Hockey’s potential LeBron James sits in his locker room stall surveying the room of teammates listening to the band Oasis blaring from the loud speaker.
He speaks candidly about his eventual contract negotiations, slipping in sly hints of whether he wants to stay in Tampa (sounds like he does) or test the free agent market in two summers.
No matter what, Lightning captain Steven Stamkos is going to get paid – and a lot, sort of like LeBron, except with the NHL. He’s going to become hockey’s first $12 million player. Whether that’s this summer when he can sign an extension with Tampa or later, is up to Stamkos, his representatives and the Lightning.
Either way, judging by the bevy of young talent around him, it seems like Stamkos should simply stay. Yes there have been hints that the Markham, Ontario native would want to go home and play for the Maple Leafs. But he has a good thing going in Tampa.
Between the coaching staff, management, teammates and of course the warm Florida winter weather, Stamkos kind of has it all. And at the tender age of 25 he can lead this young group, which currently has the most points in the Eastern Conference.
We caught up with the former 60-goal man on his trip to Nashville and talked to him about several topics.
Q: You had some strong words to say about staying in Tampa when you were asked about your contract All-Star weekend. Still feel the same way?
Stamkos: I think obviously at this point we have a great team we have a great thing going on right now. Obviously I want to be a big part of that, and obviously there’s going to be discussions in the summer and that’s where we’re going to see what happens. I’m definitely not focused on that right now, I’m definitely focused on trying to help our team win. I’m very happy with the situation we’re in right now and the position we’ve put ourselves to hopefully have a successful postseason. I haven’t really had a thought of the contract stuff. We’ll deal with that in the summer come July. I’m looking forward to helping this team win down the stretch.
People have called you hockey’s LeBron James (mostly because of the free agent comparisons). Can you draw any similarities to LeBron?
I can’t say I’m a huge basketball fan. He’s a great player. Obviously he decided to go back to play in Cleveland. It’s a little different stage than what I’m at in regards to where I am in the game of hockey. He’s obviously a great player, and he obviously enjoys playing at home.
Your hair is a little short right now. You’ve gone long in the past with your hair. You prefer short hair Stamkos or ‘flow’ Stamkos?
The long hair … it obviously worked. It’s the in-between stage where you have to fight through, so I wasn’t willing to fight through that this year. It was kind of a pain in the ass to have the long hair, but it was working, so I kept it. It’s a little easier to maintain with the short one. We’re playing well as a team, so we don’t switch too many things up.
Didn’t you score 60 with the flow?
It was that year. We didn’t make the playoffs that year. Things are going well this year so I don’t think we’re going to change anything up.
You’re considered a ‘shoot first’ type center. Is that a little more common in today’s game than maybe the past where it was more of a ‘distributor’ position?
I think still, typically centermen are more of the playmakers. It’s just how it has worked. I’ve been told to shoot the puck whenever I get it on my stick, multiple times by coaches throughout the years, like ‘when you have the puck in the slot don’t look to pass’ because they want you to shoot the puck. I’ve tried to have that even to this day … coaches are harping on me to shoot it more. I strive to have a versatile game where I can make plays if I need to. I try to make the plays that are going to be best. If it’s going to be the best if I shoot and create a good chance that’s what I’m going to do is to trust my shot and my ability. It seems to have worked so far in my career.
You seem to be the poster child for the Gary Roberts camp. Have you ever asked him for a cut of what he gets from former players?
I joke about it all the time with him, but he has worked extremely hard to get to where he is today to build the brand of his name and what he has been able to do to help a lot of young players and older guys extend their careers or get them started. He has committed to that and it’s pretty amazing to see how dedicated he is, even at his age right now to maintaining a healthy lifestyle and spending a lot of time helping us as players having the best career we can.
What is the hardest drill he has ever put you through?
There’s a couple of them. The track is a tough day … sled pulls, sled pushes. We have this treadmill in our gym, it’s called ‘the curve’ so it’s actually a curve treadmill. It doesn’t plug into the wall. You generate the power on it yourself. You feel the burn in 10-15 seconds on that. When you’re doing sprints on that, it’s pretty tough.
You still play beer league baseball in the summer?
I try to get out there when I can and see my buddies I grew up with and play a couple of slow-pitch tournaments with friends and family in our town. I try to have some fun in the summer.
How did you pass the time when you were hurt last year? Videogames? Netflix?
I was … I didn’t really get into the TV shows until this year. It was lots of rehab. I was doing six, seven, eight-hour days of trying to get back and get back for the Olympics and try to do that. I can’t say I got hooked on anything. I just tried to get back to playing.
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