TAMPA — The Lightning have shipped off the Big Rig. The Florida Man is heading north.
Forward Pat Maroon — the Lightning’s top tough guy, one of the team’s locker room leaders and a consummate winner — was traded to the Minnesota Wild on Sunday night along with minor-league forward Max Cajkovic for a seventh-round pick in next year’s draft.
The Lightning will retain 20 percent of Maroon’s contract. He was making just $1 million in the final year of a two-year extension he signed in February 2022, so Tampa Bay will cover $200,000.
Through two days of free agency, the Lightning have almost completely retooled their bottom two forward lines with an effort to get faster and better defensively.
But the departure of Maroon, who came to Tampa Bay fresh off a Stanley Cup victory with his hometown Blues in 2019, then was the enforcer for the Lightning’s back-to-back title teams in 2020 and 2021, represents another loss from the team’s championship core and an unquestionable changing of the guard.
After the Lightning’s season ended with a first-round playoff series loss to Toronto, Maroon was nostalgic about his time in Tampa, realizing that the roster would change.
“We’ve done so well together and we’ve battled for so many years together,” Maroon said. “You just never know who’s going to be back in the locker room. ... It just sucks because you don’t know who’s coming back. You don’t know who’s going to retire. It’s just moments like that, as a player, as you grow as a family and a brotherhood, you want to be with those guys every day.”
In becoming the first player since the early 1980s to win three straight Stanley Cups, he provided the Lightning with an edge and a swagger they needed to become champions, especially in the postseason, leading the chirps to opposing players from the ice and the bench. His ability to get under an opponent’s skin was undoubtedly a huge asset.
In the process, Maroon became the consummate fan favorite, especially with his celebratory antics during the Lightning’s two Stanley Cup celebrations, partying shirtless with a white fedora after the team’s first boat parade and funneling Bud Lights to fans in the middle of a monsoon during the team’s second celebration.
More than that, his reputation as a winner carried massive weight in the Lightning locker room. He came to the team with a ring already on his finger, and his encouraging nature and blue-collar example of playing the puck down low helped guide younger players.
Maroon had played in four straight Cup finals before the Lighting’s early exit this year, and he was looking forward to returning to the Lightning in 2023-24. At 35, Maroon was slated to become an unrestricted free agent after next season.
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“I want to keep playing as long as I can until the league kicks me out, but I’m just happy being in a great organization that believes in me and believes in my presence and what I bring away from the game, not just on the ice but in the room,” Maroon said after the season.
In his four years with the Lightning, Maroon played in 281 games with 29 goals and 53 assists. Two seasons ago, he had an 11-goal, 27-point season with a plus-20. Last season he had five goals and nine assists and led the league with 150 penalty minutes.
Cajkovic, 22, was the Lightning’s third-round pick in 2019. He spent the past two seasons between the Lightning’s minor-league affiliates at ECHL Orlando and AHL Syracuse. He had 10 goals and 27 points in 41 games with Orlando last season.
The Lightning have parted ways with several key pieces of their locker room dynamic. They were unable to retain Alex Killorn, a home-grown forward who spent the first 11 years of his career with the Lightning, and he signed a four-year, $25 million deal with Anaheim. Fourth-line forward Corey Perry, another locker room leader and proven veteran, was traded to Chicago during last week’s draft for a seventh-round pick next season.
Just four members of the Lightning’s existing forward group — Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, Nikita Kucherov and Anthony Cirelli — remain from the 2021 Cup team.
In giving their bottom six a facelift this weekend, the Lightning signed former Capitals forward Conor Sheary to a three-year deal, brought in fourth-line center Luke Glendening on a two-year deal and inked physical forward Josh Archibald to a two-year deal on value contracts that will take up a combined total of just $3.6 million on next year’s payroll.
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