Saturday, November 25, 2017
Tampa Bay Lightning

Stamkos: 'I definitely want to win here'

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BRANDON — Even Lightning captain Steven Stamkos had to laugh.

It didn't take long during Stamkos' first meeting of the season with the local media Thursday for the Tweets That Took Over Toronto to get brought up.

"I didn't think I'd have to answer those questions down here," Stamkos said, smiling.

Stamkos, 24, spends his summers in his hometown near Toronto, so he's used to stories getting "blown out of proportion," as he puts it. But when Stamkos accidentally, he said, favorited a couple of Twitter posts this summer that referred to him possibly returning to play for the Maple Leafs when he becomes a free agent in two years, it created a stir.

"That was the power of social media right there," Stamkos said. "You talk about a pocket dial; that was a pocket tweet. It actually happened twice, and it looked terrible. But when you … press the favorite button by accident, an hour later Twitter was blowing up."

Stamkos, drafted No. 1 overall by Tampa Bay in 2008 and now the face of the franchise, made it clear he's very happy where he is.

"I've enjoyed every minute I've had playing in Tampa," Stamkos said. "It's more or less my home now. It's an unbelievable place to play — and I tell people that all the time — what we've done with the rink and the fans. This is exciting for me. I definitely want to win here, and we're going to do whatever it takes to do it."

For the Lightning to win, it needs a healthy Stamkos. And Stamkos was encouraged by how his surgically repaired right leg has responded to workouts. Stamkos, who had surgery after breaking the leg against the Bruins in November and missed 45 games, started his training earlier this offseason than usual.

"It feels much stronger," Stamkos said. "Mentally, too, you're at a better state. It's amazing even week after week how much better it feels and how much closer it's getting to where it was before the injury. So I'm excited."

Stamkos, who still scored 25 goals (15 assists) in 37 games, said he has no concerns about the leg entering training camp, which begins Sept. 18. He'll skate Monday in Brandon.

"You have to look back and remember it hasn't even been a year (since the surgery), so usually they say stuff like that takes a full year to where it feels close to normal," Stamkos said. "Who knows? Maybe it never feels quite exactly the same. But it's way better off than where it was when I ended last year."

Stamkos said he's excited about the team's offseason moves , bringing in forwards Brian Boyle and Brenden Morrow, and defensemen Anton Stralman and Jason Garrison.

"As a player, the thing you want is your ownership group and management group to constantly try to put the best team on the ice, and we did that," Stamkos said.

Stamkos said the team learned from its success last season, making the playoffs despite being counted out several times — it got swept in the first round by the Canadiens — and wants to prove "it wasn't a fluke."

"The bar has definitely been raised, so it'll be tougher that way," Stamkos said. "The expectations aren't just sneaking into the playoffs. It's we want to get in there and obviously win. So expectations are raised, but we're definitely better equipped."

Stamkos has two years remaining on a five-year, $37.5 million deal and can't talk about an extension until July. The Lightning certainly would do whatever it could to keep Stamkos long term.

But when Stamkos told reporters in Canada in July "we'll see what happens" when discussing potentially signing with his hometown Maple Leafs as a free agent, it only fueled the fire.

"That's obviously the beauty and the downfall of living in Toronto," Stamkos said. "Obviously for guys that know that have played there, when you're winning, it's the best place, and when you're not, things like that get blown out, especially in the offseason, when there's no hockey to talk about. … People can twist things around. I didn't lose any sleep over it. I didn't think it was that big of a deal."

STAY IN SYRACUSE: The Lightning extended its agreement with its AHL affiliate in Syracuse for two years, through 2016-17.

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