At the intersection of brotherly love and cold-hearted business, the Tampa Bay Lightning parted ways this week with one of the NHL’s closest, most successful and longest-running duos.

Victor Hedman signed a four-year, $32 million extension with the Lightning on Tuesday, not quite processing the fact that Steven Stamkos is entering free agency.

You’ve never seen a guy in his late 30s so stressed out after landing a big-ticket contract. Hedman couldn’t even smile.

“It’s really sad to see your friend go out and play somewhere else,” he said from his season home in Sweden.

They’ve played together since 2009 – appearing in more than 1,200 games each for the Lightning and lifting the team’s Stanley Cup twice since reaching the pinnacle of the sport.

Stamkos and Hedman pushed each other through tough practices and carried their competitive nature onto the golf course. They grew up together, attended each other’s weddings, started a family, and Stamkos never imagined the day he would sign with the Nashville Predators while Hedman was accepting a contract with the Lightning on similar terms.

“It’s going to be hard to imagine going into our locker room and walking into Amalie Arena and seeing him on the ice,” Hedman said. “It’s going to be amazing.”

To be honest, things between Stamkos and the Lightning front office have been weird for a while.

This helps explain how we reached the breaking point.

Stamkos still doesn’t fully understand why general manager Julian Brisbois let him sit out all of last summer — without even discussing a possible extension — the Lightning captain said publicly on the opening day of training camp in September.

After signing his own four-year, $32 million contract with the Predators on Monday, Stamkos called that the beginning of the end.

Or, as he puts it: “The beginning of the writing on the wall.”

Still, the sides had a series of negotiations this season until last week. Ultimately, they explored several contract ranges and options before settling on a long-term contract that would keep the AAV as low as possible and preserve the club’s ability to navigate the salary cap.

Brisbois is a decisive thinker who is not afraid to make unpopular or unusual decisions, many of which have helped build Cup-winning teams in 2020 and 2021.

Although I fully understand who Stamkos is and how much he means to Tampa — “I’d say he’s the best spokesperson for the organization,” Brisboys said. “He’s incredibly eloquent, genuine, honest, thoughtful, intelligent” – The GM approached the contract talks with a unique perspective on how Stamkos’ next deal would fit into the Lightning’s overall picture and not deviate from it.

“Ultimately, there were situations and ways to integrate different structures and contracts that I felt were in the best interest of the organization,” Brisbois said. “There were different ones that could work. Steven had several contracts that could have worked for him, but ultimately there was no overlap, and that’s why we didn’t reach an agreement.

The Lightning’s best offer was somewhere in the range of $3 million in average annual value over an eight-year period — significantly less than what Stamkos received in a four-year contract from Nashville.

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Now, comparing apples to apples is not entirely fair.

What he would accept to stay in Tampa and what he would pursue on the open market were two different things, Stamkos said.

“When you’re in a place for a long time, you’re always trying to make it work and last, and there are offers from both sides,” he said. “So that was a completely different situation than being a free agent on the open market, and teams went out of their way to show how important they would be if they could approach their organizations.”

Stamkos was willing to give a hometown discount. But as the July 1 opening of free agency approaches, he feels like he’s being asked to give back more than he’s receiving in return.

“The hardest part is trying to hang onto something that’s not trying to hang onto you,” he laments.

Contrast that with the way the organization handled Hedman’s situation, keeping him a full year into a new deal without unrestricted free agency. The Lightning did the same to the big defenseman in 2016 after making Stamkos a UFA within two days.

With former GM Steve Yzerman at the helm, Stamkos’ entry-level contract was allowed to expire in 2011 even though he already had a 50-goal season under his belt, and Hedman signed an extension with seven months left on his end.

It’s more about philosophy than personal: The Lightning are betting the 6-foot-7 defenseman, who skates like the wind and has played more than 20 minutes per game for 15 straight seasons, will be tough to replace after coming off a 40-goal, age-33 campaign. .

BriseBois noted that Hedman’s situation is the exception rather than the rule, noting that in recent years most star-quality NHL players have had to wait for their fourth contract rather than sign an extension early — Patrice Bergeron, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Chriss to name a few. Letang, Joe Pavelski and Claude Giroux as an example.

Plus, Tampa Bay feels it has found Stamkos’ replacement by signing Jake Guentzel to a seven-year, $63 million contract Monday. He is five years younger than the outgoing captain and a popular big-game scorer, while Brisbois fits right in with the team’s culture.

“It’s a bolt that hasn’t played for bolts before,” Brisboys said. “We fixed that today.”

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Julian Brisbois moved quickly to replace Steven Stamkos’ offense when the signee was unable to continue. (Ron Chenoy / USA TODAY)

Although that’s not how Stamkos or the Lightning front office saw things playing out, they’ve been surprisingly respectful in describing the circumstances that led to the split.

Brisbois praised Stamkos as a future Hall of Famer and wished his family happiness. Stamkos expressed his gratitude to the organization and the city for being “first class” for him.

“The memories of my time in Tampa overshadow any bad feelings or emotions I’ve had going through this process,” Stamkos said. “Those are temporary. Those are emotional decisions, and those usually fade as time goes on.

What remains unbroken is his bond with Hedman, even though only one of them got the chance to spend his entire career with the Lightning.

“We’re best friends before we’re teammates and we always will be,” Hedman said. “Best case scenario, yes, we would love to finish our careers in Tampa and together. But this hockey is a business at the end of the day.

(Top photo of Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman: Christian Peterson/Getty Images)