The work is completed…for now. Tampa Bay re-signed left winger Ondrej Palat to a five-year contract with an annual cap hit of $5.3 million, getting Lightning GM Steve Yzerman his entire coterie set for what should be a very successful 2017-18 campaign.
The Bolts are coming off a disappointing season that saw them miss the playoffs thanks to a devastating run of injuries, the most serious of which limited captain and Rocket Richard Trophy collector Steven Stamkos to just 17 games due to knee surgery.
But Yzerman once again had a strong summer and in getting Palat under contract long-term, he has set his franchise up for a Stanley Cup run not only in the coming year, but for several seasons after that.
Palat, of course, is part of the famed ‘Triplets’ line with center Tyler Johnson and right winger Nikita Kucherov. Palat is a versatile two-way threat who plays in all situations and kills the opposition with his playmaking ability.
With the exception of the Triplets, the Lightning lineup will look very different in the upcoming campaign. But what is remarkable is that Tampa Bay may be even better than before. A healthy Stamkos adds a ton more offense to the roster and the ascent of players such as Brayden Point and Yanni Gourde during last year’s medical turmoil gives the Lightning a great chance to bedevil opponents with matchup problems.
Sure, the loss of Jonathan Drouin stings – but the return in that trade, young blueliner Mikhail Sergachev, bolsters a back end that is built to thwart failure.
Victor Hedman is the undisputed No. 1 on the defense corps and he’ll make a run at the Norris Trophy next season. Anton Stralman and Braydon Coburn return with their veteran games, while Dan Girardi gets one last chance to prove he is still a viable NHLer. Should Girardi fail in that manner, Sergachev is just one of several youngsters who can take a crack at more minutes. Count Slater Koekkoek and Jake Dotchin in that company (Dotchin even partnered with Hedman last season when injury woes struck the back end).
In net, Andrei Vasilevskiy will start his first season as the undisputed No. 1 and I have no reason to believe he’ll be anything other than solid in that regard. As good as Ben Bishop is, we all knew he wasn’t going to be in Tampa at this point and the deadline trade to Los Angeles ended up being his short-term fate. There were only so many dollars to go around.
And while you may think that this was a salary cap “problem” for the Lightning, it really wasn’t. This is what you do when you are in your Cup window. The Blackhawks have been doing it for years, though Chicago is the gold-standard of money-moving since that franchise has three championships in the past decade.
But Tampa Bay can get to the top of the mountain now because Yzerman was willing to make bold moves and lose talent, just as long as it meant retaining key players.
Palat’s part of the collective was crucial to the success of the franchise, even if Drouin has more high-end offensive skill. Besides, the Lightning also brought in help on the wing in Chris Kunitz, who has more Cups than 22 different NHL franchises and is likely running out of brands of cereal to eat out of the chalice at this point.
Now, it’s just a matter of execution. If Stamkos stays healthy and the Triplets do their damage, the Lightning will breeze to playoff berth. From there, they have a top defenseman and an icy-veined goaltender. If all goes right, contract talk will be the least interesting part of Tampa Bay’s 2018 summer.
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