Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman completed his off-season to-do list by signing “model player” Ondrej Palat to a $26.5 million, five-year deal.
The Lightning and Palat avoided arbitration and settled on the contract Friday. The Czech left winger will count $5.3 million against the salary cap through the 2021-22 season.
The 26-year-old Palat had 17 goals and 35 assists in 75 games last season. He has 74 goals and 144 assists in 307 NHL games and is considered one of the better defensive wingers in hockey.
“His value is probably greater than if you just look at the goals and assists,” Yzerman said by phone. “He’s really a complete player. He plays in all situations for us, and he’s very effective in all situations. Whether we’re on the power play, killing a penalty, 5-on-5, we’re up a goal, down a goal, late in the game it’s tied — he’s going to be in in all those situations, and he plays really hard.”
Palat played all 26 games of the Lightning’s run to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, scoring eight goals and adding eight assists. He was a seventh-round pick, 208th overall, in 2011 and got a significant raise from his previous $3.3 million salary.
Yzerman said his two biggest off-season priorities were re-signing Palat and fellow restricted free-agent Tyler Johnson, who got a $35 million, seven-year deal before an arbitration hearing was necessary.
“Our plan was to get them signed,” Yzerman said. “We were able to get that accomplished and we’re pleased that we could sign them to long-term deals and know that we’re going to have them for quite a while. … They really represent what we want Lightning players to be.”
Five of Tampa Bay’s top-six forwards — Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Johnson, Palat and Alex Killorn — are signed through at least the next two seasons. Despite missing the playoffs last year amid injuries to Stamkos and others, the Lightning have no shortage of offensive talent, with Palat representing a mix of skill and responsible play.
“I don’t want to undersell his ability because he can make plays,” Yzerman said about Palat. “I think he’s a guy that regardless of who he’s playing with, everybody wants to play with him because he does all the little things really, really well.”
The Lightning also cleared cap space and improved their blue line by trading forward Jonathan Drouin to Montreal for young defenceman Mikhail Sergachev, re-signed defenceman Andrej Sustr and forward Yanni Gourde and signed winger Chris Kunitz and defenceman Dan Girardi.
With Kucherov up for another contract in two years, Yzerman is always mindful of the cap and got all these moves done with some room to spare.
“The contracts came in how they did and the changes we made, it worked out that we’re still under the cap,” he said.