Steven Stamkos speaks out after parting with Lightning, calls situation 'puzzling and strange'

When Steven Stamkos signed with the Nashville Predators on Monday, it sent ripples throughout the hockey world and Tampa Bay community, alike. 

Stamkos put pen to paper on a four-year, $32 million deal with the Predators, ending a sparkling 16 years with the Lightning in which he became an institution for the team, leading them to two Stanley Cup victories. 

READ: Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos departs in free agency

The 34-year-old superstar's future with the team had been unclear for a while, with his previous eight-year, $68 million deal expiring after the 2023-2024 season. 

RALEIGH, NC - JANUARY 25: Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning celebrates a win after the third period of the game against the Arizona Coyotes at Amalie Arena on January 25, 2024 in Tampa, Florida. Lightning defeats Coyotes 6-3. (Photo by Ja

He was asked by a panel on Sportsnet what had happened that led Stamkos to leave his home of 16 years and the only team he has ever played for.

"To be completely honest, I found myself asking the same question," Stamkos said. "The more people I talked to, everyone seemed to share that same sentiment, which is puzzling and strange."

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He said as the opening of free agency approached, though, everything began to escalate quickly. 

"Things happened quick throughout this week," Stamkos said while speaking with a panel on Sportsnet. "You always have a plan, or you think you have a plan and then it doesn't work out and you got to go in a different direction. That's life, right?"

SUNRISE, FL - APRIL 21: Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) celebrates after typing the game 1-1 in the first period during game one of the Eastern Conference First Round between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Florida Panthers at Amerant

The former Bolts captain, who picked up over 500 goals and assists and led the Lightning to four Stanley Cup Finals in his time in the blue sweater, said it was difficult to realize his time with Tampa Bay was coming to an end.

"I’m not going to lie, it was difficult. When you've been in one organization, your whole career, as lucky as I've been to be in Tampa for 16 years, by no means did I ever envision that a day like today would happen," Stamkos said in his introductory press conference with the Predators. "But you know, it did and I don't want to take away from the excitement that we have for coming to Nashville. But it was certainly a tough pill to swallow when it really started to materialize that it wasn't going to work in Tampa."

The Bolts did make a move soon before free agency opened on Sunday, bringing in a former Stanley Cup champion and veteran winger Jake Guentzel from the Penguins and quickly signed him to a long-term deal.

They also dealt defenseman Mikhail Sergachev and forward Tanner Jeannot away in draft-day deals.  

Stamkos said he was prepared to hang up his skates as a member of the Lightning, but it just didn't end up working out that way.

"At the end of the day, there was no question that I was willing to put all that stuff aside to remain a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning," Stamkos said. "It just seemed like maybe not everyone thought that way." 

TAMPA, FL - APRIL 27: Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning celebrates the win against the Florida Panthers in Game Four of the First Round of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on April 27, 2024 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike C

Lightning General Manager Julien BriseBois met with the media on Monday to discuss the major loss of the team's captain, saying he was disappointed with how things went. 

"I know that it is disappointing that I was not able to come to terms with Steven Stamkos on a contract to keep him within the organization," BriseBois said. "I know the fans are disappointed. I know Steven's disappointed and I'm disappointed. Like everyone, I wanted Stammer to stay in Tampa and finish his career with the Lightning."

He did continue by saying Stamkos' financial expectations didn't line up with what BriseBois and the Lightning were willing to pay him if they wanted to put together a championship-caliber team.

"It was clear throughout our process that [Stamkos] also had financial expectations that he expected us to meet," BriseBois said. "Ultimately, I felt and made the decision that if I agreed to the terms that he wanted in order to get a deal done I would not be putting ourselves in the best position to chase championships going forward."

TAMPA, FL - APRIL 27: Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning celebrates a goal against the Florida Panthers in Game Four of the First Round of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on April 27, 2024 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mark Lo

The Lightning freed up some salary cap space when they traded away Sergachev and Jeannot but then gave a 7 year, $63 million deal to newly-signed Jake Guentzel, leaving their cap situation in doubt. 

Stamkos ultimately joined a Predators team that lost in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs to the Cannucks last season after securing a wild card spot. 

The Bolts host the Predators in their second preseason game at Amalie Arena on September 27.