Few players in Tampa Bay Lightning history have the legacy of Ondrej Palat. We all know the story by now. As an overage seventh-round selection at the 2011 NHL Draft, Palat defied all expectations by breaking out with the Lightning’s then-AHL affiliate, the Norfolk Admirals.
After helping to lead the Admirals to the 2012 Calder Cup, Palat received a brief call-up during the 2012-13 season before taking over a starting role with the franchise. Now, with nearly 500 games played and more than 300 points scored with the Lightning, he has become a bit of a local hockey legend.
However, in recent years, things have started getting tougher for Palat. A near-constant string of injuries has severely limited his play, reducing his overall ice time and scoring potential.
As one of the Lightning’s more expensive forwards, making $5.3 million a year through 2021-22, the franchise may have to take a serious look at moving on from their former star in order to clear some needed cap space to sign the next generation of talent. So, should Tampa Bay look to trade Palat during the 2020 offseason?
A Healthy Palat is a Dominant Player
Before we talk about a potential trade, we need to discuss just what made Palat so important to the franchise. While other forwards like Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov took over the headlines with their scoring prowess, Palat was consistently one of if not the Lightning’s best defensive forwards early in his career.
As best said by Lauren Burg of THW:
Palat is a coach’s dream and opposition’s nightmare when on the ice. He’s usually the level-headed guy who makes all the right reads and reacts quickly enough to foil any plans the other team has.
This made him unique at the time, as Tampa Bay was always great at scoring goals, but lacked those tough puck-hound players who could change the course of play in the defensive zone.
Even as he struggled with injuries, when Palat was on the ice, he made the Lightning a better team. You could see a difference in play from the entire team when he was in the lineup compared to the games when he was out.
Has Palat Been Replaced in Lightning’s Lineup?
In a perfect world, the Lightning would love to keep Palat in their starting lineup for the final two seasons of his five-year contract, as he provides more positives than negatives when he is playing well. However, due to an influx of youth needing raises this offseason, he may have to be sacrificed to clear some cap space.
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See, Palat is no longer unique as one of the Lightning’s only and best defensive forwards. In recent years, new blood like Brayden Point and Anthony Cirelli have not only taken over starting roles with the franchise, but they have become some of the best two-way forwards in the entire NHL.
As he has become less necessary in the lineup, some questions about Palat’s play have been raised. For the money he’s making, he should be better than just a good two-way forward. He needs to be that dominant force who can change the pace of a game, especially in the postseason.
Palat Needs a Strong 2020 Playoffs
Due to the full no-trade clause attached to his contract and his relatively low market value, it seems unlikely that the Lightning would be able to move on from Palat before the 2021 offseason. At that point, he will have a modified no-trade clause, which will give the franchise some flexibility on the trade market.
However, of all the players in the Lightning’s lineup, Palat needs to showcase why he’s still a premier forward in the 2020 playoffs. Even if everything is upside-down in that regards right now, it appears that he will get that chance.
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Considering that the 2019-20 season was one of his best in recent memory, Palat might have been setting up for a big postseason. If he can go out and take on meaningful playing time while helping lead the Lightning back to Stanley Cup contention, then he will be well worth his cost rather than being traded for a few draft picks.