Steven Stamkos and the Tampa Bay Lightning are off to a decent if unspectacular start to the 2023-24 campaign. The Bolts are 3-2-2, good enough for fourth place in the Atlantic Division, and Jonas Johansson is fresh off his first shutout of the season.

But it's clear the Lightning just aren't as balanced a team as when they were the class of the NHL, advancing to three straight Stanley Cup Finals and winning two of them. Gone are Alex Killorn, Pat Maroon, Corey Perry, Ross Colton, Ian Cole and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, and early injuries have made it more difficult to adapt.

With Andrei Vasilevskiy on the shelf for two months, it's encouraging that Tampa Bay is still over .500 and playing some good hockey. But when it comes to the captain, things aren't as encouraging.

It was recently reported that Lightning GM Julien BriseBois wouldn't be negotiating a new contract with Stamkos until after the season, instead waiting to see how the year goes. That is concerning, as it is certainly not giving the Canadian the kind of security he would expect after leading the team to dynasty territory.

The 33-year-old hasn't played anywhere else, and admitted he was disappointed with the lack of communication between his representatives and the team's front office.

End of the road for Stamkos in Tampa Bay?

Tampa Bay Lightning, Steven Stamkos, NHL

The pending unrestricted free agent got another update, courtesy of ESPN's Emily Kaplan, on Wednesday.

“Stamkos also had difficult negotiations in 2016 before ultimately signing a mega eight-year contract two days before he was set to hit free agency. I've talked to two of Stamkos' friends, and they said the same thing: ‘This one feels different,'” Kaplan asserted.

“I've also talked to some of Stamkos' ex-teammates on the road who believe that it will ultimately get sorted out, that everyone just needs a little time and space. Stamkos clearly wants to remain with the Lightning. But he has seen other players get taken care of and wants to be paid what he believes he's worth — not just take whatever is left over. BriseBois has said he wants Stamkos to retire in Tampa Bay but also to be contending for Cups while he's doing it. Given the current state of the team, you can see the chasm.”

It truly does seem like a touch-and-go situation, but considering the aging core, it wouldn't be overly surprising if Steven Stamkos realized that the decline is coming in Tampa Bay and signed elsewhere in 2024.