Steven Stamkos (Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Lightning superstar may have disappointed several markets when he chose to remain in Florida, but for a franchise that helped him grow from a teenager to a man, loyalty was important. Not only that, but he loves the core and believes in the talent surrounding him.
Steven Stamkos has always been a pretty laid-back guy. I've been interviewing him for almost a decade now and his sunny outlook has been very consistent (though one time I accidentally called him during a high school English class – I still feel bad about that). But in speaking to reporters on a conference call Thursday, there was something weightier to Stamkos' words. In re-signing with Tampa Bay, he may have broken hearts in Southern Ontario and Western New York, but he also proved just how worthy he is of that captain's 'C' with the Lightning.
A lot of folks say the captaincy doesn't mean anything anymore, but Stamkos may give them pause. Sure, he probably left money on the table by signing for $8.5 million per year over eight years, but he also knows how close the Lightning are to a championship.
"For me, my intention all along was to work something out with Tampa," he said. "It's been eight years and I grew up there, from a kid. Being the captain and a leader on this team, I felt in my heart that it was the place to stay."
Given how close the Lightning have come recently – a Stanley Cup final two years ago and the conference final this past season – Stamkos has reason for optimism. Yes, there will be salary cap issues to work out, but check out the talent for 2016-17: Stamkos, Victor Hedman Ben Bishop/Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tyler Johnson, Jonathan Drouin, Ondrej Palat, Nikita Kucherov and Anton Stralman. Considering how well the Bolts did against the Penguins without Stamkos (blood clots), there's something special there. And it sounds like Stammer will try to keep the band together, even if it means others taking discounts like he did.
"It's obviously a tough task," he said. "But with the core we have, the guys have to realize the situation with the salary cap and the potential we have. If we did want to stay together, sacrifices have to be made from both sides."
Kucherov needs a new deal this summer, while most of the rest need contracts next summer. It may be impossible to fit all their salaries in, but the goal should be to keep as many as possible.
On the open market, there's no doubt Stamkos could have commanded $10 million per season. Another team would only have been able to offer him seven years, but he still would have made out with more cash (plus whatever he signed for in that eighth year).
Perhaps most shocking about Stamkos' re-signing is how dire the situation looked for most of the second half. Neither side seemed to have much to say and that was taken as a negative. But according to the Tampa Bay captain, it was all part of the plan he had with GM Steve Yzerman.
"I have a lot of respect for Steve," Stamkos said. "We were going to keep things as tight-lipped as possible. I know it sucks from a media perspective, but it speaks to the respect we have for each other (that nothing leaked). If I didn't want to be in Tampa, I wouldn't be in Tampa."
There was also questions about the center's relationship with coach Jon Cooper, who swapped Stamkos to the right wing, with Valtteri Filppula in the middle. Stamkos wouldn't go into detail on that, but did say he is more comfortable at center. And he's got no problem with his bench boss.
"As long as the lines of communication are there, things are going to work out," he said. "There's always going to be conflict, but there is in any healthy relationship."
So now the deal is done. Fans in Toronto, Buffalo, Detroit and beyond will have to move on, while the Lightning faithful can look forward to a bright future, led by their captain. Stamkos admitted that with the benefit of a crystal ball, perhaps he wouldn't have waited so long to sign his extension, but at the same time, it gave him a chance to take stock.
Now it's Cup or bust.