurred after he blocked a shot in Thursday’s game against the Rangers.

Besides Gorges, Buffalo is also without Zach Bogosian and Dmitry Kulikov.

Bogosian has been out since Nov. 3 with sprained ligaments in his knee, and he’s still 10-to-14 days away from getting back into the lineup.

The news is a little better for Kulikov, who returned to practice on Sunday. He’s missed 11 games because of a back injury he suffered in the preseason. He tried playing through it, but obviously he was still in some discomfort.

“Kulikov has now skated two days with some physicality and now been skating for seven days,” coach Dan Bylsma said, per the Buffalo News. “Hopefully, that means we’ll see him in practice soon – in the next week hopefully.”

Now, some of the replacements for these guys are starting to get hurt.

Taylor Fedun missed Sunday’s practice and it’s unclear if he’ll be able to play against the Capitals on Monday night. If he can’t go, Buffalo will need to call someone up from the minors.

Things got so wacky last week that the Sabres called up Brendan Guhle from junior on an emergency basis. By rule, he can stay on the roster as long as he keeps playing. Once he stops playing, the emergency tag is removed and he has to go back to his junior team.

Guhle, Rasmus Ristolainen, Jake McCabe, Cody Franson and Justin Falk are the healthy defensemen on the roster right now.