There were plenty of rumors about Steven Stamkos when the restricted free agent didn't sign a new contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning before July 1.
With negotiations lingering into mid-July, was that a sign he was looking to force his way out of Florida? Would he sign an offer sheet from the Philadelphia Flyers? Would he want to join the Toronto Maple Leafs, who play not far from his hometown of Markham, Ontario? Would another team, who would surely love to have a 21-year-old star with 96 goals the past two seasons, try to poach him from the Lightning?
While that made for great fodder for fans, Stamkos had no intention of playing anywhere except Tampa.
Stamkos signed the new deal Tuesday. Both he and general manager Steve Yzerman agreed there was never any doubt the contract would get hammered out, it was just a matter of getting it done quickly.
"We started this process back in November," Yzerman said. "From Day 1, there's never been anything but honest, good-faith negotiation and at no point was there any concern from either party that the idea wasn't to get Steven signed to a long-term extension. From Day 1, Steven and his representation expressed that he wanted to play in Tampa. He's happy here and loves it here and wants to continue playing here. That's a big reason why we're here today.
"I'm very pleased to be able to do that and get it done relatively early in the summer. That allows Steven to focus on his training and prepare for the upcoming season … and obviously to our fan base to ease their nerves a little bit."
Stamkos is entering his fourth NHL season. He was the first pick in the 2008 Entry Draft, so his three-year entry-level contract had just expired. That put Stamkos in uncharted territory, having to negotiate a contract for the first time.
"Your rookie contract is pretty much set in stone. You don't have much say," Stamkos said. "This was a new experience for me. It went relatively smooth. I've been able to grow here for three years. The first couple years were tough, but we've been able to grow through it. Basically, it was just a matter of getting things done with Tampa. There were no other options explored."
During Stamkos' first two years in the League, the Lightning finished 14th in the Eastern Conference in 2008-09 and 12th the following season. With a new GM in Yzerman and new coach in Guy Boucher, that all changed last season. The Lightning finished fifth in the East with 103 points and reached Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, where the Boston Bruins emerged with a 1-0 victory and went on to win the Stanley Cup.
Stamkos sounded like that was what sealed the deal for his wanting to stay with the Lightning for at least another five seasons.
"We had a tremendous run last year," Stamkos said. "I got a taste of the playoffs and being so close, being able to grow with the core bunch of guys that we have here and see the fans and how great they were and the support we got throughout the whole community, there was no other place I'd rather be than here in Tampa."
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