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Nick Paul Does It All

Photo: Alex Walworth, The Scrum Sports

As the 2022 trade deadline approached, the Lightning announced a blockbuster deal. They’d given up a lot but managed to pick up the highly coveted Brandon Hagel from the Chicago Blackhawks. And with that, the Tampa Bay faithful assumed their team was done and ready to move forward with a third consecutive Stanley Cup run. But then, two days later, the NHL announced another trade. The very popular Mathieu Joseph would be headed to Ottawa. In exchange, the Bolts would be receiving a player by the name of Nick Paul.

Built for the Playoffs

When Nick Paul joined the Tampa Bay Lightning, he had not played in a single playoff game. Yet, he was specifically sought to join a team expecting to make an extended playoff run. Why were playoff contenders setting their sights on Paul? As the trade deadline neared, teams were contacting his longtime junior coach, Stan Butler. They asked an important question. How is he in big games? Butler replied, “He’s built for the playoffs. He loves the pressure.”

Toronto Maple Leafs fans likely will forever lament that Butler was right. Nick Paul cemented his playoff star status as he silenced the hometown crowd at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena, scoring both goals in the Lightning’s 2-1 victory in game 7 of round one. Paul was a warrior in that game. He logged more ice time than any other forward on the team (22:03). In addition to his offensive contribution, Paul was also the first man out for every penalty kill, and when the Bolts needed to shut down the game and secure their victory, Nick Paul played 2:56 of the final 3:50 to seal the deal.

Securing Nick Paul

Was Nick Paul simply a playoff rental for the Lightning? He was going to become a free agent at the end of the 2021-2022 season. But following his playoff success and rise to fan-favorite status in Tampa Bay, the Bolts were determined not to let him go. Shortly after the conclusion of 2021-2022 season, the two sides agreed to a 7-year deal with an average annual value (AAV) of 3.15 million.

While the Bolts faithful were happy to learn Paul would be staying around, there were some who questioned the contract. The 3.15 AAV was good value in terms of the cap hit.  But signing a 27-year-old for 7 years? Especially a 27-year-old who was expected to play in the bottom six and not contribute too much offensively. Prior to the 2022 trade deadline, Nick Paul had a total of 18 points in 59 games with the Ottawa Senators last season, including a career high 11 goals. Respectable, sure. For a bottom six player. Analysts of the deal felt that Paul was reliable for approximately 30 points a season.

Exceeding Expectations

Lightning fans would have been satisfied with a 30-point season from Nick Paul. But second-line center Anthony Cirelli was missing the start of the 2022-2023 season due to shoulder surgery. Someone needed to fill the void on the line with Steven Stamkos and Alex Killorn. With his solid work ethic and impressive play since joining the team, Nick Paul was a logical choice. But would he have what it took to make it on the second line of a stacked offensive team?

Let’s do a quick check of his numbers a third of the way through the season. Paul is third on the team in goals with 12 (including 2 game-winning goals), and 6th on the team is total points with 20. With these numbers, he is on pace for 36 goals and 60 points. Double the analysts’ projections. But Paul does more than just contribute offensively. He currently leads the Bolts and is in a tie for 13th place overall in the league in the plus-minus category (goal differential when a player is on the ice- not including power play goals) with a rating of +14, proving his abilities at both ends of the ice.

Paul has done such an excellent job on the second line that now that Cirelli has returned from his injury, Coach Jon Cooper has had to find new line mates for Cirelli! Fortunately, Cirelli is a versatile player who seems able to breathe new life into any line he joins. For now, Nick Paul appears to have secured his spot with Stamkos and Killorn.

Doing It All

Through it all, Nick Paul has remained humble. He says that he is excited to now have the opportunity to show what he’s been trying to show for the last seven years in the NHL.

And he is grateful to the organization that had confidence in him. “Tampa had some huge trust in signing me for seven years, and that’s something that I’m grateful for, and I want to show them that they made a good decision.”

In addition to stellar 5-on-5 play, Nick Paul also sees duty on the second power-play unit, and is one of the top penalty killers on the team. He contributes offensively and defensively. He plays on the power play and on the penalty kill. He’s on the ice to close out tight games. When it comes to Paul’s contributions to the Tampa Bay Lightning, fans have coined a very apropos phrase. Quite simply, Nick Paul does it all.




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