TAMPA — Nick Paul has spent most of his career striving for stability, doing everything he can to stick on an NHL roster.
Now the Lightning have made the 27-year-old forward part of their long-term future, signing Paul to a seven-year deal worth just over $22 million. Paul could have been an unrestricted free agent when the period begins July 13.
With a deal through the 2028-29 season, Paul is the second-longest-signed player on the roster behind center Brayden Point, whose deal goes through 2029-30.
Paul has played just 54 games in a Lightning uniform — 23 of those in the playoffs — since being acquired in a trade with the Senators in March. But following a postseason debut in which Paul showed his skills and versatility, retaining him became the Lightning’s top priority.
“It’s a cool feeling to feel wanted like that, and for it to happen so quick … seven years, it’s a long time,” Paul said Friday. “And for them to have that confidence in me and to believe that I’m just going to better my game and be a better player and continue to help this team be successful and they see that for seven years is really huge.
“It wasn’t a hard decision for me. I wasn’t looking around. I knew that this is where I wanted to be. And thankfully we got it done.”
On Tuesday, Paul expressed his desire to get back to the playoffs — this was the first time he had played in the postseason in his six-plus years in the NHL — and said the Lightning’s winning culture and welcoming atmosphere made him feel at home quickly.
“Just the culture of coming in that (dressing) room and just fitting in right away definitely made me feel like I want to be here for a long time,” Paul said. “I love the guys, I love the organization, how everything’s treated, everything’s top notch. … Everything’s just about succeeding and winning championships.
“And that’s just something that I loved and I felt like it helped me play a little bit better. And when the season ended, I called my agent, I said, ‘Hey, this is a place that I want to be.’ I’m just thrilled to be here long term.”
Despite the Lightning’s salary-cap constraints, general manager Julien BriseBois promised Paul an aggressive, quick negotiation, and a deal was finalized five days after the season ended in a Game 6 loss to the Avalanche in the Stanley Cup final.
Signing Paul, whose average annual salary is $3.15 million, puts the Lightning more than $5 million over next season’s $82.5 million salary cap, according to NHL contract website CapFriendly.
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Forward Ondrej Palat and defenseman Jan Rutta can become unrestricted free agents July 13. BriseBois said Tuesday he would like to keep all them as well.
Paul was arguably one of the Lightning’s top players in their run to a third straight Cup final. He scored both goals in a Game 7 win at Toronto in the first round and scored the winning goal in a Game 3 win over Colorado in the Cup final.
Paul was a top forward on the penalty kill and earned time on the second power-play group. He played on the top two lines, at center and wing, and he took 31 percent of the faceoffs in the final three games of the final when center Anthony Cirelli was unable to, winning 59 percent.
“I think that comes from just me going up and down so much,” said Paul, who spent most of his first four NHL seasons shuttling between the Senators and the AHL. “Whatever position I had to play to make the NHL … whether it was being a guy that was just an energy guy going out and hitting, trying to get in the (penalty kill) … one thing I really worked on was my draws. If I’m not getting a bunch of time and opportunity in the NHL and get my callups, I wanted to make sure that I can do everything I can to get more ice, and draws was one of them.
“To think five years ago, six years ago, four years ago, just how hard I was grinding just to make (an) AHL (salary of) $70,000, $100,000 to this, it just really puts in perspective the situation and how grateful and how lucky I am. It still hasn’t sunk in yet.”
Lightning waive goalie prospect
The Lightning waived goalie prospect Amir Miftakhov, who spent time between AHL Syracuse and ECHL Orlando. Miftakhov, a 2020 sixth-round draft pick, played 27 games this season (22 with the Crunch) and registered a combined goals-against average of 2.63. In 2021, he signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Lightning.
Times staff writer Mari Faiello contributed to this report. Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieintheYard.
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