Hockey fans throughout the Bay Area can be assured they will see Steven Stamkos in a Tampa Bay Lightning jersey on more than just the cover of the latest EA Sports NHL video game next season.
On Tuesday, the star center agreed to terms with the Bolts, maintaining his reputation as a hot attraction at the St. Pete Times Forum for at least five more years.
“It was all a learning process for me and at times it was interesting,” Stamkos said. “But at the end of the day, there was no other place I would rather be than in Tampa Bay playing for the Lightning, so I’m definitely excited and happy we could finally announce a new contract.”
Just as Stamkos did during a telephone conference call Tuesday evening, vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman also quickly dismissed that coming to terms was difficult, a notion which resulted in widespread speculation after a deal between both parties had not yet been reached prior to the official beginning of the free agency period on July 1.
That the league’s leading goal scorer over the past two seasons – his 96 goals leads all players since the 2009-10 campaign – had been a restricted free agent, paired with prolonged contract talks that led to rampant rumors about offer sheets from other teams, was no deterrent in reaching an agreement as both Yzerman and Stamkos said they were optimistic that a deal would be reached prior to the start of the upcoming season. In fact, Stamkos candidly told reporters that no such offer sheet was ever presented to him by any of the other 29 NHL clubs. Despite being mentioned in numerous trade rumors amidst other speculation to pry Stamkos away from Tampa Bay, the two sides were in negotiations all along to agree on a new deal.
“It is a process, but we had many negotiations that were in good faith. At the end of our conversations, we decided that five years was a reasonable amount of time for him and for our hockey club,” Yzerman said. “He’s only 21 years old, but he’s very motivated and wants to get better in all areas of the game. We believe his best years are ahead of him.”
If the previous two seasons serve as an indication, Yzerman, like he has so many times already since his tenure began during the 2010 offseason, might just be right again.
In addition to leading all NHL skaters with 96 goals in all 164 games since the 2009-10 campaign, the Markham, Ontario native has also recorded 186 points and 41 power-play goals while averaging more than 20 minutes of ice time per game during that span. He continued his success at the game’s highest level last season as well, just one year removed from winning the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy, as he followed up his remarkable 51-goal campaign by lighting the lamp 45 times and finishing fifth in the league with 91 points. At the season’s conclusion, he was rewarded for his hard work and spectacular on-ice performance by being named to the NHL’s Second All-Star Team.
Stamkos also made his Stanley Cup playoffs debut this past year, playing in 18 games as the Lightning fell one game short of the Stanley Cup Final, losing to the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final. He had six goals and 13 points in the postseason, including three three-point games. The former first overall draft pick from 2008 has 119 career goals in 243 games.
“He is extremely important to this franchise and is part of the foundation of our hockey team,” Yzerman added.
If there is mutual satisfaction between Stamkos and the organization with which he will remain for the next half decade, it is that both sides had one goal in mind, and that the length of the contract and the terms discussed fit into both parties’ plans. Despite the lengthy negotiations, both Yzerman and Stamkos affirmed that neither was worried that a deal would not be reached. In fact, Stamkos admitted the talks had all but been wrapped up for several weeks, but details in need of ironing out hindered the much-anticipated announcement from happening sooner.
“This was obviously very important to me and I appreciate Mr. Vinik and Steve Yzerman for all their work in the transformation of the franchise as we move forward,” Stamkos said. “I think though that it’s always important to err on the side of caution to ensure that both myself and the organization are happy with the outcome.”
As the 2011-12 regular season quickly approaches, it won’t be long until the fans are equally as pleased with the result as well.