As a fan of the Tampa Bay Lightning, we have seen players come and go. Hell, I’m still pissed that the team traded Dan Boyle. Another fan favorite, Ondrej Palat signed a deal with the New Jersey Devils on the first day of free agency. The longer your fandom, the more roster changes you experience. Few players will earn this special title from fans: Forever Bolt. Palat earned this title. During his time with the Lightning organization, he is a Calder Cup Champ, a two time Stanley Cup champion and a Forever Bolt.
Think I’m embellishing his accomplishments? He is 7th all time in games played for the organization. Palat is 10th in goals, 7th in assists and points for the franchise. These are all regular season numbers. During the playoffs, Palat is 2nd in team history in playoff goals. But wait there’s more. He’s 4th in playoff assists and 3rd in playoff points. The one thing playoff stat that epitomizes Palat is he is numero uno in postseason game winning goals. This is Forever Bolt territory.
It seems like yesterday. Three young players put together on the same line back in 2014. Coach Jon Cooper compared them to the Vancouver Twins. Henrik and Daniel Sedin played like they knew without looking exactly where the other was on the ice. Twins have this symbiotic relationship. Cooper coined the moniker for the line that consisted of Palat, Nikita Kucherov and Tyler Johnson. They were The Triplets. Cooper said they’re playing like they’ve been playing together forever. It was the beginning of what was to come.
That line was magical that season. The Lightning were the youngest NHL team in average age during the 2014-15 season. As fans, we were confident they would make the playoffs that year having made it the year before. Nobody expected that team to play for the Stanley Cup but they did. Palat and his linemates led the way. Okay, I know they lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in that Final. But that was the beginning of an eight year run by the Lightning rarely seen in the history of the league. Palat was among a handful of Lightning players that were integral in all that success.
“He’s going to go down as an all-time great Lightning player who was part of a lot of our winning.” That’s from Lightning GM Julien Brisebois after the realization that no deal could be struck. Good enough for me.
THE GAME WINNING GOAL! pic.twitter.com/gpGdE2xiGl
— Bally Sports Sun: Lightning (@BallyLightning) June 5, 2022
Personally, Palat has been my favorite Bolt since 2014. I have an affinity for 200 foot players. Palat was one of the best I’ve ever seen in that regard. He played every shift like it could be his last. Playing the last seconds of a game with the energy he brought at the beginning of the game. He finished every check he had. Gave hits and took hits. His playoff numbers showed how clutch he was. So where did this drive come from?
Maybe it had something to do with where he was drafted. Back in 2011, there were only 211 players selected in the draft. Palat was drafted in the 208th slot. In the NFL, the last selection taken in the last round is called Mr. Irrelevant. Palat was three picks away from potential irrelevance. When you realize the level of production from a 7th round pick, it is truly amazing and speaks to his work ethic. No doubt that Palat was a lunch pail guy. He came to work every day, punched his time card, took his shifts and played like the champ he eventually became.
He also wore the A as an associate captain for the team. Teams don’t hand those out to guys simply because they have been there for several years. On a team with proven, established leaders like Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, Palat was included in that leadership group. So, he wasn’t just a fan favorite, he was respected in the locker room.
A Forever Bolt
It saddens me that Palat will no longer wear the Lightning Bolt sweater. He was an important part of one of the best teams the NHL has ever seen. From being a Calder Trophy finalist along with fellow Triplet Tyler Johnson to the just completed playoffs, Palat gave us everything he had. As a fan, I applaud and respect that.
I also know that in the reality of the salary cap era, General Managers have to make tough decisions. Look at the recent Ryan McDonagh trade. Also hated to see him go but Brisebois has done what has been needed to reach and maintain their level of success. Players come and go. As fans, we get invested in this team. Many of us gravitate to one or more players as our favorites. Palat was that player for me.
That said, I understand rationally the moves that Brisebois has to continually make. I also understand that it looks like I’ll never see Palat in Lightning blue ever again and that’s a tough pill to swallow. But in my mind and more importantly, in my heart, Palat will always be a Forever Bolt.
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