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The Lightning already has scorers, so what did it really want with Joe Pavelski?

Tampa Bay made a strong pitch for the All-Star forward who signed with Dallas on Monday, and the reasons might have gone beyond the obvious.
San Jose Sharks center Joe Pavelski (8) against the Chicago Blackhawks during an NHL hockey game in San Jose, Calif., Sunday, March 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
San Jose Sharks center Joe Pavelski (8) against the Chicago Blackhawks during an NHL hockey game in San Jose, Calif., Sunday, March 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Published Jul. 1, 2019
Updated Jul. 2, 2019

TAMPA – Let’s talk about the guy the Lightning did not sign on Monday.

To me, he is the most fascinating of all the players Tampa Bay was chasing on the first day of free agency. Not just because Joe Pavelski was the biggest name and the most expensive player on the Lightning’s radar, but because of what it says about the team’s concerns.

Tampa Bay had the most explosive offense in the NHL last season, and is struggling to fit all of its current players under the salary cap. Which leads to an obvious question:

Why chase another goal-scorer?

Related: MORE LIGHTNING: Bolts add a third goalie in Curtis McElhinney

Clearly, Pavelski would make Tampa Bay a better team. He was a three-time All-Star in San Jose and averaged 34 goals over the past half-dozen seasons. And, had he signed with Tampa Bay instead of going to Dallas for a three-year, $21-million contract, the Lightning probably could have cleared some extra cap space with another trade or two.

Yet statistics, and logic, suggest the Lightning could use more help on the defensive end of the ice.

So why would a team with three younger, 40-goal scorers be willing to make such a costly commitment to a soon-to-turn 35-year-old forward?

Here are three possible reasons:

1. Pavelski is a different species compared to Tampa Bay’s twin superstars, Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov. Over the past two seasons, Stamkos is second in the NHL in goals scored via the slap shot. When it comes to wrist shots, Kucherov is fifth and Brayden Point is eighth.

In other words, these are supremely skilled shooters. The kind of players who end up leading SportsCenter’s NHL roundup because of the beauty of their games.

Pavelski, on the other hand, is first in the NHL the past two seasons in deflected goals. He’s 10th in tipped goals. He’s a guy who plants himself in front of the net, and endures the hits, shoves and slashes required to score the dirty goals.

Last season, 11 of Pavelski’s 38 goals were on tips and deflections. Of the 127 combined goals for Stamkos, Kucherov and Point, only eight were on tips and deflections.

Might a player with more net presence have made a difference when Columbus clogged up the neutral zone and took away Tampa Bay’s offensive speed in the first round of the NHL playoffs?

2. Stamkos is the Lightning captain, and the conduit between the players and coach Jon Cooper. He is beloved in the community and respected in the locker room.

But is it possible the Lightning would like another veteran voice? A player with the resume and the presence to speak up before a playoff bump becomes a playoff collapse?

Something was lost when Ryan Callahan effectively retired last month, and it wasn’t the handful of goals he scored the past few seasons. Callahan could set an example for younger players, but that gets harder to do the less you play.

And now, three of the four oldest players in the locker room will not be back with Callahan walking away, and Anton Stralman and Dan Girardi heading elsewhere. Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois said the signing of 36-year-old goaltender Curtis McElhinney on Monday was done with that in mind.

Still, Pavelski would have been an important voice.

“It was an opportunity to bring in a premier player who also has a lot of leadership. It was part and parcel as to why we had interest in him,’’ BriseBois said. “But ... I don’t feel that we’re short leadership-wise. We have a lot of leaders.’’

3. You don’t see too many guys in their late 30s near the top of the NHL scoring list, and yet the Lightning was willing to pay Pavelski serious money for several seasons. And if you think Tampa Bay’s salary cap is being stretched for 2019-20, just wait until the following season.

It almost makes you wonder if the Lightning is so cognizant of its window possibly closing due to salary cap restraints that it’s willing to risk future seasons by getting the one player Tampa Bay feels could put the team over the top in next season’s Stanley Cup chase.

Contact John Romano at Follow at @romano_tbtimes.


  1. Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Alex Killorn (17) celebrate after he beats Arizona Coyotes goaltender Adin Hill (31) to score the first goal of the game during first period action at Amalie Arena on Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020 in Tampa. [DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    The Lightning forward has hovered just below 20 goals for years and finally reached the mark on Friday.
  2. Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) leads the celebration as players contratulate right wing Nikita Kucherov (86) after he beat Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick (32) to tie the game 3-3 in the final moments during third period action at Amalie Arena on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020 in Tampa. The Lightning went on to win 4 to 3 in the shootout.  [DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    Tampa Bay went from sixth place in the Atlantic Division to second behind a 10-game win streak.
  3. Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck (37) gets beaten by a shot from Tampa Bay Lightning's Nikita Kucherov (86) as Lightning's Steven Stamkos (91) looks on during first-period NHL hockey game action in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Friday, Jan. 17, 2020. [JOHN WOODS  |  AP]
    Tampa Bay pours on the goals with seven total, including two from Nikita Kucherov.
  4. Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Luke Schenn (2) celebrates his goal, the first of the game, along with right wing Nikita Kucherov (86), defenseman Mikhail Sergachev (98) and center Tyler Johnson (9) beating New York Rangers goaltender Alexandar Georgiev (40) during first period action at Amalie Arena on Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019 in Tampa. [DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    Tampa Bay also reassigned Alex Volkov to AHL Syracuse as Pat Maroon returned to the lineup.
  5. Minnesota Wild's Zach Parise (11) tries to control the puck the puck against Tampa Bay Lightning's Jan Rutta (44) during the first period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020, in St. Paul, Minn. [HANNAH FOSLIEN  |  AP]
    Tampa Bay falls off a recent trend of strong defense and lets Minnesota dictate the game.
  6. Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper watches from the bench as his team plays against the Minnesota Wild during the second period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020, in St. Paul, Minn. [HANNAH FOSLIEN  |  AP]
    Even if the play is erased by an earlier offsides, the penalty still must be served.
  7. Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh (27) in the tunnel before heading out to the ice for warms ups before taking on the New York Rangers at Amalie Arena on Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019 in Tampa.  [DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    Playing in Minnesota is special for McDonagh, who grew up 12 miles from St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center.
  8. Canada's Geneviève Lacasse (31) blocks a shot by United States' Kendall Coyne Schofield (26) during the third period of a rivalry series women's hockey game in Hartford, Conn., Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer) [MICHAEL DWYER  |  AP]
    Teams representing the United States and Canada will play a 3-on-3 scrimmage as part of the festivities in St. Louis next week.
  9. TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 14: (Editor's Note: Image was digitally altered)  The Tampa Bay Lightning host the Los Angeles Kings fathers, brothers and mentors during the Kings' annual team trip at Amalie Arena on January 14, 2020 in Tampa. (Photo by Casey Brooke Lawson/NHLI via Getty Images) [CASEY BROOKE LAWSON  |  NHLI via Getty Images]
    The Kings are the latest team to bring their annual trip to Tampa. The Capitals and Senators have also done so this year.
  10. Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Alexander Volkov (92) before Tuesday's game against the Los Angeles Kings. [CHRIS O'MEARA  |  AP]
    Also, Kings’ Jonathan Quick takes a Steven Stamkos one-timer up high.