Stamkos deflects speculation of signing with Maple Leafs in future
With LeBron James making the blockbuster decision this month to return home to Cleveland, it sparked continued speculation whether one the biggest NHL stars will make a similar move to play for his hometown team.
Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, 24, a Markham, Ontario native, will not be an unrestricted free agent until after the 2015-16 season. But Stamkos, at a Coca-Cola ball-hockey promotional event in Toronto Wednesday, was asked whether there would be an allure to signing with the Maple Leafs, the team he grew up watching.
“We’ll see what happens. It’s a couple years away,” Stamkos told The Canadian Press. “Right now I’m focused on what I have to do to win in Tampa, and I think we’ve really established ourselves as a team that can compete in upcoming years.
“For me, that’s the important thing is getting a chance to win. It looks like we’re going to have that chance for a couple years.”
While some have taken the "we'll see what happens" phrase as Stamkos leaving the door open, Lightning fans shouldn't necessarily hit the panic button quite yet. It's been pretty consistent with what Stamkos has said in the past when asked about the Maple Leafs. And there's no doubt Stamkos will have to address the subject on trips to Toronto this season, though he says it will "absolutely not" be a distraction.
“I think that’s the great thing about playing in Tampa is hockey isn’t the mecca that it is here in Toronto and you can kind of go about your life and kind of get away from the game when you need to," Stamkos said.
Stamkos can't re-sign with Tampa Bay until July 1, 2015, so there's plenty of time. Stamkos, whom the Lightning drafted No. 1 overall in 2008, says his focus is on winning the Stanley Cup, and he appears happy with the direction of the organization.
“We have a good thing going down in Tampa,” Stamkos said. “We have a great owner, we got a great GM in Steve Yzerman and we got a good young team. I want to win, and hopefully I can do it in Tampa.”
Stamkos came one game away from the Stanley Cup Final in 2011 before the Lightning lost in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals to Boston. The Lightning reached the playoffs last season before getting swept in the first round by the Canadiens.
But Stamkos thinks Tampa Bay improved in the offseason by re-signing Ryan Calllahan, acquiring defenseman Jason Garrison in a trade and bringing in defenseman Anton Stralman and center Brian Boyle in free agency.
“We didn’t have the finish we wanted to last year, but with the new faces coming in, the expectations are probably set a little higher,” he said.
Stamkos did, of course, admit he likes playing in Toronto.
“I’m from around here and grew up cheering for the Leafs, so any time I get a chance to come back here I enjoy it, and any time I get a chance to play against the Leafs it’s fun,” Stamkos said. “It’s also fun beating them, too, because a lot of my friends are still Leaf fans.”
Stamkos has two years and $13.5 million remaining on his deal with Tampa Bay. The fact Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane signed with the Blackhawks for $84 million over eight years this summer could set a bar for a future contract.
“The business part of the game, it’s growing,” Stamkos said. “Obviously the game’s in good shape, and when that happens the cap’s going to grow and players are going to get paid more money. Those guys deserve it: They’re great players in this league, they’ve won championships.
“That’s the goal for me is to win a championship. You let your play take care of itself on the ice and when it’s time to re-sign or sign a contract, you back it up with your play."
Stamkos had 25 goals (40 points) while limited to just 37 games last season due to a broken right tibia suffered in November in Boston. He started his offseason workouts earlier than usual this summer, and the Lightning have received positive reports from Stamkos that he's training hard with no restrictions.
“The important thing is getting a chance to win,” Stamkos said. “It looks like we’re going to have that chance for a couple years.”