Mark Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman down as an early candidate for understatement of the year.
While speaking to media inside the Brandon Ice Sports Forum a couple hours after the Lightning announced top defenseman Victor Hedman had reached an agreement on a contract extension to keep the 6-foot-6 Swede in Tampa Bay for another eight years once his current deal expires at the end of next season, Yzerman offered a succinct synopsis of the last few days for the franchise.
It started Wednesday with Steven Stamkos calling to say he wanted to remain in Tampa Bay, ending a year-long courtship between the Bolts captain and Yzerman and keeping Stamkos off the July 1 free agent market.
The positivity continued on Friday with the announcement of Hedman’s deal along with that of backup goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, who inked a three-year extension to keep him in a Bolts sweater through the 2019-20 season.
“It’s been a good couple of days for our organization,” Yzerman surmised.
It certainly has.
In locking up Hedman for nine more seasons, the Lightning have ensured the two cornerstones of their franchise, the once-a-generation goal scorer and the perennial Norris Trophy candidate blueliner, will remain in Tampa Bay long term and, likely, for the rest of their careers. Hedman, who wouldn’t have become an unrestricted free agent until next offseason, went ahead and got the deal completed early, showing his desire to remain a Bolt and avoid the long, drawn-out process that hounded Stamkos throughout this past season.
“For me, it was never a doubt,” Hedman said Friday afternoon on a conference call with media. “Staying in Tampa was the No. 1 priority. To get it done the first day available was obviously the goal from both sides. For me, seeing Stammer signing a couple days ago was a big boost as well.”
Both players took a little less than they potentially could have fetched on the open market because they understand the opportunity in front of them: the chance to continue playing for a talented, young team that has come within a whisker of the Stanley Cup the past two seasons and will conceivably continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
“We want to keep a competitive team, and we have a special group down there and a great organization, great management and great coaches,” Hedman said. “For me, there was never a doubt, and I’m obviously very excited to get the deal done and keep moving forward.”
Yzerman said he was appreciative of Hedman and Hedman’s agent Peter Wallen and their determination to reach an agreement on an extension as quickly as possible.
“It really helps from our perspective trying to plan for next year and beyond knowing, when you know a guy’s cap number, it helps project for other things,” Yzerman said. “Obviously with Stammer and Vic, these are the two cornerstones -- one was the first pick overall and one was the second pick overall -- very important players to our franchise, really good people representing our organization, high character guys, great leaders.”
Hedman echoed Stamkos’ sentiment two days earlier about wanting to finish what the pair has started in Tampa Bay. Like Stamkos, Hedman came to the Lightning when the team was at a low point, having suffered through a few down years following the organization’s only Stanley Cup in 2004. Hedman has watched the fortunes of the franchise reverse since the arrival of owner Jeff Vinik, Yzerman and Cooper and wants to see the transformation all the way through.
“For me and Stammer, we want to win together and that’s a big goal we have: to go all the way together with Tampa,” Hedman said. “We have a young team. We have a very experienced group now with all the things we’ve gone through the last two years. We’re very excited about moving forward and keeping this team together as much as possible.”
Hedman led all Lightning blueliners for goals (10), assists (37) and points (47) and was tops among all Lightning skaters for plus/minus ratio (plus-21), average time on ice (23:03), takeaways (48) and blocked shots (132) in 2015-16. Hedman has led all Tampa Bay defensemen for goals each of the past three seasons and has been among the top two blueliners for scoring in every one of his seven seasons in the NHL since being selected with the second overall pick by the Lightning at the 2009 NHL Draft.
Hedman ranks second all-time in Lightning franchise history among defensemen for career assists, third for career points and fourth for career goals. He is the Bolts’ all-time playoff leader for points, goals, assists and plus/minus among defensemen.