The Toronto Maple Leafs put on a fine show.
They brought in Mayor John Tory to shake hands at Air Canada Centre. They had Canadian Tire chief executive Michael Medline and other executives there, too, as a nice reminder of the potential sponsorship opportunities in Toronto.
And Leafs president Brendan Shanahan filled Steven Stamkos in on the virtues of coming home to play for the team he grew up cheering.
But the pitch didn't work.
That was Monday night. By early Wednesday, the whole exercise was over. Stamkos had decided to remain captain of the Tampa Bay Lightning, accepting a similar contract to the one that had languished on the table for months to avoid free agency.
He spurned mostly traditional hockey markets – front-runners Toronto, Buffalo, Detroit and Montreal and about 10 other NHL teams – in doing so, choosing to lock in with a no-movement clause to play into (relative) old age in Florida.
Stamkos signed for eight years and $68-million (U.S.), or $8.5-million a season, forgoing millions of dollars in order to stay with the only NHL team he has known. Buffalo, in particular, was willing to offer $11-million or more a year, and the Red Wings were believed to be equally disposed.
But Florida's forgiving tax rate helped the Lightning sell their offer. The cold-weather markets were all left unsatisfied.
Canadian Tire? They're disappointed, too.
"Of course we would have been pleased if he signed with any one of the seven Canadian teams," a company spokesperson said about Monday's "informal gathering" with Stamkos and the Leafs.
For years, Leafs fans had yearned for Stamkos – a native of nearby Markham – to return home. The first overall pick (2008) has been the highest-scoring Canadian player for most of his eight years in the league, scoring at a nearly 50-goal pace in a goal-starved NHL again and again.
With Toronto accelerating its rebuild by hiring coach Mike Babcock last spring and building up one of the best prospect pools in the league, there was a sliver of hope that Stamkos would leave Tampa for the chance to captain the fledgling Leafs up the standings.
Ultimately, what he chose instead was to stay with one of the best teams in the NHL. The Lightning were two wins from a Stanley Cup in 2015 and one win away from a return trip to the final this season, even as Stamkos sat sidelined for much of the playoffs undergoing treatment for a blot-clot issue.
They have one of the top owners in pro sports and an excellent young core of talent – which was why general manager Steve Yzerman was unwilling to budge from his modest offer to Stamkos. Unlike other, less-talented teams, he couldn't afford to give him everything to stay and still keep his roster together.
In the end, after waiting out the free-agency interview process the past five days, Yzerman won out, getting to keep his superstar at a discount.
"Excited to be back for eight more years," Stamkos posted on Twitter shortly after the extension was announced.
"It's not often that a player gets the chance to spend his career in one organization," he said later in a statement. "I'm hopeful that this agreement sets me on that path with the Lightning."
The entire free-agent wooing process unfolded quietly. Stamkos was free to talk to teams beginning last weekend at the draft in Buffalo, but he remained in Toronto to train and field offers, avoiding the circus. The last-place Leafs were one of the few teams to get an in-person audience.
While the business executives at Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment were drooling at the possibility of signing Stamkos and all the jerseys and sponsorships they could sell, those in hockey operations were less all-in. They realized they needed to be practical in adding a huge salary because of the salary cap and wouldn't have been willing to outbid teams such as the Sabres and Red Wings.
Stamkos turns 27 in the first year of his new contract and has suffered through more than one major injury. His production has also declined the past two seasons, and with the Leafs still years away from contention, how elite he will be five years down the road is a fair concern.
That's far less of a worry for Tampa. Yzerman still has plenty of contractual headaches, but his team's window to win is now.
Doing so without Stamkos would have been far more challenging, but now he won't have to try.
So another year of NHL free agency passes and another young Canadian star is not coming home. He is staying where it's nice and warm, and the wins are plentiful.
And the discount he gave wasn't to his hometown at all.
With reports from Jeff Gray and David Shoalts