Steven Stamkos ultimately decided he didn't want to go anywhere.
The 26-year-old center, who could have become an unrestricted free agent Friday, ended a year of speculation about his NHL future Wednesday when he signed an eight-year contract to remain with Tampa Bay. It is worth $68 million for an NHL salary-cap charge of $8.5 million through the 2023-24 season, according to TSN.
"I am excited to move forward with the Lightning today for the next eight years," Stamkos said. "It's not often that a player gets the chance to spend his career in one organization and I am hopeful that this agreement sets me on that path with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Most importantly, I look forward to working with my teammates, coaches and our management in our goal of winning a Stanley Cup."
The questions about where Stamkos would continue his career began on July 1, 2015, when he was able to sign a contract extension with the Lightning but didn't. He waited to see what else was out there before signing a contract that gives him a chance to stay with the team that drafted him for another eight seasons, at least.
Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman said Stamkos and agent Don Meehan contacted him Wednesday to continue discussions that started last weekend at the 2016 NHL Draft in Buffalo.
"Prior to the draft we had some conversations and we were clear on our positions," Yzerman said. "Again, Donnie called today along the lines of seeing if we can pick things up where we left off last week."
Tampa Bay selected Stamkos with the No. 1 pick in the 2008 NHL Draft. He has 562 points (312 goals, 250 assists) in 569 games over eight seasons, and has been Tampa Bay captain since March 6, 2014.
"Ultimately Steven -- and I don't want to speak on behalf of him -- had to come to some conclusion at some point of what he wanted to do and what was important to him, and somewhere along the way he felt, as he has stated all along, that he wanted to stay in Tampa and that he would accept the contract we proposed," Yzerman said. "For us, we've got [salary-cap] issues, we're dealing with the salary cap as most teams in this league are, and we have to make decisions based on that. It somewhat can limit what we can offer players, and in this situation, this is what we could do to make it work and continue to surround him with the best possible players. He understood that, and over the last day his decision was he wanted to remain in Tampa and 'Let's finalize this contract.'"
Video: Stamkos Staying in Tampa Bay
Stamkos was able to discuss his future with NHL teams starting Saturday. He reportedly visited with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday (Stamkos is from Markham, Ontario, located in the Greater Toronto Area).
General managers from the Detroit Red Wings, Buffalo Sabres, Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins publicly stated interest in signing Stamkos.
"I don't know which teams; I didn't ask and I didn't know where or what the conversations were," Yzerman said. "We were busy ourselves doing all of our business."
Unlike those teams, the Lightning have gone deep in the Stanley Cup Playoffs the past two seasons. They reached the Stanley Cup Final in 2015 and this season got to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final before losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Stamkos returned for Game 7 of the conference final after having surgery April 4 because of a blood clot near his right collarbone.
Video: E.J. Hradek breaks down Stamkos re-signing with Tampa
With Stamkos staying, the Lightning turn their attention to re-signing right wing Nikita Kucherov and defenseman Victor Hedman. Kucherov will be a restricted free agent, and Hedman has one year left on his contract before he can become an unrestricted free agent.
The Lightning have goalies Ben Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy going into the final season of their contract. Bishop can become an unrestricted free agent; Vasilevskiy would become a restricted free agent.
"This allows us to keep what we feel is a strong nucleus together," Yzerman said. "We are excited about our team moving forward and continuing to do business to prepare this team for next season."
That Stamkos chose to re-sign shouldn't come as a shock, based on the language he and Yzerman used throughout the year-long saga about his next contract. Last summer and throughout this season, Stamkos often attempted to cut off the speculation about where he would continue his career by saying he was hopeful of re-signing with the Lightning.
Video: Tom Jones of the Tampa Bay Times on Steven Stamkos
There was talk about him potentially being traded before the 2016 NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 29, but Stamkos, who had a no-movement clause, stated his desire to remain in Tampa Bay, and Yzerman released a statement Feb. 15 saying he was not trading him. Yzerman said at the time he remained hopeful of re-signing Stamkos.
Stamkos said, "I hope to be back (with the Lightning)," as recently as May 27, the day after Tampa Bay was eliminated from the playoffs by the Penguins. Yzerman also said at the time his preference was for Stamkos to return to Tampa Bay.
"Quite honestly, I didn't really know how this was going to play out over the last couple of days," Yzerman said. "But we felt like we were going to conduct our business with our own restricted free agents and whatnot. We started to work toward getting some of those things done ... and stay prepared to react accordingly over today, tomorrow and into July 1. The timing was important for everyone involved that we could reach an agreement and make this announcement today."
Among active players, Stamkos ranks second in goals per game (0.55) and sixth in points per game at 0.99. He is 18th among active players in goals and tied for 12th in power-play goals (108).
Stamkos scored 36 goals in 77 games this season before he was forced out of the lineup because of the blood clot. He scored an NHL career-high 60 goals in 2011-12, when he won the Rocket Richard Trophy for the second time. He shared the Richard Trophy with Penguins center Sidney Crosby in 2009-10, when they each scored 51 goals.
Stamkos scored 45 goals in 2010-11 and 43 goals in 2014-15. He had 25 goals in 37 games in 2013-14 but missed 45 games with a broken right leg that cost him a chance to play for Canada in the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
"What this says about him is he's an independent thinker. He can make a very difficult decision," Yzerman said. "He really wants to win and that's his No. 1 priority. The fact that he wanted to stay with us shows he believes in the organization. He loves the city. I don't know what was out there for him. I have no doubt there were many options, many good options for him, but he said he'd like to make it work in Tampa. That's what he told everyone in the media, that he'd like to stay here and a win a Stanley Cup here. Everyone knows Stamkos is a really good guy and he's a man of good character and he made a very difficult decision, and obviously we're thrilled."
NHL.com correspondent Corey Long contributed to this report.