With just under two days before the start of the NHL’s free agency period, Steven Stamkos and Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman ended their silence and the hockey world listened.
On Wednesday, Yzerman announced that the team had come to terms on an 8-year, $68 million contract to keep the team’s captain in Tampa Bay. The news came amidst the fireworks of two major trades completed just minutes earlier, when the Edmonton Oilers sent Taylor Hall to the New Jersey Devils for Adam Larsson and the Montreal Canadiens received Shea Weber from the Nashville Predators in exchange for P.K. Subban.
When news about the Stamkos extension first broke, there was guarded optimism for some Lightning fans as there had been rumors swirling in the previous 48-hours that the superstar may opt to sign an eight-year deal with the Lightning as part of a “sign-and-trade” agreement which would have allowed him to sign a max-term contract under the current NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement before being dealt. However, these concerns were put to rest shortly after, when Stamkos confirmed that he was staying in Tampa:
Excited to be back for 8 more years @TBLightning ! Here we go …..
— Steven Stamkos (@RealStamkos91) June 29, 2016
No Shortage of Suitors for Stamkos’ Services
With the stroke of a pen came the end of many months of speculation about Stamkos’ future. In recent weeks the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs had seemingly become the favorite teams outside of the Lightning to land the two-time 50-goal scorer in the event that he hit unrestricted free agency on July 1st. In fact, just hours before the extension was announced, sources reported that on Tuesday, Stamkos met with members of the Maple Leafs organization at MLSE headquarters, in a meeting also attended by Toronto Mayor John Tory and the CEO of Canadian Tire. However, that sales pitch was unable to ultimately lure him away from the Lightning. ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun reported that the other teams that met with Stamkos in-person included the Canadiens and Sabres, but surprisingly not the Red Wings.
Throughout the months of uncertainty for the team and the player, Yzerman and Stamkos maintained the privacy and professionalism that help explain why each is so highly coveted. In deciding to sign with the Lightning, Stamkos has demonstrated a level of loyalty and dedication to the city of Tampa and the Lightning that is often unseen in sports today.
Unrestricted free agency gave Stamkos complete control of his future and he certainly did some soul-searching during the process. There is no doubt that a more lucrative offer was available from another team, Florida’s favorable state income tax situation aside. Stamkos’ decision to stay with the Lightning sends a clear message to this teammates, its fans, and the city of Tampa. Amongst numerous reactions on social media, a Tweet by Lightning center Ryan Callahan demonstrates what Stamkos means to his teammates:
— Ryan Callahan (@TheRealCally24) June 29, 2016
Stamkos’ Loyalty to Lightning on Display
While many athletes of today are often the subject of criticism for chasing a payday or not having loyalty to a team or its fans, Stamkos’ decision speaks to his character and his hunger to win. A Stanley Cup is never a guarantee, but the Lightning have all the pieces to make a serious run at one for the foreseeable future. All the money in the world cannot buy a player that opportunity and Stamkos certainly knows this.
For a franchise that was known years ago as a “last stop” for many veterans at the end of their careers, Stamkos’ decision, as a superstar in the prime of his career, is a major turning point for the Lightning. It landed the “biggest fish” in the pending free agency pond and did so in a defining moment for its future.
While Stamkos’ contract is measured in dollars and cents, the loyalty he has shown to the city of Tampa, this franchise and his teammates in choosing to sign it is priceless.