End of an era as Steven Stamkos leaves Lightning, signs with Predators (2024)

TAMPA — For the past 16 years, Steven Stamkos has been seen all over Tampa Bay. From the side of Amalie Arena, on billboards and bus stops, he’s been the face of the Lightning franchise since he was anointed the savior of the organization as an 18-year-old No. 1 draft pick.

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

But now Stamkos, the one player who many thought would wear a bolt on his chest for the entirety of his career, will play for the Predators, signing a four-year deal with Nashville for an average annual value of $8 million.

“I know that it is disappointing that I was not able to come to terms with Steven Stamkos on a contract to keep him within the organization,” Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois said Monday evening. “I know the fans are disappointed. I know Stephen is disappointed and I’m disappointed. Like everyone, I wanted Stammer to stay in Tampa and finish his career with the Lightning. ...

“I made the decision that if I agreed to the terms that he wanted ... I would not be putting ourselves in the best position to chase championships going forward. And ultimately, we make decisions that are in the best interest of the team’s success.”

Until the past few days, fans had hope that the Lightning and their longest-tenured player would make amends and reach an agreement to keep their beloved captain in Tampa Bay.

And so did Stamkos.

End of an era as Steven Stamkos leaves Lightning, signs with Predators (1)

“It’s been probably as crazy as you can think in terms of just a roller-coaster of emotions,” Stamkos said in an interview with TSN shortly after he signed with Nashville. “Clearly so much amazing history in Tampa for my family and I. And ultimately, trying to work something out there and fell short.”

Stamkos said he probably believed the window to return was open longer than the Lightning would say, but that when he woke up Monday, he knew he was going elsewhere.

“You have hope until the last minute and then when you don’t hear anything or nothing changes, then you have to be able to adapt and just make a decision,” Stamkos said during his first Nashville media availability. “And that’s the toughest part, is trying to hang on to something that maybe isn’t trying to hang on to you.”

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It’s clear that Stamkos felt disrespected by the process, from the point when BriseBois didn’t engage him in extension discussions last summer, like the organization had with so many of their other stars before their final seasons. And when BriseBois said that he wouldn’t offer Stamkos a contract until the 2023-24 season was over.

Thank you Tampa ❤️❤️
I don’t have the words yet ….. I will soon .

It’s still too early to process. Just wanted everyone to know how thankful we are for 16 years as a bolt.

My family and I are excited for the next chapter….

— Steven Stamkos (@RealStamkos91) July 1, 2024

“At the end of the day, there was no question that I was willing to put all that stuff aside to remain a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning,” Stamkos said in an interview with SportsNet. “My family and I absolutely love playing for that city and playing for the players that are there. It just seemed like maybe not everyone thought that way.

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

BriseBois had tried, and failed, in the past to keep home-grown players like Alex Killorn and Ondrej Palat. In Stamkos’ case, the GM found the money to make it work, but didn’t budge from his initial offer, which was believed to be in the $3 million average annual value range.

End of an era as Steven Stamkos leaves Lightning, signs with Predators (3)

When extension talks stalled in June, the Lightning pivoted. At last weekend’s draft, BriseBois and Stamkos’ agent, Don Meehan, agreed it would be best for both sides to pursue other dance partners.

“After the season, I knew both sides were going to want to try to get something done and do something that was mutually beneficial for both sides,” Stamkos said during his Nashville media availability. “It just felt like I was the one that was making a lot of the concessions and that certainly came into play.”

The Lightning traded away highest-paid defenseman Mikhail Sergachev and forward Tanner Jeannot. With the cap space accumulated, BriseBois targeted one of the top pending free agents, trading for forward Jake Guentzel’s rights Sunday and working out a seven-year deal.

BriseBois said Monday evening that efforts to extend defenseman Victor Hedman as he enters the final year of his contract were “trending in the right direction.” A deal with Hedman could be announced as early as Tuesday morning.

The tough decisions ultimately could make the Lightning a better team, but BriseBois realized that cutting ties with a fan favorite wasn’t well-received.

“We love our fans because they’re passionate and it’s the emotion that they bring to our game that is their biggest contribution,” BriseBois said. “That’s why we value them so much. So I am not going to tell them not to feel what they feel, and I understand their disappointment. I am disappointed. We all are disappointed.”

End of an era as Steven Stamkos leaves Lightning, signs with Predators (4)

Despite a slow start, Stamkos showed his value this past season, particularly when the Lightning were in danger of missing the playoffs at midseason. He elevated his game, as the team compiled the NHL’s third-best record over the second half. He scored 16 goals in the final 17 games, including seven on the power play. His 19 power-play goals for the season ranked third in the NHL. Stamkos was also the Lightning’s best skater in the playoffs, compiling five goals and six points in the 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 chief offseason priority was making the Lightning a better defensive team, and Stamkos’ career-worst minus-21 ratio and a dip in his 5-on-5 play left areas for improvement

Stamkos now takes his legacy elsewhere. He is one of only three active players with 500 goals and 1,000 points, joining Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby. Stamkos owns essentially every Lightning individual career record, including goals (555), points (1,137), power-play goals (214) and games played (1,082).

“The memories I’ve had in Tampa will trump whatever ill will or feelings I’ve had throughout this process because those are temporary,” Stamkos said. “Those are emotional decisions and as time passes, those usually go away. It’s remembering the amazing times growing up in that city as an 18-year-old kid to where I am now, having a family, obviously winning, the fans, the city.

“Everything has been first class and those are the things that you remember.”

• • •

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End of an era as Steven Stamkos leaves Lightning, signs with Predators (2024)
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