TAMPA — Just like signing his new five-year, $37.5 million deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning, star Steven Stamkos said getting back to Tampa for Friday's official announcement took longer than he expected.
Stamkos, 21, had a late flight from Toronto to Orlando Thursday night, and ran into some difficulties renting a car at the airport, so he didn't get home until around 3 a.m.
"They had some 'young driver's fee,"' Stamkos said, smiling. "We ended up getting it, so it worked out."
Stamkos had no problem with the extra $50-a-day fee, thanks to his long-term deal with the Lightning, a pact he never had any doubts about, even if it took until July 19 to agree to terms. Both Stamkos and general manager Steve Yzerman said in Friday's press conference they're happy the focus can be on hockey now.
Yzerman feels Stamkos, an All-Star who led the NHL with 96 goals the last two seasons, can get even better.
"Obviously there's some expectations and pressure that come with signing a contract like that," Stamkos said. "But I think for me, I'm fortunate enough to be surrounded by a lot of people who have gone through situations like that and succeeded. I'm extremely excited and I think I can just go and focus now. The past year there's been all this talk of, 'When are you going to sign your contract?' It's done now, and I can focus on training and the next five years."
Stamkos has been training this offseason in Toronto with former Lightning forward Gary Roberts, along with teammate Steve Downie. Though it was hard to see the likes of Sean Bergenheim and Simon Gagne lost to free agency, Stamkos believes the Lightning has what it takes to make another playoff push, having made it to the Eastern Conference final last year, losing in Game 7 to the eventual champion Bruins.
"Obviously with the magical run we made, and pretty much being one goal short of making it to the Stanley Cup Final, that just motivates you even more to win a championship," Stamkos said. "And it's always fun to win a championship with a team that you started with and that you grew and matured with. So hopefully in the next five years we can get one."
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org