CapFriendly now projects the Lightning to have $16.5 million in available cap space. There was plenty of speculation that the increased cap space was earmarked for a new contract for Stamkos, but that wasn’t the case.

BriseBois said he spoke with Stamkos’ agent, Don Meehan, on Saturday after the trades were made but did not increase the team’s offer to its star forward. Multiple reports claim that the Lightning have made a long-term offer to Stamkos but with an average annual value of only $3 million.

“The plan is for Steven to test the free agent market. Our respective positions haven’t changed following today’s trades. I understand that when you get this close to free agency it can be tempting to see what the market has to offer to you. That was a risk I was taking when I didn’t go to Steven a year early to try to lock him up and get a contract done,” BriseBois said.

The general manager also told Meehan that “it’s the best interest of our organization to explore all options in the coming days, whether it be via trades or by getting into free agency.”

“We have this cap space. We can allocate it in different ways by either getting volume or quality. I don’t know yet how we’re going to do that. I know the priority is going to be to address our forward group,” BriseBois said.

Stamkos, 34, had been a key part of that forward group since the Lightning selected him No. 1 overall in the 2008 draft.

Stamkos has spent 16 seasons with the Lightning and is the club’s career leader in goals (555), points (1,137) and games (1,082). He has won two Stanley Cups (2020, 2021) with the franchise and has 50 goals and 51 assists in 128 playoff games.

This past season, Stamkos had 40 goals and 41 assists in 79 games. It marked the seventh time he has scored 40 or more goals. A seven-time All-Star, Stamkos also authored his first career four-goal game this past December.

Stamkos came close to becoming a free agent in 2016 before signing an eight-year, $68 million deal just before the start of free agency. But this time, he’s headed to the market.

“We have to see what’s best for the Lightning organization and Steven has to do what’s best for him, his career and his family,” BriseBois said. “So unless something changes between now and July 1 — and it doesn’t look like it will — then we will get to July 1.”

The Lightning also are hopeful of working out a contract extension with defenseman  who has one season left on an eight-year, $63 million contract. Hedman, 33, had 13 goals and 76 points in 78 games this season, his 15th with the club.

“We’ve had discussions with Victor’s agents about an extension,” BriseBois said. “In his case, we have more runway before we have to get a deal done, as he still has one year left on his current agreement. That being said, the plan remains to be in a position to announce an agreement on a new contract for Victor in the coming days.”