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Steven Stamkos should be ‘Bolt for life,’ Lightning coach Jon Cooper says after first-round playoff exit

Following his team’s season-ending Game 5 loss to the Florida Panthers, Steven Stamkos remained on the ice and greeted every teammate before they went down the tunnel. Those may have been Stamkos’ final moments as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning, but head coach Jon Cooper hopes that is not the case.

Stamkos, 34, is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. Contract talks between the Lightning captain and the team seem to have gone nowhere. Stamkos’ future is very much up in the air, but Cooper can’t imagine his captain on any other team.

“I don’t know if there will be much conversation [about Stamkos leaving],” Cooper said in his postgame press conference. “I hope not, anyway. He belongs here. He knows it. Again, this is two seconds after a game, but he and I have grown up together. He’s a heck of a player. … I don’t know what’s going to happen, but he feels like a Bolt for life, but only he and Julien [BriseBois] can answer that one.”

As the clock ticked down at Amerant Bank Arena, the Panthers held a big lead that only ballooned with multiple empty net goals. The game ended, 6-1, in favor of the Panthers. Despite the lopsided score, Stamkos said he never took the time to ponder whether that was his Lightning finale.

“No, that never crossed my mind,” Stamkos said. “I’m out there battling to help our team win at the end of the game, regardless of the score. There’s some pride on the line for our group.”

If Stamkos does hit the open market, there will be a line of teams around the block trying to sign him. A two-time Stanley Cup champion, Stamkos has 555 goals and 582 assists in 1,082 games played. Stamkos may not be at the height of his powers anymore, but he is still an elite power play weapon, and he can provide a wealth of experience and leadership to any locker room around the league.

The question isn’t whether Stamkos is done making big-time plays. The question is whether he will continue to do that in a Lightning jersey.

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