BRANDON – Steven Stamkos sat in the stands at Rogers Centre during a recent afternoon, a typical fan hanging out with his buddies and taking in a Toronto Blue Jays baseball game.
However, there is nothing typical these days about being out in public for the Lightning’s recent 51-goal scorer.
Stamkos was easily recognized in hockey-mad Toronto and was happy to sign an autograph or two on his way out after the game. Before he left, however, a line estimated at 100 deep started to form around the corner as more hopefuls sought a brief encounter with the star player.
Since arriving in the NHL, Stamkos had the name recognition from being selected first overall in the 2008 draft. After becoming the third-youngest player in league history last season to score at least 50 goals, his face recognition grew exponentially in a few short months.
That afternoon in Toronto is when Stamkos, 20, realized how high his celebrity status reached.
“That’s when it kind of hits you, and it’s kind of surreal,” Stamkos said. “I mean, your friends don’t look at you any differently, you don’t look at yourself any differently, but after a season like that people are going to look up to you.”
The next time Stamkos expects to make a splashy headline will be when he signs what is expected to be a lengthy contract extension that will likely pay him north of $7 million annually, the going rate for a young 50-goal scorer. He enters the 2010-11 season in the final season of a three-year entry-level contract and could become a restricted free agent next summer.
Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman, who has plowed through plenty of other items on his docket this summer, wants to ensure his rising star never hits the free-agent market. Although there have not been discussions between the Lightning and Stamkos’ agent, Yzerman said re-signing Stamkos remains a priority.
“I haven’t had a chance to really start on that, and I don’t have a time frame on it, but once we get (training) camp going, (assistant GM) Julien (BriseBois) and I will start to get prepared and make contact with Steven’s representation at some point,” Yzerman said. “He is an important part of the organization, and we will make our best effort to get it done as quickly as possible. Our goal is to get Steven re-signed and he is an important part of the franchise, which is an understatement.”
Whether a new contract gets hammered out quickly or takes some time, Stamkos said the process won’t weigh heavily on him.
“There is no rush for me. I’m not pressing on anything to get done on a certain timeline,” he said. “I have thought about it, for sure, but not to any kind of big extent. For me, I’m lucky to have great guys on this team to be here with and our team is looking really good. I’m just excited to get the season going, contract or not.”