Steven Stamkos said he followed his heart to Tampa
Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said there were a couple sleepless nights throughout this whirlwind contract saga.
"It was a very tough decision, it truly was," Stamkos said on a conference call. "I can't say this past week has been fun. It was pretty stressful to be honest."
And while Stamkos, 26, had many other suitors, including his hometown Maple Leafs, he spurned potential sweepstakes - and more money - in Friday's free agency to stay with the Lightning. In the end, Stamkos said, that's where he always wanted to be.
"I felt in my heart that Tampa was always the place I wanted to stay," Stamkos said. "It was just following your heart and being loyal to the organization that brought me up and made me the player and person that I am today."
Stamkos signed an eight-year, $68 million deal ($8.5 million annual average) with the Lightning, acknowledging he likely left some money on the table with other teams; he declined to discuss what teams pursued him, or what they pitched). But Stamkos, picked No. 1 overall by Tampa Bay in 2008, said the Lightning gives him the best chance to win, the organization treating him and his family "first-class."
"I grew up as a kid there," Stamkos said. "And this team is on the verge of hopefully competing for Stanley Cups for years to come and me being the captain and being a leader... I know the process took a lot longer than maybe both parties would have liked, but in every decision in life you want to make the best decision.
"When I said I wanted to stay here during the year, I meant it.
Stamkos said a lot of different scenarios cross your mind when going through a situation like this, but he never thought he'd leave Tampa Bay. He said that any speculation or reports that there's an issue with him and coach Jon Cooper has been "overblown," pointing out the line of communication is always open.
And Stamkos said the team's salary cap crunch played a role in his decision to take the Lightning offer, hoping to keep the nucleus together.
"If we want to stay to together, there's going to be sacrifices for both sides," Stamkos said. "I believe the core we have understands that."