Tampa Bay Lightning center and team captain Steven Stamkos downplayed rumors that he will sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the future.
Stamkos made this affirmation to The Canadian Press' Stephen Whyno (via The Toronto Star) on July 24:
"LeBron James going home to play for the Cleveland Cavaliers led to speculation about whether a star NHL player might do the same in the near future.
"Naturally, Steven Stamkos was at the centre of that speculation. The Tampa Bay Lightning captain and Markham, Ont., native could be an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2016, and the allure of playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs could be there.
"'We'll see what happens. It's a couple years away,' Stamkos said Wednesday. 'Right now I'm focused on what I have to do to win in Tampa, and I think we've really established ourselves as a team that can compete in upcoming years.
"'For me, that's the important thing is getting a chance to win. It looks like we're going to have that chance for a couple of years.'
"At the age of 24, Stamkos is one of the most marketable stars in the NHL. He has topped 50 goals in a season twice already and only missed out on representing Canada at the Sochi Olympics because of a knee injury.
"Stamkos made a run with the Lightning to the Eastern Conference final in 2011, and Tampa Bay was swept by the Montreal Canadiens in this year's playoffs. The Stanley Cup is his priority now, something he can legitimately think about with general manager Steve Yzerman piecing together one of the best young teams in the league.
"'We have a good thing going down in Tampa,' Stamkos said in a Coca-Cola ball-hockey promotional event. 'We have a great owner, we got a great GM in Steve Yzerman and we got a good young team. I want to win, and hopefully I can do it in Tampa.'
"Stamkos said with the additions of centre Brian Boyle and defenceman Anton Stralman and the re-signing of winger Ryan Callahan, the Lightning are probably better on paper than they were at the end of last season.
"'We didn't have the finish we wanted to last year, but with the new faces coming in, the expectations are probably set a little higher,' he said.
"Stamkos said chatter about joining the Leafs in two years was 'absolutely not' a distraction for him in Tampa, where he'll begin his first full season as a captain this fall.
"'I try not to focus about that stuff,' he said. 'I think that's the great thing about playing in Tampa is hockey isn't the mecca that it is here in Toronto and you can kind of go about your life and kind of get away from the game when you need to.'
"That said, Stamkos added that he loves playing hockey in good hockey markets, including Toronto.
"'I'm from around here and grew up cheering for the Leafs, so any time I get a chance to come back here I enjoy it, and any time I get a chance to play against the Leafs its' fun,' he said. 'It's also fun beating them, too, because a lot of my friends are still Leaf fans.'"
In another team development, the Lightning added veteran forwrad Brenden Morrow on July 11, per The Tampa Bay Times' Matt Baker:
"The first flurry of free agency left the Lightning with one remaning thing on its wish list: a veteran forward to lead a young group.
"The team filled that void Friday, signing former (Dallas) Stars captain Brenden Morrow to a one-year deal that ESPN reported is worth $1.55 million.
"'We wanted to add some experience,' general manager Steve Yzerman said.
"The Lightning did that with Morrow.
"He captained the Stars from 2006 until he was traded to the (Pittsburgh) Penguins around the 2013 trade deadline. Morrow, 35, played 71 games last season with the Blues after signing as a free agent, scoring 13 goals -- including three winners -- and getting 25 points. Morrow, 6 feet, 205 pounds, averaged 11:54 ice time and had a plus-1 rating.
"He has 46 points in 94 career Stanley Cup playoff games and won an Olympic gold medal for Canada in 2010. He joins a core of forwards that has eight players born in the 1990s and only one -- Valtteri Filppula -- who's at least 30 years old.
"'It doesn't seem that long ago I was the young guy on the team,' Morrow said. 'Time flies.'
"The left wing has scored at least 20 goals in seven seasons since his 1999 debut. He is regarded as as strong at faceoffs and is expected to give the Lightning more flexibility across the ice."