Steven Stamkos staying with Tampa Bay Lightning; Red Wings must find backup plan

Posted at 4:00 PM, Jun 29, 2016

Lightning captain Steven Stamkos is staying put in Tampa Bay.

The 26-year-old Stamkos tweeted Wednesday that he was "excited to be back for 8 more years" and three people familiar with the decision confirmed the move. One of the people said the contract is worth $68 million, meaning Stamkos will average $8.5 million per season.

All three people spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because the Lightning had not announced the decision, which was first reported by Canada's

The agreement was reached two days before Stamkos had the opportunity to test free agency, where the two-time NHL scoring champion was expected to command far more lucrative offers from numerous bidders, including his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs, the Buffalo Sabres and Detroit Red Wings.

Instead, he chose to stay with the team that made him the No. 1 pick in the 2008 draft.

Lightning teammate Ryan Callahan welcomed the news, writing on Twitter: "Could not be more happy to have El Capitan Back!!!" Callahan then joked that Stamkos will be picking up the tab at a fast-food restaurant.

The agreement comes as something of a surprise after Stamkos and the Lightning were unable to negotiate a contract extension during the season. The uncertainty led to Stamkos potentially becoming the highest-profile player to hit the free agent market in several years.

His status even loomed over the NHL draft in Buffalo last weekend, where several team executives expressed their interest in making a bid to sign Stamkos. Sabres general manager Tim Murray was among them, and referred to Stamkos as "the big fish."

Lightning GM Steve Yzerman remained hopeful that a deal could be reached, saying as recently as Saturday that he had not closed the door on re-signing Stamkos.

The Lightning at least had a slight edge over other teams. Under NHL rules, they were allowed to sign Stamkos to an eight-year contract, while other teams were limited to making seven-year offers.

Stamkos has topped 40 goals four times. He won the NHL's regular-season scoring title twice, including 2011-12, when he had a career-best 60 goals.

Stamkos is coming off a year in which he had 36 goals and 64 points in 77 games, before being sidelined after having surgery on April 4 to treat a blood clot near his right collarbone. Stamkos did not return until he saw limited ice time in Tampa Bay's 2-1 loss to Pittsburgh in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals.

The blood clot condition, called vascular thoracic outlet syndrome, is not expected to affect Stamkos' career going forward.

The Maple Leafs and Sabres were seeking to sign Stamkos in a bid to hasten their rebuilding plans. The Red Wings were believed to be interested after star Pavel Datsyuk chose to play in the Kontinental Hockey League.

The Lightning have a deep and talented roster, which Stamkos helped lead to the Stanley Cup Final in 2015. The Lightning lost to the Blackhawks in six games.

Tampa's lineup already includes 23-year-old forward Nikita Kucherov and defenseman Victor Hedman. There's also forward Jonathan Drouin, who capped an unsettled season — including a demotion to the minors — by scoring five goals and 17 points in the playoffs.