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Ondrej Palat was prepared for departure from Lightning

It was difficult having to leave the only organization he has known, but the home-grown wing knew his time in Tampa might be coming to an end.
Ondrej Palat will have a much different role in New Jersey, going from a battle-tested locker room full of veterans to a young, rebuilding Devils team.
Ondrej Palat will have a much different role in New Jersey, going from a battle-tested locker room full of veterans to a young, rebuilding Devils team. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Jul. 15|Updated Jul. 15

TAMPA — Ondrej Palat had been preparing himself all season for the possibility that it would be his last in a Lightning uniform.

He knew the team’s salary-cap situation, and he had seen other key players go elsewhere after becoming cap casualties. And with last season being his final one before free agency, he knew the money might not be there to keep him.

“Probably the whole year it was in my head, so I was preparing my family that maybe there will be a time that we might leave Tampa after the season and that’s what happened,” Palat said Friday morning during his Devils’ introductory media availability. “I knew exactly a week ago that I’m not going to sign with Tampa and I was going to hit free agency.”

Palat, whose entire 10-year career has been spent in the Lightning organization, signed a five-year, $30 million deal with New Jersey. And even though he spent a lot of his time playing in the shadow of other star players, he leaves as a big part of what made the Lightning a championship-caliber team during most of the past decade.

When Palat received his first taste of the NHL during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, the Lightning had the third-fewest points in the league. Over time, the core group that included Palat grew into a winner.

He was part of teams that advanced to four Stanley Cup finals over the past eight years, including the back-to-back championships in 2020 and 2021. Palat was one of the team’s top playoff performers over that stretch. His 48 career postseason goals rank second on the franchise’s all-time list, and his 12 game-winning playoff goals are third most in the league among active players.

“Winning two Stanley Cups with the guys, that was amazing,” Palat said. “But the whole 10 years, how we came from the (bottom), before I got there, they were at the bottom of the league and then we were just starting to get better and better. And it took a lot of years to make it to win the Stanley Cup, but it was fun to see the whole team getting better and more mature, and that we won.”

“I was sad, I’m not gonna lie, to leave Tampa after 10 years,” Palat added. “But I was kind of preparing myself over the year that there’s going to be a chance that I was going to leave Tampa. It’s a business.”

Palat said there were discussions between the team and his agent, and terms were discussed, but “it just wouldn’t work.”

Palat is looking forward to getting north soon to get his family, which includes 3-year-old daughter Adela (who has never seen snow), settled in their new home.

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“The last couple of weeks were an emotional roller-coaster, from being in the playoffs and losing and then getting to the free-agency market,” Palat said. “So it’s different. I’ve been in Tampa for 10 years and now we’re happy I signed with New Jersey. But everything’s going to be new for us.”

Palat will have a much different role, going from a battle-tested locker room full of veterans to a young, rebuilding Devils team, where he will be counted on to be a leader and pass on his championship-winning pedigree.

“I think I was a little bit of a leader, too, leading by example on the ice,” Palat said. “But yeah, I’m ready. I’m ready to be a leader and help the young guys a little bit out and I’m very excited. ...I think New Jersey has a great young team and they’re ready for the next step.”

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