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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.

Sidney Crosby looks hurt (and furious) after Alex Ovechkin slash

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Sidney Crosby is known to get fiery, but even for his feisty standards, he was furious during the third period of Game 4.

An Alex Ovechkin slash caught Crosby on the hand, leaving the Pittsburgh Penguins star shaking his mitt and pleading for a call.

After that, Crosby left to get his hand looked at … but not before flipping out and destroying his stick.

You can watch it happen in the GIF and the videos above.

Crosby was able to return not that long after that moment, although we can only speculate regarding how his overall game will be affected if his hand isn’t 100 percent.

Dirty or not? Evgeni Malkin’s hit on Daniel Winnik

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Tensions seem to rise with every passing game in the playoffs, particularly in a series with bad blood like the one between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals.

Kris Letang was suspended for his hit in Game 3, and some wonder if Evgeni Malkin should suffer a similar fate for his check on Daniel Winnik on Wednesday.

Winnik left the contest and has not yet returned during the third period.

Take a look at the hit in the video above and decide for yourself.

Blues aim to raise money for victims of Fort McMurray fires

An evacuee puts gas in his car on his way out of Fort McMurray, Alberta, as a wildfire burns in the background Wednesday, May 4, 2016. The raging wildfire emptied Canada's main oil sands city, destroying entire neighborhoods of Fort McMurray, where officials warned Wednesday that all efforts to suppress the fire have failed.  (Jason Franson /The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
AP
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Fires devastated the Canadian city of Fort McMurray, and the St. Louis Blues are doing their part to help those who were affected.

Here’s what the team is doing to raise money during Game 4 against the Dallas Stars:

Proceeds raised through the team’s 50/50 raffle and the Blues for Kids silent auction will benefit families who have been misplaced by the fires.

Blues forward Scottie Upshall shared his thoughts with the Associated Press regarding several family members being among those evacuated from the area.

“It’s been a great city, a city that’s survived for many years through some tough times and for me, growing up there doesn’t seem too long ago,” Upshall said. “Places that probably aren’t standing anymore will be really, really tough to take. But as long as everyone’s OK, that’s the main thing.”

Other people from around the hockey world weighed in on the scary scene, including Ottawa Senators defenseman Chris Phillips, who told the Ottawa Citizen that “it hurts a lot.”

People shared some scary sights from the evacuation.

Video: Beagle’s perfect shot dogs Murray for early Caps lead

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Matt Murray was just on another level in Game 3, giving the impression that the Washington Capitals would only beat him with perfect shots.

Jay Beagle got that memo … and maybe added a little element of surprise on top of that.

As you can see from the video above, Beagle beat Murray from an unexpected angle with a pretty resounding goal. It was one of those “Wait, did that just happen?”-type moments.

The Capitals saw their lead go away moments before this post was completed, so it’s now 1-1.