Late Sunday afternoon, Lightning forward Mathieu Joseph was enjoying his off day with teammate Alex Killorn at the Valspar Championship in Palm Harbor. Just hours later, he was being told he had been traded to Ottawa for forward Nick Paul and a 2024 fourth-round draft pick.
General manager Julien BriseBois thought he was done making deals after Friday’s trade for Blackhawks forward Brandon Hagel. Tampa Bay’s lack of salary cap space made another move unlikely, but the team continued to work to find opportunities to upgrade.
BriseBois said he was looking to add more size and physicality to the forward group, and Paul’s game fit that. Pairing Paul, 27, with Hagel, both of whom possess strong forechecking games, on a line centered by Ross Colton could provide the makings of a lockdown line that the Lightning have looked to build since losing their third line in the offseason.
“His game is molded for playoff hockey success,” BriseBois said of the 6-foot-3, 224-pound Paul. “He is big and heavy and physical. He blocks a lot of shots, and he can play both center and wing. We saw some additional value in acquiring another player that can play the center position.”
As for Joseph, a contributing member of the back-to-back Stanley Cup-winning teams, he can be a restricted free agent this summer, and the Lightning didn’t think they’d be able to retain him through the arbitration process. Given their cap constraints, the Lightning were in a position where they were unlikely to make Joseph a qualifying offer.
“Therefore, we viewed Mathieu as a pending unrestricted free agent, same as Nick, and that also factored into our decision to proceed with this evening’s trade,” BriseBois said.
Ottawa is retaining 44.5 percent of Paul’s $1.35 million salary, about $600,000, to keep the Lightning under the salary cap.
On Friday, the Lightning sent forwards Taylor Raddysh and Boris Katchouk and first-round picks in 2023 and 2024 to Chicago for Hagel, who played his first game for Tampa Bay on Saturday against the Rangers. With Joseph now gone, the Lightning moved three of their young forwards over the past three days, but BriseBois is confident that they are improved and better positioned for another deep playoff run.
“We’ve lost one player’s worth of depth, but I like the mix that we have now better,” BriseBois said. “I think that the ceiling of this group is higher, and we have other players. Come playoff time, there’s no more salary cap at that point. We can recall players; we have a number of players in (AHL) Syracuse that could come in and contribute.
“I like the group that we have right now. And I like the group that we have right now more than I like the group that we had on Thursday, which is why we made the decisions that we’ve made.”
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Paul had a career-high 11 goals and seven assists in 59 games with Ottawa this season. He is averaging a career-high 17:22 of ice time — including 2:12 on the penalty kill — and was third among Senators forwards in blocked shots (41) and ranked seventh among forwards on the team in hits (67). Paul also won 333 faceoffs, second most on Ottawa’s roster, with a 49 percent win percentage.
Joseph, who was drafted and developed by the Lightning, has eight goals and 18 points this season in 58 games. The 25-year-old had made significant strides in his overall game. He meshed well with newcomer Pierre-Edouard Bellemare as a key forward pair on the penalty kill and scored two shorthanded goals. He was still working on how to best utilize his speed, but he was averaging a career-high 13:42 of ice time.
“It’s not like we were looking to move Mathieu,” BriseBois said. “But again, once we were in a position to acquire Brandon Hagel on Friday, then we kind of looked and asked, ‘OK, what does our group look like now? … How can we improve our odds of success here?’
“We’re going to go into the playoffs. It’s (a) different type of hockey, and we felt like we could use some more physicality from our forward group.”
Joseph brought youthful energy to the locker room. The team saw him grow up and become a piece of the championship club. BriseBois said it was difficult telling Joseph he was being traded to a team that is tied for the second-fewest points in the Eastern Conference.
“I got to know his family, his parents, his brother. I saw him work his way from juniors to the AHL to the NHL,” BriseBois said. “He was part of our group that won the last two Stanley Cups. He’s an important contributor to those two Cups and he is just such a joy to be around, just a quality, quality human being.
“So not the most fun part of my job telling a guy like him that he won’t be part of our upcoming run.”
Asked whether BriseBois believed after the Paul trade that he was finished making moves before today’s 3 p.m. trade deadline, he said, “I think I’m done.”
“But that doesn’t mean we stop working,” he said. “But I think we’re done. We didn’t have any cap space before we did any of this. So I don’t expect us to do anything else.”
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