Fans in Toronto have been clamoring for Stamkos to return home as a Maple Leaf in the summer of 2016, when he’s an unrestricted free agent, but at All-Star media day, the superstar center talked about "hopefully" signing an extension with Tampa this summer, a year before his contract ends.
"Yeah I think that's exactly what the plan is," Stamkos said Friday. "Obviously July 1 you can announce a deal and something hopefully similar to what [Patrick] Kane and [Jonathan] Toews did, sometime after July 1. It's a long ways away. I'm not really focused on that. We haven't really talked about that at all. We'll discuss that in the summertime, but I'm obviously very happy with where I am in Tampa. You see the team we've been able to develop the past couple of years, the ownership we have, obviously [general manager] Steve Yzerman, the coaching staff, the young nucleus of the team. I feel like the old fart at 24, all these guys coming in here, but they've played extremely well and I want to be part of it, to say I was there from the beginning to see the end result."
Stamkos and his veteran agent Don Meehan of Newport Sports Management plan to discuss his future after the season. Meehan told ESPN.com on Friday that he hasn’t had any talks yet with Yzerman, indicating that those discussions will likely wait until after the season.
"Our No. 1 priority after the season is to get Steven signed to an extension and hopefully have something to announce in and around July 1. That goes without saying, no question," Yzerman told ESPN.com Friday.
Bolts' captain gains perspective
You listen to Stamkos talk and there is something of an old soul about the young man who won’t turn 25 until early in February.
Maybe that comes from being a No. 1 draft pick. Maybe it comes from going through a tumultuous year that included a broken leg, missing out on the Sochi Olympics and being swept in the first round of the playoffs.
Maybe it comes from something called perspective.
"I think first and foremost the injury. It kind of puts things into perspective a little bit, your career as a professional athlete. How it can change in a second," Stamkos said Friday. "And then obviously missing the Olympics is the next thing. That was tough. Seeing those guys over there win a gold and knowing you should have been part of that and not knowing if you’re going to get a chance to do that again with the uncertainty of the next Olympics."
"But I think then you look back at all the hard work I was able to put in with the amazing people that helped me get back to the level I’m at today. Just get a chance to play last year and come back. I know the playoffs weren’t great for our team, but just to get that taste back in your mouth, I think that motivates you coming into this year, and obviously it’s been pretty good so far."
At the All-Star break, the Lightning are leading both the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference with 64 points, while Stamkos is fourth in the league with 26 goals.
In November 2013, however, the dazzling Lightning forward didn’t know when or how he would come back after breaking his leg in grisly fashion against the Boston Bruins.
"Again it forces you to take a step back and really not take anything for granted," Stamkos said. "Going into that game I had a six-game goal streak, I was feeling great, our team was in first, you’re coming into Boston, that’s a tough building to play in, you’re pumped up because you know you’re going to have to be going against [Zdeno] Chara and [Patrice] Bergeron all night and the challenge of that, and then 'boom' second shift of the second period you’re getting taken off on a stretcher. I mean that opens your eyes a little bit. That makes you wonder about your career. I’d never missed a game ever in life due to injury, in junior, in the NHL, so that made me kind of sit back and realize how hard you have to work and how you can’t really take anything for granted anymore."
If the questions about how Stamkos might return have been answered, the next question is whether his young Tampa Bay Lightning are ready to use last spring’s experience when they were swept by Montreal to take another step towards a championship that has eluded the franchise since their lone Cup win in 2004.
"I still think we have some areas to improve on," Stamkos said. "You look at all the teams that are there every year. You look at L.A., you look at Boston, you look at Detroit, San Jose. You look at those teams and I still think we have some work to do to be able to compete with those teams in a seven-game series."
On any given night, the Lightning can compete with any team in the league, the team’s captain said. But the playoffs are a different beast.
"But I think we’re getting to a point now where we want to be a perennial playoff team and it’s not just one and done," he added. "We want to be there. It takes a lot of time. It takes experience. We’re still a very young team."
Spoken like a true old soul.