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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.

Bruins will be ‘aggressive’ in pursuit of puck-mover

Boston Bruins GM Don Sweeney answers a question as coach Claude Julien sits next to him at during Boston Bruins media day, Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015 in Boston. (John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via AP)  BOSTON HERALD OUT, QUINCY OUT; NO SALES; MANDATORY CREDIT
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The Boston Bruins are going to be aggressive in their pursuit of a “transitional” defenseman this offseason.

GM Don Sweeney understands it won’t be easy, given all the other teams that will be looking for the exact same thing, but he plans to pursue a puck-mover “either through free agency or through acquisitions.”

“It’s a matter of finding a trading partner or finding a match in the marketplace,” Sweeney said today on a conference call. “But we’re going to be aggressive.”

The Bruins already have four defenseman under contract for next season: Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller, the latter of whom just signed a four-year, $10 million extension.

In addition to those four, Sweeney said he expects to get restricted free agent Torey Krug signed. Like Krug, Colin Miller and Joe Morrow are also RFAs.

That makes seven defensemen under club control. Given his desire to add at least one more, Sweeney was asked about trading either Seidenberg or McQuaid, to which he responded, “I’ll explore whatever I have to, in every way, shape and form to improve our club and find the balance we need.”

So expect another busy offseason in Boston. The Bruins have made no secret their intention to upgrade the blue line. As we wrote a month ago, expect the likes of Jacob Trouba, Matt Dumba, Sami Vatanen, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Tyson Barrie to be targeted, should any of those players become available via trade.

If it’s unrestricted free agency that Sweeney opts for, the list of potential targets includes Keith Yandle, Brian Campbell, Alex Goligoski, Dan Hamhuis, Jason Demers, and Kris Russell.

Related: Seidenberg doesn’t want to think about waiving no-trade

Canucks assistant Gulutzan interviewed for Flames gig

Glen Gulutzan, Willie Desjardins, Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, Alex Burrows, Linden Vey
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Add another list to Flames GM Brad Treliving’s coaching search list:

Glen Gulutzan.

Gulutzan, the former Dallas bench boss that’s been an assistant in Vancouver for the last three seasons, was permitted to speak with Treliving about the club’s vacant head coaching gig, per The Province.

“They asked for permission and have talked to [Gulutzan],” Canucks GM Jim Benning confirmed. “If he doesn’t get the job, we like Glen and he’s going to be back with our group.”

Gulutzan and Treliving do have a connection. Earlier this month, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman pointed out that both played their junior hockey in WHL Brandon, and was “told not to be surprised” if Gulutzan received an interview.

Treliving is searching hard for a replacement for Bob Hartley. Yesterday, the Calgary Sun wrote he kept busy with the coaching search while leading Canada to gold at the recently completed World Hockey Championship.

Earlier reports claimed Treliving spoke to ex-Wild bench boss Mike Yeo about the gig.

From a Vancouver perspective, the Gulutzan interview could have a domino effect. The Province also points out that Calgary didn’t ask permission to speak with Travis Green, the Canucks’ well-respect bench boss in AHL Utica.

Green has said he thinks he’s ready to take an NHL job, and earlier reports claimed he was in the running for Anaheim’s vacant head coaching gig.

Tarasenko needs to start ‘playing within the system’: Hitch

SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 19:  Vladimir Tarasenko #91 of the St. Louis Blues and Marc-Edouard Vlasic #44 of the San Jose Sharks fight for control of the puck in game three of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at SAP Center on May 19, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Is it all Vladimir Tarasenko‘s fault that the St. Louis Blues are on the brink of elimination?

No, of course it’s not.

It seems we have to clarify this every time a star player comes under fire for not producing. Hockey is a team game, and the Blues — as a team — have not been as good as the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Final.

Still, it was interesting to hear St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock talk about Tarasenko yesterday, because the criticism was pointed, even if it was delivered in an empathetic manner.

“What happens with goal-scorers when they get frustrated is they look to hit home runs. We need him just to act like a worker,” said Hitchcock.

“What he’s doing is he’s looking to try to catch fast breaks, he’s looking to catch the other team napping. But when you play against guys like [Marc-Edouard Vlasic], you’re not going to catch him napping. He’s just got to feel comfortable playing within the system, playing within the framework.”

Hitchcock added, “I think it’s a natural tendency with younger players who have this heightened sense of urgency to do what they do well, which for him is score goals. He’s gotten too far away from the play. He’s got himself too stretched out. We just need him to come back to the puck a little bit more.”

As we noted yesterday, Tarasenko has been held pointless in five games against the Sharks. In his last three games combined, he’s managed just four shots total. This from a guy who scored 40 of the Blues’ 224 goals during the regular season, then put up 13 points (7G, 6A) in the first two rounds of the playoffs.

We’ll see tonight if the “hard lessons” continue for the 24-year-old, or if he can find a way to help get his team back to St. Louis for Game 7.

Video: Johnson pays the price for Tampa Bay

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It’s been another successful spring for Tyler Johnson.

Johnson, the most diminutive member of Tampa Bay’s vaunted “Triplets” line, is racking up the playoff points yet again. He has 17 through 16 games — tied with Joe Thornton for sixth-most in the postseason — and, depending on how far the Bolts go this year, could best last year’s total, when he had 23 in 24.

Not bad, considering the physical pounding Johnson has taken.

At just 5-foot-9 and 182 pounds, the playoff grind has certainly taken its toll over the last two years. Johnson was rendered all but ineffective in last year’s Cup Final versus Chicago due to a broken right wrist and, this year, dealt with an upper-body injury in the opening round and a puck to the face just prior to Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final.

Not that it slowed him down any.

Johnson scored the game-winning OT tally in Game 4, getting his body in front of a Jason Garrison shot to deflect home past Marc-Andre Fleury. That earned high praise from Lightning head coach Jon Cooper, who heaped superlatives on his undersized star.

“He’s a winner — that’s what winners do,” coach Jon Cooper said of Johnson, per the Tampa Bay Times. “They don’t back down. And when there’s a challenge ahead of you, you’ve got to find a way to meet the challenge. There’s a lot of coaches that had a front row seat to see how this kid plays and how he competes.

“And it’s not always the size of the player, it’s the size of the heart, and that’s Tyler Johnson.”