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How Stamkos contract with Lightning was completed

Captain ordered agent to get deal done, 'some money left out there'

by Corey Long / Correspondent

TAMPA -- With Steven Stamkos less than 48 hours from becoming a free agent, Steve Yzerman didn't expect to hear from Don Meehan on Wednesday afternoon.

Though the Tampa Bay Lightning general manager wasn't ready to give up on the idea of re-signing their captain, he wasn't expecting to hear from Stamkos' agent.

"I was surprised," Yzerman said.

Yzerman had decided to hold firm on an offer of $8.5 million per season over eight years, but Meehan had orders from Stamkos to get a deal done with Tampa Bay. Stamkos wanted to stay and was willing to do it at Yzerman's price.

"Some people, when they're in this position, chase the most money possible," Stamkos said Thursday. "I think I realized the situation and understood there could have been some money left out there. But for me, that's not what it's all about. It's about going to an organization that I was comfortable with and something that gave me the best chance to win, in my mind."

Video: Stamkos talks new deal and staying in Tampa

Because Stamkos, Meehan and Yzerman kept negotiations out of the media, it was hard to tell how far away or close they were to a deal before Stamkos was to become an unrestricted free agent. When reports of an eight-year contract surfaced in late January, it was thought to be a low-ball offer, especially with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres reportedly prepared to offer $11 million or more annually.

But Yzerman wanted a deal that would work for the Lightning going forward. Forward Nikita Kucherov is expected to get a new contract this summer, and they are trying to sign defenseman Victor Hedman, who enters free agency after next season, long-term. There are others, including restricted free agent forward Alex Killorn, the Lightning would like to bring back.

"Prior to the draft we had some conversations and [both sides] were clear on our positions," Yzerman said. "Donnie called [Wednesday] along the lines of seeing if we can pick things up where we left off last week. I wasn't expecting anything. So, yes, I was surprised."

Yzerman said the Lightning were limited in what they could offer Stamkos because of NHL salary-cap concerns and the NHL expansion draft looming after next season.

"For us, we've got cap issues, we are dealing with the salary cap as most teams in this league are, and we have to make decisions based on that," Yzerman said Wednesday. "He understood that, and over the last day his decision was he wanted to remain in Tampa."

Stamkos always said it wasn't about the money, that he wanted to win multiple championships. He said he believes the Lightning have the players to do that. He mentioned his trust in owner Jeff Vinik and Yzerman and the credibility they've brought. Stamkos, who turned 26 in February, is surrounded by a young, talented supporting cast that includes Kucherov (23), Hedman (25) and Jonathan Drouin (21), the No. 3 pick in the 2014 NHL Draft who showed dynamic playmaking ability in the playoffs and could play on a line with Stamkos.

Video: E.J. Hradek breaks down Stamkos deal with Tampa Bay

"This team is on the verge of hopefully competing for Stanley Cups for years to come," Stamkos said. "I felt in my heart that Tampa was always the place I wanted to stay. It was just following my heart and being loyal to the organization that brought me up."

This isn't to say the decision was easy or came without major soul-searching. As much as Stamkos tried to avoid the distraction during the season, questions lingered. His numbers dipped a little, with his 36 goals seven fewer than the prior season and not close to his NHL career high 60 of 2011-12. A good part of that could be blamed on the lack of a playmaking forward on his line, but at times it appeared Stamkos was playing with a lot on his mind.

"I can't sit here and say that this past week has been fun," he said. "I know people experience different things when they go through free agency and through the process, but it was pretty stressful, to be honest. But saying that, it was an experience. I think I've gotten stronger as a player and a person from having to deal with some of that stuff."

With free agency behind him and a new contract ahead, Stamkos and the Lightning can move forward. This may also quiet the constant rumors that Stamkos and Lightning coach Jon Cooper do not get along.

"Obviously there's stories that get overblown and get misplayed throughout the years that I have been in this league," Stamkos said. "At the end of the day, like I said, as long as the lines of communication are always there, which they totally are with Coach Cooper and I, things are going to find its way to work out.

"As you go along in your career, you realize you're never going to totally agree on everything, whether that's with teammates or coaching staffs or management or your siblings in life. There's always going to be a little bit of confrontation, and that works for a healthy relationship."

Stamkos did not want to elaborate on what position he prefers to play. He has been a center for most of his career but he was moved to wing for most of the playoffs last season and that could be his future spot. But if anything became clear in the past 48 hours, it's that Stamkos is ready to make sacrifices on the ice and in his contract to help the Lightning win.

Now Yzerman can only hope future free agents follow that lead.

"[Stamkos'] decision will go a long way," Yzerman said. "I don't know what was out there for him. I have no doubt there were many good options, but he said he'd like to make it work in Tampa. Our captain did whatever he had to do to stay here. Everyone knows Steven is a really good guy and he's a man of good character. He made a very difficult decision, and obviously we're thrilled he's coming back."

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