Tampa Bay Lightning's Victor Hedman (77) plays against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the second period of Game 7 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Eastern Conference finals, Thursday, May 26, 2016, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Gene J. Puskar
July 01, 2016

Victor Hedman followed Steven Stamkos' lead and made this one of the best weeks in Tampa Bay Lightning history.

Two days after Stamkos decided to return to Tampa Bay, Hedman signed a $63 million, eight-year extension that keeps the No. 1 defenseman around through the 2024-25 season.

Like Stamkos did on his $68 million, eight-year deal, Hedman took less money than he probably could have at a salary-cap hit of $7.875 million in the hopes of keeping the Lightning core together to contend for the Stanley Cup for many more seasons.

''We want to keep a competitive group and have a competitive team,'' Hedman said on a conference call Friday. ''For us moving forward, it's going to be important for everyone to buy into that, obviously. For me and Stammer, we want to win together and that was obviously a big goal that we have is to go all the way together with Tampa.''

The Lightning reached the Stanley Cup Final in 2015 and Eastern Conference final in 2016 thanks in large part to Hedman, the 6-foot-6 Swede with the big shot, puck-moving ability and shutdown prowess. The 25-year-old was in the running for the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP when Tampa Bay lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in the final.

In 473 games, the 25-year-old has 49 goals and 180 assists. Last season he had 10 goals and 37 assists.

But the Hedman and Stamkos contracts are not about what they've done in seven years together with the Lightning. but rather what they have the potential to do.

The possibility of being a Cup contender for almost a decade with Stamkos and Hedman leading the way is why the captain suggested teammates take less than the maximum to win.

''The guys have to understand that in order to keep us all together, they have to realize the situation with the salary cap,'' Stamkos said Thursday.

''That was something that I truly considered in signing the deal that I did with Tampa and realizing the potential we have and knowing that if we did ultimately want to stay together that there's going to be some sacrifices from both sides.''

Hedman also referenced sacrifice in talking about Tampa Bay's long-range plan. Restricted free agent forwards Nikita Kucherov, Alex Killorn and Vladislav Namestnikov and defenseman Nikita Nesterov all need contracts this summer, and those are up next for general manager Steve Yzerman.

The Lightning took care of another order of business Friday in signing goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy to a $10.5 million, three-year extension. The 21-year-old will count $3.5 million against the cap when his extension kicks in for the 2017-18 season.

The contract could mean the end of Ben Bishop's time in Tampa Bay at least by the end of next season when the Las Vegas expansion draft occurs.

''I know I have to make a decision at some point,'' Yzerman said. ''If one of these two guys is available they're going to get claimed.''

Worrying about what to do with Bishop is a problem for another day. The Lightning feel good about Vasilevskiy assuming the starting role whenever he's given it, and he could soon be a valuable part of the core.

''I don't know if there's been a bigger goalie talent I've seen,'' Hedman said. ''Vasy has showed throughout the regular season and in the playoffs when Bish went down how good of a goalie he is.''

The Lightning have shown they can win in front of Bishop or Vasilevskiy because of Hedman, defensive partner Anton Stralman, Stamkos and the Triplets -Kucherov, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat.

With Stamkos and Hedman set to play at least eight more years together, Yzerman can't help but be happy while also realizing the salary cap limits what he can do.

''Stammer and Victor, these are the two cornerstones. ... A good couple of days for the organization,'' Yzerman said. ''Between now and the start of '17-18 if we're going to sign all the players, we're going to have to make some changes. To what extent I'm not sure. But we're not going to be able to simply sign every single guy and keep the exact same group together. It's not possible.''

Players know that, but in order to try to bring the Cup back to Hockey Bay, it'll be a team effort.

''I'm hopeful that we can ultimately keep as many guys as possible,'' Stamkos said. ''I understand that you can't keep everyone, but I do believe that we have a great nucleus in Tampa that is built to win for years.''


Follow Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SWhyno .

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