TAMPA, Florida (AP) – if it is Ondrej PalatThe final round of the playoffs with the Tampa Bay Lightning, he certainly deserves attention.
Soon he could count on tens of millions of dollars under a new contract.
Expecting a free agent with big goalscoring skills combined with elite defensive prowess, Palat scored another big goal on Friday night to keep the two-time defending Lightning champion alive in the Stanley Cup Final against the Colorado Avalanche. He has led the NHL with eight game-winning goals since the start of the 2020 playoffs.
“He’s a special kid and a special player,” coach John Cooper said. “It perfectly complements experienced players, checkers – wherever you need it. He just does his job and gets rewarded for his efforts. And everyone in this room knows how much Chamber has brought to this organization.
Cooper essentially wrote a promotional offer for the rest of the league on behalf of Palat, a 31-year-old Czech winger who could be the last Lightning player to be squeezed by the salary cap and enter the open market.
Even at his age, Palat expected to get a raise for his current $5.3 million because he performs at the big moments the way any contender would want from a free agent.
“He’s not afraid to come forward at the big moments,” a linemate said. Nick Paul, an exchange deadline pickup from Lightning that can also get rich on free will. “He showed it over and over again. When you have a team and a lot of people ready to stand up and take advantage of the opportunity, it’s great.”
Palat appreciates the opportunity in the present more than what lies ahead for him this summer. One option is to re-sign with Lightning.
“It’s in my head,” Palat said before the start of the series. “But I’m just focused on the finale and then it’s time for the next step.”
Years ago, the Lightning went from underdog to title contender, and Palat became part of their core. He was part of a famous line of “triplets” with Nikita Kucherov as well as Tyler Johnson when Tampa Bay reached the Cup Final in 2015, and was instrumental in the team’s success with six trips to the Eastern Conference Finals and two league titles.
Cooper, the only professional Chamber coach in North America, doesn’t think the twice seventh round no-pick, almost Mister Irrelevant, gets enough credit for what he brings.
“He’s always the third guy that’s talked about in that line,” Cooper said of Palat playing with Briden Point and Kucherov. “But if you ask two other players on his lane, they’ll talk about him maybe the most.”
This is true because Palat is often the one who returns the puck to experienced linemates and clears a path for them to the net. Paul praised him for what he does off the ice, and Kucherov is well aware of everything Palat does at this time of year.
“He seems to enjoy those big moments and plays very well under pressure,” Kucherov said. “You’ve seen it in past playoffs and this playoff, so I’m very happy that he’s a teammate, that’s for sure.”
Even if it’s not for long, the Lightning are happy to have a player captain. Stephen Stamkos called “Sneaky P” contributes to another long-term run.
“He’s a gamer”, three-time champion Patrick Maroon said. “He finds a way every night. He plays right, he plays hard, he gets into dirty places and gets rewarded. When you do, you will be rewarded as you work hard for 200 feet and every inch of the game. He is a player.”