Stamkos let his ‘mind wander a little bit,’ but his heart always said Tampa Bay

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Steven Stamkos allowed himself to wonder what it would be like to leave the Tampa Bay Lightning. He even allowed himself to get pitched by some other teams, to hear what they had to say. But in the end — in the very end — he chose to stay, signing an eight-year $68 million extension, in spite of the opportunity to make considerably more money elsewhere.

“I knew, and I think, that Tampa gives me the best chance to win and be successful moving forward.” Stamkos said Thursday on a conference call.

“Obviously, being there the past eight years and knowing what to expect, knowing what we have going forward with the core group of guys that we have plays into the decision. For me, it was just following your heart and being loyal to the organization that has brought me up and has made me the person and the player that I am today. There’s times in life, whether it’s in business or your everyday life or sports that you let the mind wander a little bit, but I think I knew deep down the whole time that I wanted to be in Tampa.”

Stamkos was well-aware that other teams were prepared to pay him more.

“Some people when they’re in this position chase the most money possible,” he said. “I realize the situation. I understand there could’ve been some money left out there. For me, that’s not what it’s all about. It’s about going to an organization that I was comfortable with and gave me the best chance to win in my mind. It was a very tough decision. It truly was. I can’t sit here and say that this past week has been fun.”

Now that the captain is locked up, it’s up to general manager Steve Yzerman to keep as much of the Lightning’s core together as possible.

Still unsigned for next season: restricted free agents Nikita Kucherov, Alex Killorn and Vladislav Namestnikov.

Those that will need a new contract before 2017-18: Victor Hedman, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Jonathan DrouinAndrei Vasilevskiy, and Ben Bishop.

Stamkos has already shown he’s willing to sacrifice money for the collective effort. He hopes, and trusts, that others will follow his lead.

“If we want to stay to together, there’s going to be sacrifices for both sides,” he said. “I believe the core we have understands that.”

Related: After Stamkos re-signs, Bolts buy out Matt Carle