Say goodbye to Ondrej Palat and hello to another future Lightning
BRANDON – Finally happened. Inevitable is finally here.
The door to the Lightning’s locker room remained open long enough for one of the team’s key members to venture outside. Ondrej Palat is gone, and nothing replaces this Lightning juju.
To be fair, that day is long overdue. Some might say the process started a year ago when Tyler Johnson was traded to Chicago. Or when Yanni Gourde was snatched from the expansion draft.
But there is an undeniable sense of finality in Palat’s impending departure. Maybe it’s the totality of all the defections, or maybe it’s the closeness to Palat’s recent playoff exploits.
Whatever the cause, this is the new reality. Tampa Bay still has a playoff-worthy roster, it’s still a Stanley Cup contender, but it’s no longer the bane of the NHL.
So, yes, it’s a sad day. A painful day.
And maybe – just maybe – a healthy day.
I’m not saying the Lightning are a better team today than they were a month ago. If the salary cap wasn’t an issue, Palat, Ryan McDonagh, Blake Coleman and a few other players would still be around. The Lightning could even win three consecutive Stanley Cups with a very good chance of winning a fourth.
But if the salary cap meant taking down a generational roster sooner than necessary, it also prevented the Lightning from living in the past for too long.
Moving the contracts of McDonagh, 33, Johnson, 31, and Yanni Gourde, 30, allowed the Lightning to sign long-term deals with Mikhail Sergachev, 24, Anthony Cirelli, 24, and Erik Cernak, 25. , this week. Allowing Palat, 31, to leave via free agency has created enough space to re-sign Nick Paul, 27, and acquire Vladislav Namestnikov, 29.
So are the Lightning less imposing today? Yeah, I think they are. But they are also much younger, and perhaps a little more versatile than in the past.
“It’s just the reality of (the) situation,” Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois said. “Not only do we have a strict salary cap, we have a salary cap that is flat and we have other players who have just entered their bonuses and who are going to be very good players for a very long time for us and we have just running out of ceiling space.
They say if you want to dance you eventually have to pay the fiddler. In this case, if you want to organize a boat parade, you will end up failing the salary cap.
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The Lightning have five players – Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman and Andrei Vasilevskiy – who are among the best in the world at their positions. They also earn around $45 million. Add Alex Killorn and you have six players eating 60% of the entire salary cap next season.
That means BriseBois needs to round up the remaining three-quarters of the roster with around 40% of its funds available.
“It’s just the reality of the competitive system that’s in place,” BriseBois said. “Some players, as much as you’d like to keep them and as much as they’d like to stay, ultimately you can’t put everyone under the cap.”
A year and a week ago, the Lightning won the Stanley Cup. Tampa Bay has used 20 skaters throughout this playoff series and exactly half of them are gone now.
Some were small players – Mathieu Joseph and Luke Schenn. Some were complementary players — David Savard, Barclay Goodrow and Jan Rutta. And more than a handful were, at one time or another, key ingredients – Palat, McDonagh, Johnson, Coleman and Gourde.
No matter how you try to coat this, no matter how excited you might be about Namestnikov’s arrivals with defenders Ian Cole, Phillipe Myers and Haydn Fleury, it’s not the same roster that arrived unless two Stanley Cup wins last month.
It’s unfortunate. And, as BriseBois said, it’s not ideal.
But it’s not like hope and optimism follow McDonagh and Palat out the door. The Lightning are still a great team. They still have a chance of glory in a year.
It’s just that the Lightning will look different when they return to the ice. And maybe, in the end, it won’t be such a bad thing.
Jean Romano can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.
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