Stamkos’ mind wandered, but his heart was always in Tampa

by Gary Shelton on July 1, 2016 · 0 comments

in general, Tampa Bay Lightning

Stamkos scored again, but the Lightning offense struggled.

Stamkos scored again, but the Lightning offense struggled.

Friday, 6 a.m.

Now that he has made his fortune, the next chore for Steven Stamkos is to make the rest of us forget about it.

That's what the great athletes do, isn't it? They play so hard, and they win so often, that no one thinks about how much money they bring home in a week. They are about performances, not paychecks. They are about memories, not money.

No one ever thought about how much money Michael Jordan made. Or Joe Montana. No one discusses LeBron's paycheck. Or Tom Brady. Or Sydney Crosby. They are athletes who are about winning, and they have the gift to make fans think about things other than their

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Stamos could have made more money elsewhere, but this was home.

Stamkos could have made more money elsewhere, but this was home.

paychecks. It is only the mediocre men and the massive money bags that remind you with every failure how overpaid they are.

In the coming years, let's hope it is about everything but the paycheck for Stamkos, about Cups and playoffs and goals and leadership and victory celebrations. At the moment, he is a special athlete in the minds of Tampa Bay fans, and he should be. He left more money on the table. He understood when the team talked about signing other players. He stayed, largely, because of the chance to win

All of that is easy to admire.

As long as he wins.

This contract will not be paid off in goals, or in points. This contract will be a value if the Lightning wins a Stanley Cup. If it wins two, it is a bargain. Regardless, the Lightning need to be a team that matters before this is a good deal for everyone.

On Friday, Stamkos talked about his thoughts and feelings of his new contract. Yes, he became a richer man, and $8.5 million a year means he won't have to take in laundry. But there was more money elsewhere, and other athletes would have chased every nickel. Stamkos didn't. It was important for him to keep as many of his teammates together, and so he took less. These days, who does that?

Look, none of us make as much money as maybe we could if we lived in a city of brighter lights. But there is something about home, something that pulls at us. It's nice to know it tugs at Stamkos, too. He is one of us. After this, he always will be.

"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.

"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."

So...how about Stamkos as a Community Hero?

He did well here. Because of Stamkos, the Bolts have a chance to keep Victor Hedman and Nikita Kucherov. Maybe even Ben Bishop. Because of Stamkos, the window of opportunity remains open. Because of Stamkos, the Lightning is still the Lightning.

“I grew up as a kid there,” Stamkos said. “This team is on the verge of hopefully competing for the Stanley Cup for years. With me being captain and leader of this team, this was the place I wanted to stay.”

Unless Stamkos is traded (and he doubtlessly got trade limitations), this contract will keep him around until he is 34. But, like general manager Steve Yzerman, Stamkos thinks he is entering good years.

“I do,” Stamkos said. “I think I'm a better player than I was when when I first entered the league. Whether the goals will be 50 or 60, you have to have that belief that I'm one of the guys who can be counted on. I want to be a big part of that. There is no reason I can't be.”

Think about it. For a year, Stamkos didn't talk about this. There had to be days he felt like screaming, and days he felt like muttering. There had to be days he felt like a Maple Leaf. But in the end, he couldn't leave Ryan Callahan and Brian Boyle and Alex Killorn and Tyler Johnson and the rest.

“There are a lot of things that go through your head,” Stamkos said. “Tampa gives me the best chance to win and be successful moving forward. For me, it was just following your heart and being loyal that has brought me up and made me the person and player I am today.”

“Some people chase the most money possible. I realized the situation. There could have been some money left out there, but for me, that's not what is was all about. I was comfortable this was something that gave me the best chance to win.”

So do you go to Toronto, which hasn't won? Do you go to Buffalo and walk in the snow? Do you move to Detroit?

Or do you reconsider what you have? The teammates that you believe in? The coach you like? The owner? The general manager? Do you seize the legacy as being perhaps the finest player in franchise history? Do you keep the Lightning Bolt on your chest for a lifetime, as if it was a tattoo, as if you and your team defined each other?

Oh, there will be rough patches ahead, losses and scoreless droughts and nights when he's asked to play on the wing instead of at center. There will be nights he disappears from the boxscore.

In the end, however, he'll be in blue, which beats the heck out of some other team's colors.

He's a Lightning player.

Today, he is the Lightning player.

Sounds like a good deal to me.

One Stanley Cup win gives the team value, two makes it a bargain.

One Stanley Cup win gives the team value, two makes it a bargain.

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