Steven Stamkos Chooses Loyalty and Winning

In Wednesday’s 23 minutes of NHL madness, major trades nearly buried that Steven Stamkos surprised the hockey world by deciding to return to the Tampa Bay Lightning for a deal carrying an $8.5 million AAV, far less than he was projected to garner on the open market. To take less to stay was a statement by the team’s captain. He believes the Lightning are poised for success for years to come.

“Me being captain and leader of the team, I knew in my heart this was the place I always wanted stay,” Stamkos said on a conference call Thursday. “When I said I want to be here throughout the season, I really truly meant that.

“When you make a decision of this magnitude… the thought all along has been let’s just be as informed as possible. There’s a lot of ups and downs and there are a lot of things that go through your head ultimately when you’re in the middle of a season where you could be an unrestricted free agent at the end of it. But I think Tampa gives me the best chance to win and be successful going forward.”

General manager Steve Yzerman brings Stamkos in at an AAV that leaves room for other players to stick around the club, and that clearly hasn’t been lost on the captain. The Lightning have achieved a lot of success in the past two seasons and, though the ultimate success has evaded them, the window is far from closed if the team can retain its young talent. Many of those players are going to be due paydays in the near future. Having your captain and best player on a deal like this makes a Stanley Cup possible, and Stamkos saw that.

“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 that gave me the best chance to win, in my mind,” he said.

“To keep us together, they have to realize the situation with the salary cap,” Stamkos said of everyone in the organization. “If we ultimately want to stay together, there are going to be sacrifices on both sides.”

Though Stamkos is soft spoken and wouldn’t take the bait of many media members to talk about why he didn’t chose certain teams, the message is very clear to his teammates. As the team’s captain he made the first sacrifice (even if the tax situation in Florida makes this a very lucrative deal).

That shouldn’t be underestimated when the team has, this summer and next, a crazy slew of RFA players that will need new deals, including Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Jonathan Drouin, Ondrej Palat, Nikita Nesterov, Alex Killorn, Vladislav Namestikov and Andrej Sustr. And that’s all without considering that the team just signed RFAs Cedric Paquette and J.T. Brown, or that Victor Hedman is scheduled to become a UFA next summer.

The message for his teammates should be loud and clear through his actions. But if it wasn’t clear enough, he said it Thursday. “I want to win.”