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The Lightning must do all they can to keep Steven Stamkos

If reports are true, Tampa Bay runs the risk of losing one of the league's greatest talents at the end of the season.

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Up until late Sunday evening, I had no desire to believe any rumors or discussion of Steven Stamkos taking his talents outside of the Tampa Bay area. It just didn't seem possible that the elite-level skill of Stamkos would reside in any place other than with the Lightning for the remainder of his prime years. His latest Twitter like fiasco was in all likelihood just an "accident" as he had claimed and there'd be no way Tampa Bay would let him slip out from between their fingers in a contract year.

That was until James Mirtle's report in The Globe and Mail hit the web Sunday night, throwing everything we thought we knew about this Stamkos situation into chaos. While the article itself doesn't throw complete bombshells -- especially if you're a Tampa Bay fan keeping pace with the team -- the fact that we're even seriously talking about Stamkos moving on from the Lightning just feels wrong.

Mirtle is 100 percent a trusted source, so this isn't the case of a complete rumor catching fire. There is most certainly something serious to these talks if he has it and his article is one of the first concrete pieces of evidence that this story has some weight to it. Take a look at one of the biggest wows of his piece, that trade talks for Stamkos have been in the works for a while now:

"It is widely believed that [Lightning GM Steve] Yzerman already investigated trading Stamkos before the no-movement clause kicked in. Prior to the draft, the Lightning were in discussions with the Buffalo Sabres about a potential deal for the second-overall pick, which they eventually used to take Jack Eichel.

Depending on who you believe - and we're dealing with a rumour mill gone absolutely wild right now - those discussions were either very preliminary or somewhat advanced.

Those who argue they were advanced say that it was Stamkos who nixed the deal, because one condition the Sabres put on the blockbuster trade was that they had to be able to sign him to an extension."

Though Mirtle debunks a bit of the statement -- that it makes no real sense that he would negotiate with just one team when he could have the pick of over half the league come next July -- the rumors stem from the feeling that Stamkos and head coach Jon Cooper do not see eye to eye. Of course everyone from Stamkos and his mother to Cooper will deny those rumors from now until the end of his playing career and possibly beyond, but what if there's some truth to it?

Stamkos isn't the first player -- and he won't be the last -- to deal with these rumors in the modern sports world.

It wouldn't be the first time this has happened, where a star player becomes disgruntled with a coach or general manager he just doesn't quite match up with. Sidney Crosby himself was the target of rumors that there was a falling out between him and GM Mario Lemieux due to the Penguins struggles this season. Stamkos isn't the first player -- and he won't be the last -- to deal with these rumors in the modern sports world. He is, however, the biggest story to watch coming into the trade deadline in March and the start of free agency in July.

Stamkos and his $7.5 million, five-year contract expire at the end of this season, making him an unrestricted free agent come July 1. His stats this season have been the lowest since his 46-point rookie year back in 2008-09 with 11 goals and 11 assists in 30 games played. If his stats kept at this pace, it would be just the third time in his eight-year career that they fell below a point-per-game level.

Last season, Stamkos also fell below that mark for the first time since his rookie year. A notable absence from his side through all of last season? The now-retired Martin St. Louis. The winger was the playmaking set-up man to Stamkos and his creative skill through much of the Lightning captain's career. The loss of St. Louis to the Rangers at the end of the 2013-14 season only really started to show through at the end of last year, where he went through a stretch of seven games without netting a goal at the end of March, unheard of for a player with Stamkos' talent.

Stamkos was not defined by St. Louis, but it's clear that the captain is missing the playmaking skills on his wing that has driven his scoring to league leading heights. In fact, Stamkos has been moved from the team's top-line center position to the wing multiple times this year, a point of possible contention Mirtle highlights in his piece. The switch hasn't done much for Stamkos and his scoring, but it might be just one of the problems the captain has with his coach.

That combination of career lows in scoring with the disagreements of a coach is a mix that honestly could go either way in determining whether Stamkos stays or goes come the start of the summer. It's quite clear, however, that Stamkos has all of the power in this situation. He can sit on his $7.5 million per year contract, a number that will be harder to shop around with his no-movement clause, through the trade deadline right up until it expires at the start of free agency. Stamkos can decide to test free agency to drive up his pay day even further with the cap-strapped Lightning or to dump them completely and find bigger money elsewhere.

If Tampa Bay loses Stamkos, it would be a black mark upon the organization regardless of any failings in their relationship. Losing what will be a 26-year-old franchise player in the middle of his prime years will taint the Steve Yzerman and Jon Cooper eras, even if Stanley Cups come their way. If any of these rumors are faintly true, the Lightning need to find a way to repair the broken bridges or they run the risk of turning away one of the greatest players of this age for good.