Steven Stamkos
Steven Stamkos has 14 goals and 25 points in 34 games. Getty

The future of Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos remains a hot-button topic around the National Hockey League. The season is 34 games old and there has not yet been an indication that the 25-year old sniper will re-sign with the team. Stamkos is due to be a free agent at season’s end and the options for the Lightning are one of two things: either re-sign their leader to a long-term deal or trade him before the deadline and avoid losing him for nothing.

The conjecture about Stamkos leaving existed long before the start of the season but has picked up steam the longer he’s gone without signing an extension with Tampa Bay. Back in June, Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said signing Stamkos to a long-term contract was his "No. 1" offseason priority yet the situation seems to still be met with so much uncertainty.

The rumor mill had it initially as dissension between star player and coach Jon Cooper resulting from the coach moving Stamkos away from his natural center position to wing, which he did in last year’s playoffs. Yzerman recently gave Cooper an extension, leading to speculation that Stamkos must be on his way out. Fuel was added to the fire once Stamkos caused more controversy by liking a tweet about his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs making a run at the Markham, Ontario native.

Stamkos claimed the social media gaffe was an accident and has more recently denied any desire to leave the Lightning. "Like I've always said, I envision myself winning a championship here and want to do that," Stamkos told the the Tampa Bay Times on Saturday. "Obviously we got close last year, and I'm the captain of this team and I want to be that leader."

Stamkos said the Bolts and his representatives are “definitely still talking” but if he turns out unwilling to re-sign, it is entirely possible Yzerman asks Stamkos, who has a full no-movement clause in his contract, for a list of teams he would be willing to go to. When asked by the Times whether he would waive the clause if no agreement was made by the Feb. 29 deadline, Stamkos said “When we cross that bridge, we'll go over it then. There's still a lot of time before then. A lot of things can happen."

The Lightning drafted Stamkos with the No. 1 overall pick in 2008 NHL Entry Draft and he almost immediately emerged as one of the league’s most dangerous offensive weapons. He’s recorded the second-most goals (216) and third-most points (382) of any player over the last six seasons. The three-time All Star has also won the Maurice Richard Trophy for the NHL’s leading goal scorer twice, most recently in 2011-2012. Stamkos led the Lightning to the Eastern Conference Final in 2010-2011 and the Stanley Cup Final in 2014-2015.

The two-time 50-plus goal scorer has dispelled the rumors that he and Cooper are at odds.

"That's false too," Stamkos said. "There's been so many different articles written about Coop and I. How do they know what's going on in the room? A lot of it is speculation…Why no one has had any concrete stuff is because there hasn't been anything to talk about.”

Stamkos is currently having a down statistical year by his standards with 14 goals and 25 points in 34 games. The Lightning were riddled with injuries the first quarter of the season but have won three of four to improve their record to 17-4-3, which is tied for ninth in the East. There are many games left to play but whether or not the Lightning have their star player and captain with them the entire way through remains to be seen.