FILE - In a Sunday May 15, 2016 file photo, Tampa Bay Lightning's Steven Stamkos skates during hockey practice at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. With the NHL draft weekend out of the way, let the Stamkos free-agency watch begin. The Buffalo Sabres are interested, as are Toronto, Detroit and Vancouver, in the Tampa Bay Lightning captain who is eligible to become a free agent on July 1. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)
The two-time Maurice ''Rocket'' Richard Trophy winner as the NHL's top goal scorer re-signed with the Lightning for eight years Wednesday, foregoing an opportunity to test free agency.
The team announced the deal, which The Associated Press learned is worth $68 million, an average of $8.5 million per season.
The agreement was reached two days before Stamkos would have a chance to test free agency, where the four-time All-Star star with 312 goals was expected to command far more lucrative offers from bidders expected to include his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs, the Buffalo Sabres and Detroit Red Wings.
Instead, he chose to stay with the team that made him the No. 1 pick in the 2008 draft.
Lightning teammate Ryan Callahan welcomed the news, writing on Twitter: ''Could not be more happy to have El Capitan Back!!!'' Callahan then joked that Stamkos will be picking up the tab at a fast-food restaurant.
The agreement comes as something of a surprise after Stamkos and the Lightning were unable to negotiate a contract extension during the season. The uncertainty led to Stamkos potentially becoming the highest-profile player to hit the free agent market in several years.
His status even loomed over the NHL draft in Buffalo last weekend, where several team executives expressed their interest in making a bid to sign Stamkos. Sabres general manager Tim Murray was among them, and referred to Stamkos as ''the big fish.''
Lightning GM Steve Yzerman remained hopeful that a deal could be reached, saying as recently as Saturday that he had not closed the door on re-signing Stamkos.
The Lightning at least had a slight edge over other teams. Under NHL rules, they were allowed to sign Stamkos to an eight-year contract, while other teams were limited to making seven-year offers.
Stamkos has topped 40 goals four times. He won the NHL's regular-season scoring title twice, including 2011-12, when he had a career-best 60 goals.
Stamkos is coming off a season in which he had 36 goals and 64 points in 77 games, before being sidelined after having surgery on April 4 to treat a blood clot near his right collarbone. Stamkos did not return until he saw limited ice time in Tampa Bay's 2-1 loss to Pittsburgh in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final.
The blood clot condition, called vascular thoracic outlet syndrome, is not expected to affect Stamkos' career going forward.
The Maple Leafs and Sabres were seeking to sign Stamkos in a bid to hasten their rebuilding plans. The Red Wings were believed to be interested after star Pavel Datsyuk chose to play in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League.
The Lightning have a deep and talented roster, which Stamkos helped lead to the Stanley Cup Final in 2015. The Lightning lost to the Blackhawks in six games.
Tampa's lineup already includes 23-year-old forward Nikita Kucherov and defenseman Victor Hedman. There's also forward Jonathan Drouin, who capped an unsettled season – including a demotion to the minors – by scoring five goals and 17 points in the playoffs.