TAMPA– The Tampa Bay Lightning want to sign pending unrestricted free agent forwards Ondrej Palat and Nicholas Paul and defender Jan Ruettasaid general manager Julien BriseBois on Tuesday.
“I’ve already been in touch with all three of their agents and have had preliminary talks over the past 36 hours,” BriseBois said. “I know all three would like to stay here and we would like to keep them.”
BriseBois addressed the media two days after the Lightning saw their dream of a third straight Stanley Cup championship with a 2-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals on Sunday.
“I’m trying to put on a brave face, but nobody goes into the Stanley Cup Finals not to win the trophy,” said BriseBois. “You come to the Stanley Cup Finals to bring home the trophy, especially this year when we had a unique opportunity to win three Stanley Cups in a row.”
BriseBois said his focus over the next few weeks will be the 2022 Upper Deck NHL Draft at the Bell Center in Montreal on July 7-8, the start of NHL Free Agency on July 13, and managing the NHL salary cap (82 $.5 million next season). BriseBois said he has some flexibility with the cap, which should help him keep Paul, Palat and Rutta.
Paul was acquired by the Lightning in a trade with the Ottawa Senators for the forward Matthew Joseph and a fourth-round pick in the 2024 NHL Draft on March 20.
Paul had 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in 21 regular-season games with Tampa Bay and nine points (five goals, four assists) in the playoffs, including both goals in the 2-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 7 the first round of the Eastern Conference.
“I think we read him well as players,” said BriseBois. “I think that he got to play in the NHL playoffs, which he had never done before and allowed him to show how much of a player he is.
“If anything, that’s probably the quality that sets me apart. He’s a great player. He has struggled with many injuries for a long time and still played at a very high level in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Very impressive.”
BriseBois said Paul played through a sprained AC joint in his shoulder.
Paul, who signed a two-year, $2.7 million ($1.35 million average annual value) contract with the Senators on Oct. 14, 2020, said he wants to stay in Tampa.
“Obviously I love it here,” said the 27-year-old. “I’m a free agent this summer, but Tampa is definitely a place I’ve really enjoyed being in. I like the guys on the team. I’m speaking to my agent right now and he knows my thoughts. We will see.
“Everything about this organization is top notch. I definitely got a front row seat to how I was treated and how my family was treated. And the other thing is the group of guys in this room. From the guides they have there to the staff is amazing. All they want is success. All are all together. Everyone has a vote.”
Selected by the Lightning in the seventh round (#208) of the 2011 NHL Draft, Palat has played his entire 10-year NHL career at Tampa Bay. He had 49 points (18 goals, 31 assists) in the regular season and 21 points (11 goals, 10 assists) in the playoffs, including the deciding goal in Games 3 and 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals against New York Rangers and game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals.
He has 12 game-winning goals in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, ranking third among active NHL players Joe Pavelski of the Dallas Stars (14) and Yevgeny Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins (13).
He signed a five-year, $26.5 million ($5.3 million AAV) deal with Lightning on July 14, 2017.
Lightning trainer Jon Cooper has described Palat as someone who “has the ability to play this worker game with employees.”
Rutta was acquired by the Lightning in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks for a fifth-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft and defensive tackle Slater Koekkoek on January 11, 2019.
He had 18 points (three goals, 15 assists) in 76 games this season and five points (one goal, four assists) in 17 playoff games. Rutta often played like this Victor Hedman‘s defense partner in Tampa Bay.
He signed a two-year, $2.6 million ($1.3 million AAV) deal with Lightning on December 22, 2020.
BriseBois believes Lightning’s championship window can stay open for the next few seasons, and the moves he’s making this offseason will come with hopes of lifting another trophy.
“I don’t think we’re done chasing Stanley Cups here,” BriseBois said. “We’re set up to be a really competitive team for the foreseeable future and hopefully at some point the Stars will align for us again and we can bring the Stanley Cup back to Tampa Bay.”