Steve Stamkos signed a five-year deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday, but might already be thinking ahead to 2016, when he is set to become a free agent again. Canadian Press file photo
If star centre Steven Stamkos ever had any inclination to sign an offer sheet with another National Hockey League team, the Tampa Bay Lightning were fully prepared to match it.
Just hours after Stamkos had signed a five-year deal worth $37.5 million US to stay with the Bolts, Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said there was never any concern they'd lose the 21-year-old restricted free agent.
"There was never a time where I felt he wouldn't be in our lineup, one way or the other we would get him signed," Yzerman said Tuesday.
Stamkos, whose 96 goals the past two seasons are the most in the NHL, added he didn't buy into the thought he'd be playing anywhere else but in Florida.
"To be completely honest, I never really thought of that scenario," said Stamkos, whose cap hit of $7.5 million is the seventh-highest in the league.
"As July 1 came and passed, you do have little thoughts that come into your head. You probably expected to get something done before then. It was just a process of getting the little details (taken care of). There was never any rush, at the end of the day. We always wanted to get a deal done in Tampa."
Stamkos has been back in his hometown of Toronto this summer, and while he tried to steer clear of the hockey chatter and rumour mill, being in a hockey hotbed was trying at times.
"It was tough not to hear all those rumours. You get texts from friends asking me if I was playing there, or signing there, so it was comical at first, but got a little annoying towards the end."
He added the new contract had been agreed on "for a couple of weeks," but minor details needed to be ironed out.
Stamkos' agent, Mark Guy, told Tampabay.com on Tuesday that offer sheets from other teams "wasn't something that was ever explored."
"When you're dealing with a player this important to the franchise and has had as much success that he's had at such a young age, these things take time to work through," Guy said to Tampabay.com.
"There are a lot of variables to work out, it was a good process for both sides."
What likely will be discussed among hockey followers the next few days will be the term of the deal.
At five years, the contract expires when Stamkos hits 26 years of age. If he continues on at his current pace, Stamkos will likely ask for the moon on his next deal and many a team will happily reel it in for him.
The final year of this deal erases his first season of unrestricted free agency. Stamkos said this could play into Tampa's favour and a long-term agreement could be in place well before he hits the open market.
"That's usually the year that when teams want to lock you up again, they have that one-year window to get that extension. It kind of made sense, for both sides. We never really talked about anything much longer than (the five years)," he said.
Yzerman agreed the team was comfortable with the term.
"We considered various lengths of contracts and we feel five years is a long time and a lot of things can change over the course of a five-year period. It's a comfortable number and we do get one year of unrestricted free agency."
With the current collective bargaining agreement expiring after next season there's a high level of uncertainty among players and hockey management. Yzerman said he wouldn't allow that to play into negotiations.
"It impacts the structure of the contract a little bit but there's a lot of uncertainty and there's no sense in either side speculating what the new CBA will be like. Both parties just negotiated in good faith."
And while the league might be facing an ambiguous future, Yzerman said there's no concern Stamkos is facing the same.
"Let's keep in mind he's only 21. He's played three years in the league and his best years are ahead of him," said Yzerman.
"He's a very committed player and he's very serious about what he does and I think this was a great season for him in that we were able to go through three rounds in the playoffs and he really battled."
The six-foot-one, 188-pound native of Markham, Ont., scored 45 goals and 46 assists in 82 games last season, his third with the Lightning.
The first overall selection in the 2008 NHL entry draft, Stamkos has scored 119 goals and 113 assists in 243 career NHL games.