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Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) skates off as the Washington Capitals celebrate their 2-1 win during an NHL hockey game Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015, in Tampa, Fla.Chris O'Meara/The Associated Press

Steven Stamkos returned Tuesday to the city that likes him back.

In the aftermath of a furor over "liking" a tweet about the Maple Leafs pursuing him, the Tampa Bay Lightning captain came to Toronto to face the team many hockey observers have speculated could sign him this summer.

Stamkos — who grew up in nearby Markham, Ont., — has said his actions on Twitter, recently and two summers ago, were accidental. After NBA star LeBron James went "home" to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Stamkos also liked a tweet speculating about him being hockey's version of that.

No matter the intent, Stamkos not having a contract extension with the Lightning is more than enough fuel for speculation about his future. Information about negotiations has been tightly guarded by his camp at Newport Sports and Tampa Bay management.

Stamkos has never ruled out the possibility of playing for the Leafs at some point in his career. This would be his chance.

"I'm not going to look too far into that just because I don't have a crystal ball," said Leafs forward Shawn Matthias, who was Stamkos's roommate at the 2008 world junior championship. "I can't predict the future. He's a great player. I'm sure everybody around the league would love to play with him because he's done so much in the game already."

Stamkos has 11 goals and 11 assists in his first 31 games this season but is almost a point-a-game player in his career. In 523 NHL games, he has 287 goals and 233 assists for 520 points.

Add in the fact that Stamkos will be 26 in February, and he's due a major payday. A long-term contract worth an average of US$10.5 million per year isn't out of the question.

The elephant-in-the-room question is whether Stamkos will be paid by the Lightning or another team.

"He's scored so many goals and he's a great player," Matthias said. "He seems like a good leader. I'm sure if you asked anyone if they would love to play with him, everyone would say, 'Yeah, of course.' He's that good of a player."

Stamkos told reporters Monday in Columbus that he doesn't let his status "creep into the (locker)-room" with the Lightning. He was named captain in the spring of 2014 after general manager Steve Yzerman traded Martin St. Louis to the New York Rangers, as the veteran winger requested.

A year ago, coach Mike Babcock was the biggest impending free agent and buzz about him going to the Leafs came true. Looking back, Babcock said he didn't think about it or let it affect his job.

"The only time it bothered me to be honest with you (was) when I came here and people would be yelling at you, 'Are you coming here?' Other than that, you didn't even notice it was going on," Babcock said. "You didn't worry about it. And I expect it's the same for him. I think the noise around you only affects you if you listen to it.

"If you just get on with your life, the hunting channel and country music, you don't even know what's going on."

Stamkos can insulate himself a bit in Tampa, but Tuesday brought the subject back to the forefront.