TAMPA — Nick Perbix is still getting used to this NHL thing, so he didn’t think this day was on the horizon.
He knew he had played well enough to secure a spot in the Lightning lineup, but it wasn’t until about a week ago, when he was advised to start looking for long-term housing in Tampa, that he realized a contract extension might be possible.
Perbix has played in just 29 NHL games, and even though the Lightning have been impressed with his play in a smaller sample size, the 24-year-old kept his head down and tried to improve his game every day.
Monday, the Lightning rewarded the rookie right-shot defenseman with a two-year extension worth an annual average value of $1.125 million that will keep him in a Tampa Bay uniform through the 2024-25 season.
“Honestly, I’m still trying to wrap my head around it a little bit,” Perbix said. “I mean, a lot has happened in the last 12 months for me, but I’m just really grateful. And it’s about getting better every day, because the goal is to earn another deal after this and not stop here. I can’t rest on my laurels, but it’s definitely a good feeling right now.”
Perbix wasn’t going anywhere, though being the only waiver-exempt player on the roster made a return trip to the minors a possibility. But as he continued to impress the Lightning with his poise both with and without the puck and showed increasing confidence in his offensive game, the focus became on locking him up for the next two seasons.
The biggest question for the Lightning entering this season was how they would rebuild their defense corps after losing left-shot defenseman Ryan McDonagh and right-shot defenseman Jan Rutta, and being without right-shot defenseman Zach Bogosian (who had offseason shoulder surgery) for the first five weeks.
Perbix didn’t make the team’s roster out of training camp, but he put himself on the short list of potential early call-ups. He signed a one-year, entry-level contract in March carrying a $842,500 cap hit. He finished his college career at St. Cloud State and played for Team USA in the Beijing Olympics before joining AHL Syracuse last season.
He was promoted in the first week of the season, making his debut in the Oct. 18 home opener against Philadelphia. His ice time gradually has increased in the time since (he averages 15:26 per game), and he’s shown the ability to play with any left-shot defenseman.
Perbix, who entered Monday night’s games second among NHL rookie defensemen in goals (three) and tied for 10th in scoring (eight points), quickly has become another late-round success story for the Lightning, who took Perbix in the sixth round of the 2017 draft.
“It’s much-needed depth for a blue line that’s been obviously shaken up in the last couple of years because of some departures,” head coach Jon Cooper said. “He’s come in and contributed for us in a positive way. So it’s a win-win for everybody.
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“It’s a little different for Perbix, because he spent some time in college, so the pro game’s a little new to him. But he’s done a heck of a job for us, and one thing about him, he will just continue to work and not rest on this saying he’s made it or anything. And that’s what we like about him.”
The Lightning receive cost certainty by extending Perbix now, avoiding a potential arbitration situation this offseason, when he was slated to become a restricted free agent. Securing a young player like Perbix for the next two seasons on a team-friendly deal is not only important but critical for the Lightning, who will again face severe salary-cap restrictions.
The Lightning already have several large existing contracts on the books — including Andrei Vasilevskiy ($9.5 million cap hit), Nikita Kucherov ($9.5 million), Brayden Point ($9.5 million), Steven Stamkos ($8.5 million) and Victor Hedman ($7.875 million) — and the eight-year extensions for Mikhail Sergachev ($8.5 million), Anthony Cirelli ($6,25 million) and Erik Cernak ($5.2 million) kick in next season.
In all, the Lightning already have $80.337 million committed to 14 signed players for next season, leaving them very little room to fill out their roster under the $83.5 million cap for 2023-24.
“(Perbix’s extension) is huge for us,” said defenseman Victor Hedman, whose contract also goes through 2024-25. “It gives us some clarity in how the D-corps is going to look for the next two years. ‘Perby’ plays some really good hockey, he’s very poised, (he has) some stuff to improve, obviously, but to see him play the way he has played is very impressive. So we’re very excited for him to get that extension.”
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