steven stamkosOn a day of huge deals, it was the deal that wasn’t made that may have made the biggest splash.

Steven Stamkos is going to stay with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The 26-year-old centre was set to become an unrestricted free agent come July 1 and there were multiple teams supposedly in the running for his services. But in the end, general manager Steve Yzerman was able to get it done. Stamkos was signed to an eight-year contract worth $68 million, with a cap charge of $8.5 million through the 2023-2024 season.

“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 Markham native has 562 points in 569 career regular season games, making him second among active players in goals per game. There was little doubt as to Stamkos’ capability as a draw and teams were lining up for his services, but the lure of home proved worthwhile after all.

The Detroit Red Wings were among the teams in the mix, apparently, as they’re already feeling the absence of Pavel Datsyuk. Their run of playoff losses hurt their chances, however, as Stamkos wanted to ensure he was moving to a winner.

Ditto for the Buffalo Sabres, who would put Stamkos on the outside looking in. He would’ve been the marquee player, but at what cost?

And the Toronto Maple Leafs were also on the list, with Stamkos’ hometown making some serious moves to lock him up. There were issues, though, like how coach Mike Babcock couldn’t commit to placing him at centre and how the Leafs have missed the post-season with great regularity.

Stamkos is the face of the franchise in Tampa and he’s on a winner, with the Lightning poised for another deep run. The star player actually sat out the Stanley Cup Playoffs until Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Final, where Tampa lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

It’s easy to imagine Stamkos wanting another shot, especially given how close they came.

And Tampa had a number of issues in its favour, like how they could offer him more term under the CBA. Yzerman and Co. could put together an eight-year offer, something their player wanted, while other teams could only table as many as seven years on a new deal.

But there’s still probably less money in Tampa, with Yzerman’s available cash less significant than what other open market teams might’ve offered. With a fair balance of restricted free agents to lock up over the next few years, the Lightning will need to ensure they have the green to solidify the core. Thanks to Florida’s lack of state sales tax, they were able to make more hay out of the salary.

So it goes. Stamkos is staying in Tampa Bay and that’s a good thing for both player and team. It might make the free agency period a lot less exciting, but Yzerman and Co. have to be glad to have this done.

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