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Steven Stamkos signs with Nashville as the Lightning move on from their captain

Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) celebrates his goal against the Los Angeles Kings on March 23, 2024, in Los Angeles. The Lightning captain is now a free agent after 16 season in Tampa.
Jae C. Hong
Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) celebrates his goal against the Los Angeles Kings on March 23, 2024, in Los Angeles.

It's the end of an era for the Lightning, as Steven Stamkos signs a four-year free-agent contract with the Nashville Predators after spending 16 years and scoring more than 500 goals in a Tampa Bay uniform.

The Tampa Bay Lightning have moved on from Steven Stamkos, arguably the team’s most popular player during its successes of the past decade.

An unrestricted free agent, Stamkos signed a four-year deal Monday with the Nashville Predators. The average annual value of the contract is reportedly $8 million.

Over the past year, Stamkos, 34, has not hidden his desire to remain in Tampa. He had publicly addressed his frustration over the Lightning's lack of desire to negotiate an extension before his contract expired Monday, when the NHL free agency period began.

“It’s not for a lack of effort on my side (to try) to make things work out in Tampa, but it’s not fair to Nashville for me to sit here and say I really wanted to be in Tampa,” Stamkos said on TSN in Canada. “Everyone knows I did. It didn’t work out, and I’m just as thrilled to be joining the Nashville Predators for a multitude of reasons."

Stamkos, the Lightning's captain, had been with the team since he was drafted first overall in the 2008 NHL draft at age 18.

Over the next 16 years, he rewrote the team’s record book and departs as the club's career leader in goals (555), points (1,137) and games (1,082). Also, he is third in playoff points (101) and assists (51), second in goals (50) and fifth in games (128).

During his career, Stamkos is second in goals in the NHL, behind only Alex Ovechkin (690), and fourth in points, behind Sidney Crosby (1,302), Ovechkin (1,240) and Patrick Kane (1,212).

During his tenure, the Lightning won two Stanley Cup titles and reached the Cup final two more times. And "Stammer," as he was known, became the face of the franchise.

"You always think that something's going to work out, but this morning when I woke up, we knew we were going to make a decision to be somewhere else and that was exciting for my wife and I and our kids and family,” Stamkos told TSN. “And like I said, just to have a team show as much interest as Nashville did with how excited they were with the possibility of me coming.

"It just made us feel really special and really good. It made that decision that much easier."

The last time Stamkos was heading toward free agency, in 2016, he signed an eight-year deal worth $68 million with the Bolts. He went on to have three 40-plus goal seasons as Tampa Bay became a regular favorite to reach the late stages of the postseason.

The Lightning entered free agency after a busy weekend of trades to open up more than $16 million in salary cap space. That included the dealing of top-tier defenseman Mikhail Sergachev and his $8.5 million annual salary to Utah.

NHL followers anticipated most of the freed up money would be used to retain Stamkos, a seven-time All-Star. Instead, Lightning general manager Julian BriseBois opted to pursue forward Jake Guentzel in a trade with the Carolina Hurricanes.

BriseBois said he wanted to wait until after the playoffs to make an offer, which turned out to be much less than what Stamkos was seeking. The offer didn’t change after the weekend’s trades.

“Steven’s earned the right to test free agency,” BriseBois said. “I didn’t go to him last season to get a deal done. I did go to him quickly after this season, and I was taking a risk by doing that that we may end up here, and now here we are.”

Shortly after the Nashville deal was announced, Stamkos posted a brief farewell message on X.

“Thank you Tampa. I don’t have the words yet … I will soon,” he wrote. “It’s still too early to process. Just wanted everyone to know how thankful we are for 16 years as a bolt. My family and I are excited for the next chapter.”

Like Stamkos, Guentzel was set to become a free agent Monday. But by sending a 2025 third-round pick to Carolina, the Lightning gained exclusive negotiating rights. On Monday, the Lightning announced they reached a seven-year deal with an average annual value of $9 million.

Guentzel takes up a nice chunk of the newly found cap space, with some left over to add another free agent, while also signing cornerstone defenseman Victor Hedman to a long-term contract extension.

“Things just didn’t work out in Carolina, and then I heard Tampa might be trading for my rights, so obviously I got really excited because everyone hears how good of a team and good of a spot this is,” Guentzel said. “The pedigree behind Tampa Bay, the winning culture — just a lot of high-end players that really make it intriguing to come to Tampa.”

Guentzel, who is five years younger than Stamkos, is coming off scoring 30 goals this past season for the Hurricanes and Pittsburgh Penguins, his fourth time reaching that mark in an eight-year career that has included him getting to 40 twice.

He won the Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh in 2017 and is nearly a point-a-game playoff performer in the NHL.

That means everything to the Lightning, who want to keep their contending window open as long as possible.

As part of the process, the team dealt Sergachev to Utah and depth forward Tanner Jeannot to Los Angeles on Saturday.

Sergachev missed much of the past season with a broken leg and is signed through 2031. In exchange, Utah sent defenseman J.J. Moser, forward prospect Conor Geekie, a 2025 second-rounder and the 199th pick in Saturday’s draft.

“We gave up a two-time Stanley Cup-winning stud 26-year-old No. 1 defenseman, and that’s not easy to do,” BriseBois said.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.


I’m the online producer for Health News Florida, a collaboration of public radio stations and NPR that delivers news about health care issues.