Steven Stamkos may have been born and raised in Ontario, but he calls central Florida his home, which is why he is returning to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
"It's been a great eight years," Stamkos said Thursday. "I grew up as a kid there, and this team is on the verge of competing for Stanley Cups for years to come. With me being a captain and the leader of that team, I felt in my heart that was always the place I wanted to stay."
Stamkos, the top pick in the 2008 NHL Draft, signed an eight-year contract with the Lightning on Wednesday. The 26-year-old could have been an unrestricted free agent Friday and would have been one of the most coveted free agents in recent memory. His 312 goals since the 2008-09 is second in the NHL behind Washington Capitals left wing Alexander Ovechkin (362), and the Lightning captain is the only NHL player to score 60 goals in the past five seasons.
Stamkos said he wanted to get as much information as possible to make a decision about his future, which is why he did not re-sign with the Lightning sooner. Stamkos said he trusts the Lightning front office, naming owner Jeff Vinik and general manager Steve Yzerman specifically, and said his desire to win with Tampa Bay played into his decision to return. The Lightning reached the Stanley Cup Final in 2015, losing to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games, and came within one game of the Cup Final this season before falling to the eventual champion Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Final in seven games.
Video: Stamkos talks new deal and staying in Tampa
Stamkos had a blood clot and missed the end of the regular season as well as the entire postseason before returning for Game 7 against the Penguins.
"I know the process took a lot longer than maybe both parties would've liked, but it was an experience," Stamkos said. "Every decision in life, you just want to make the best decision at the end of the day. You want to be as informed as possible, and ... at the end of the day, I just felt this was the best decision for myself and my family."