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Steven Stamkos Era Ends, Lightning Leaves, Predators Signs

Steven Stamkos Era Ends, Lightning Leaves, Predators Signs

TAMPA — For the past 16 years, Steven Stamkos has been seen all over Tampa Bay. From the side of Amalie Arena, on billboards and on He has been the face of the Lightning franchise since he was selected as the organization’s savior when he was 18 years old with the No. 1 pick in the draft.

He lifted the Stanley Cup twice, wore the C on his chest with pride and humility, and was the leading figure in Lightning hockey’s most prolific decade. On the ice, he was an elite scorer; in the locker room, he was a consummate leader. He visited hospitals, delivered checks to the Ronald McDonald House, and gave a generation of Lightning fans a superstar they were proud to call their own.

But now Stamkos, the one player many thought would wear a badge on his chest his entire career, will play for the Predators, having signed a four-year deal with Nashville worth an average annual sum of $8 million.

“I know it’s disappointing that I couldn’t come to an agreement with Steven Stamkos on a contract that would keep him with the organization,” Lightning general manager Julien Brisbois said Monday night. “I know the fans are disappointed. I know Steven is disappointed and I’m disappointed. Like everyone else, I wanted Stamkos to stay in Tampa and finish his career with the Lightning.”

“I made a decision that if I agreed to the terms he wanted… I wouldn’t be putting myself in the best position to chase trophies in the future. Ultimately, we make decisions that are in the best interest of the team’s success.”

Until the past few days, fans were hoping that the Lightning and their senior player would come to an agreement to keep their beloved captain in Tampa Bay.

And so did Stamkos.

There are signs pointing to Steven Stamkos’ presence all over Tampa, like this bus stop at the intersection of South Hyde Park Avenue and West Platte Street. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

“It was probably as crazy as you can think of it in terms of just a roller coaster of emotions,” Stamkos said in an interview with TSN shortly after signing with Nashville. “Obviously there’s a lot of amazing history in Tampa for me and my family. And ultimately, I tried to find something there and I couldn’t.”

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Stamkos said he probably thought the return window was open longer than the Lightning would say, but when he woke up Monday, he knew he was going somewhere else.

“You hold on to hope until the very last minute, and then when you don’t hear anything or nothing changes, you have to be able to adapt and make a decision,” Stamkos said during his first media appearance in Nashville. “That’s the hardest part, trying to hold on to something that maybe isn’t trying to hold on to you.”

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Stamkos clearly felt disrespected by the process, from the moment Bresboys didn’t include him in extension discussions last summer, as the organization did with several of its other stars heading into their final seasons, to when Bresboys said he wouldn’t offer Stamkos a contract through the 2023-24 season.

“At the end of the day, there was no question that I was willing to put all of that aside to stay with the Tampa Bay Lightning,” Stamkos told Sportsnet. “My family and I love playing for this city and playing for the players there. It seems like not everyone thinks that way.

“And listen, I’m a very big boy. We wanted to end this relationship and retire as a Tampa Bay Lightning player. It definitely didn’t work out, but at the end of the day, to look in the mirror, you have to be honest with yourself, know your self-worth, know what loyalty and respect mean to you, and then move on.”

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Pressboys has tried in the past to retain homegrown players like Alex Killorn and Ondrej Palat, but failed. In Stamkos’ case, the general manager found the money to make it work, but he wouldn’t budge on his initial offer, which was believed to be in the mid-$3 million annual range.

Steven Stamkos, a first-round pick of the Lightning in the 2008 draft, stands with (from left): team owner Oren Koulis, head coach Barry Melrose, Stamkos, Erwin Novak and Craig Scherr.
Steven Stamkos, a first-round pick of the Lightning in the 2008 draft, stands with (from left): team owner Oren Koulis, head coach Barry Melrose, Stamkos, Erwin Novak and Craig Scherr. [ MICHAEL SPOONEYBARGER | Tampa Bay Times ]

When extension talks stalled in June, the Lightning decided to change their mind. At last weekend’s draft, Don Meehan, the agent for Bryce Bowa and Stamkos, agreed that it would be best for both sides to look for other dance partners.

“After the season ended, I knew both sides were going to try to get something done and do something that worked for both sides,” Stamkos said during his media conference in Nashville. “I felt like I was the one who made a lot of compromises and that definitely had an impact.”

The Lightning traded top-paid defender Mikhail Sergachev and forward Tanner Janot. With cap space piling up, BriseBois targeted one of the best pending free agents, trading the rights to forward Jake Guentzel on Sunday and reaching a seven-year deal.

Efforts to extend defender Victor Hedman’s contract as he enters the final year of his deal are “going in the right direction,” Pressboys said Monday evening. A deal with Hedman could be announced as early as Tuesday morning.

Ultimately, tough decisions can make the Lightning a better team, but BriseBois realized that cutting ties with a fan favorite wasn’t welcome.

“We love our fans because they are passionate and the passion they bring to our game is their biggest contribution. That’s why we appreciate them so much,” Brisbois said. “So I’m not going to ask them not to feel what they feel, and I understand their disappointment. I’m disappointed. We’re all disappointed.”

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Steven Stamkos raises the Stanley Cup as his team cheers after defeating the Montreal Canadiens in the 2021 Stanley Cup Final.
Steven Stamkos raises the Stanley Cup as his team cheers after defeating the Montreal Canadiens in the 2021 Stanley Cup Final. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Despite a slow start, Stamkos showed his worth last season, especially when the Lightning were in danger of missing the playoffs midway through the season. He stepped up his game, as the team compiled the third-best record in the NHL during the second half. He scored 16 goals in his last 17 games, including seven on the power play. His 19 power play goals on the season ranked third in the NHL. Stamkos was also the Lightning’s best skater in the playoffs, collecting five goals and six points in a first-round series against Florida.

Related: See photos: Steven Stamkos through the years with the Tampa Bay Lightning

But Brisebois made it clear that his main priority in the postseason was to make the Lightning a better defensive team, and Stamkos’ worst percentage of his career is -21. And his decline in performance in 5v5 play left room for improvement.

Now, Stamkos is taking his legacy elsewhere. He is one of only three active players to score 500 goals and 1,000 points, joining Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby. Stamkos owns nearly every individual record in his Lightning career, including goals (555), points (1,137), power play goals (214) and games played (1,082).

“The memories I had in Tampa will override any bad feelings or emotions I had throughout this process because they are temporary,” Stamkos said. “These are emotional decisions and over time, they usually go away. It’s about remembering the great times I had growing up in that city from when I was 18 to where I am now, having a family, winning of course, the fans, the city.”

“Everything was first class and these are the things you will remember.”

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