NHL free agency: Steven Stamkos 'thankful' for time with Lightning as he joins Predators

Stamkos scored 555 goals in 16 years in Tampa, helping the franchise to back-to-back Stanley Cup titles

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 LoMoglio/NHLI via Getty Images)

Steven Stamkos has agreed to a four-year, $32 million contract to join the Nashville Predators, the team announced on Monday.

The 34-year-old Stamkos had been with the Tampa Bay Lightning since the franchise selected him with the No. 1 overall pick at the 2008 NHL Draft.

A lack of contract extension talks between Stamkos and Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois during the regular season was a sign that a return to Tampa wasn't guaranteed. After last-ditch discussions over the past weeks failed to get anywhere, Stamkos' agent said the Lightning legend was "going to July 1" to test the free agent market.

"To be complete honest I've found myself asking the same question and the more people I talk to everyone seems to share that same sentiment, which is puzzling and strange," Stamkos said when asked on Sportsnet where negotiations went south. "At the end of the day there was no question I was willing to put all that stuff aside to remain a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning."

"We wanted it to end and retire with the Tampa Bay Lightning," Stamkos said. "It certainly didn't work out, but at the end of the day in order to look yourself in the mirror you just have to be honest with yourself, know your self worth, know what loyalty and respect means to you and move on. And that's why it's been so exciting for our family. Once we kinda got over that hump we kinda zeroed in on a few teams with Nashville being very high on that list and just the mutual interest from day one. How aggressive they were, how accommodating they were in terms of any questions or concerns, and it just seemed like a natural fit."

On Sunday, the Lightning acquired the negotiating rights to Jake Guentzel from the Carolina Hurricanes and signed the forward to a nine-year, $63 million contract. Guentzel, who was expected to be a highly coveted unrestricted free agent, is four years younger than Stamkos and has scored at least 30 goals in each of the last three seasons.

Before the deal was made official, Stamkos, who had served as Lightning captain since 2014, took to X to say goodbye to Tampa. In 16 seasons with the Lightning, he scored 555 goals and 1,137 points, won two Rocket Richard Trophies as the league's top goal scorer, and led the franchise to back-to-back Stanley Cup titles in 2020 and 2021.

It was a busy first hour of NHL free agency for Predators GM Barry Trotz. Along with Stamkos, he added forward Jonathan Marchessault (five years, $27.5 million) and defenseman Brady Skjei (seven years, $49 million).