Lightning Reaching a Crossroads With Franchise Face

As a franchise attempting to keep their Stanley Cup window wide open, the Tampa Bay Lightning have suffered cap casualties in order to stay compliant while still icing a team that can win it all. The 2021 offseason was particularly brutal, as the Lightning saw fan favorites like Tyler Johnson, Blake Coleman, and Barclay Goodrow depart due to cost constraints. These were players the franchise certainly wanted to hold onto, but simply couldn’t as the cap bore down on them.

In 2022, it’s looking like another franchise favorite could be the next cap casualty. That is none other than the Lightning’s best seventh-round draft pick of all time, Ondrej Palat.

Ondrej Palat Tampa Bay Lightning
Since he was drafted 208th overall in the 2011 entry-level draft, Ondrej Palat exceeded all expectations with the Tampa Bay Lightning while proving himself to be a face of the franchise. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

Heading into the 2021-22 season, Palat was in the final year of a five-year, $5.3 million per year extension he signed in 2017. By all metrics, the previous four years were a rousing success for both parties, as he went on to be a key player on the top-line of their back-to-back Stanley Cup championships. Not only that, but he is a player that is truly beloved by the fanbase. His story is remarkable, as his hard work and determination to reach this level of success are impossible to deny.

Despite this, with the cap hanging heavy over the Lightning, they might once again be forced to say goodbye to another fan favorite in the 2022 offseason.

Palat Will Have to Choose Money or the Lightning

After experiencing a remarkable breakout during his rookie season and as a member of the famed “Triplets” line back in 2014, Palat settled into a fairly consistent role with Tampa Bay. When he was healthy, he was good for a 20-goal, 50-point scoring pace along with a solid defensive acumen that made him a menace to play against. Besides this, in both the 2020 and 2021 playoffs, he played dominant hockey on the Lightning’s top line, contributing key points when the team needed it most.

If Palat continues this trend in the 2022 playoffs, he will likely draw a lot of interest from the hockey world when he reaches unrestricted free agency this summer, which means he could receive a significant contract offer that the Lightning simply can’t match.

Related: Underrated Lightning and Senators Trade Already Paying Dividends

Realistically, if Tampa Bay wanted to bring back Palat, he would have to be willing to play at a discount, likely in the $3 to $4 million range. If he were to sign for that amount, that would give them enough room to try and retain a new player like Nick Paul, who found immediate chemistry with the Lightning after he was acquired in a trade-deadline deal with the Ottawa Senators.

Ondrej Palat Tampa Bay Lightning
While Palat may not be the biggest star for the Lightning, he is the sort of hockey player every general manager wants to add to their franchise in free agency. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Given his pedigree both on the ice and off it, it’s hard to imagine a $3 million offer being enough to resign him. For a young team looking to round the corner on a rebuild, Palat could be that perfect veteran player to plug into the roster who can play top-six minutes while bringing a championship presence to the locker room.

When you look at the money players make in free agency, it would be shocking if he didn’t get at least one offer of $5 million, which would be well worth it to the right franchise. While Palat is due that type of extension, it would likely push him out of the Lightning’s pay grade.

Lightning Want to Keep Palat but Not at All Costs

When it comes down to it, the Lightning don’t want to lose Palat in free agency, but much like with Johnson, Coleman, and Goodrow, that decision is likely outside of their control. If he is willing to take a discount he could return to the franchise, but no one would blame him for following the money to a new franchise.

Related: Blackhawks’ Worst Trades of All-Time

So, the reality of the situation Tampa Bay finds themselves in is that this may be the last playoff run with Palat. No matter the outcome or what the future brings, however, he will always be a fan favorite, and you can make a strong argument that his number belongs in the rafters one day.

Latest News & Highlights