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Florida Panthers centre Aleksander Barkov during a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, in Tampa, Fla., on May 26.Chris O'Meara/The Associated Press

Aleksander Barkov was just a teenager when he arrived in Florida from Finland to start his NHL career back in 2013, spent a few weeks in his new sunny surroundings and came to the following conclusion.

“I could live here,” Barkov said.

He hasn’t left since. And the Panthers have ensured he won’t be leaving any time soon.

Choosing loyalty over the chance to be an unrestricted free agent next summer and play somewhere else, Barkov has agreed to an eight-year, US$80-million extension with the Panthers, two people with direct knowledge of the talks told The Associated Press on Friday. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal had not been announced.

That will change Friday afternoon: The Panthers called a news conference, without saying why, though the reason was obvious.

Barkov has been Florida’s captain since 2018, the leader on the ice and off, and securing this deal was the biggest piece of offseason business for a team that hopes to spend the next few years contending for the Stanley Cup.

He’s now under contract through 2029-30. This season marks the end of a US$35.4-million, six-year pact he signed in 2016; the new deal kicks in next season.

Barkov is entering his ninth year with the Panthers; only Jonathan Huberdeau, entering his 10th season, has been with Florida longer. Barkov has scored 181 goals for Florida, seven shy of matching Olli Jokinen’s franchise record, and he trails only Huberdeau for the Panthers’ all-time leads in assists (330-284) and points (498-465).

The contract is the largest in terms of total value in Panthers history, topping the US$70-million, seven-year deal for goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky in 2019. Barkov becomes the 12th active player in the NHL with a contract with a total value of at least US$80-million.

It also means Florida’s core is almost entirely locked up now for multiple seasons. Forwards Frank Vatrano, Noel Acciari and Ryan Lomberg can be free agents next summer and Huberdeau’s next extension is likely a year away – but for the most part, the Panthers know who they can have where for years to come.