The Tampa Bay Lightning are off to a great start to the season, but will have to deal with the loss of a key forward for the next month. The team announced today that Ondrej Palat will be out for the next four weeks with a lower-body injury. Palat injured his foot when blocking a shot against the Vegas Golden Knights, and according to Joe Smith of The Athletic, is not expecting to have surgery.
Palat, 27, is in the second season of his long-term deal with the team, and so far hasn’t been able to provide quite the value they were expecting. After recording 52 points in 2016-17, last season was a down year due to injury limiting him to just 56 contests. Missing four weeks already this year threatens to make it a similar outcome, especially given that Palat is still searching for his first goal. The talented winger could be the team’s best defensive forward—a title that Brayden Point is pushing to claim—but could be limited to fewer than 15 goals in consecutive seasons depending on how the rest of the year turns out. Four weeks would keep Palat out for an additional 15 games, meaning the most he could possibly play this season is 61.
It’s a troubling trend for a player that is such an important part to the Tampa Bay attack, as Palat hasn’t played more than 75 games in a season since 2013-14. That was his first full-time chance in the NHL, and still stands as his career-high in goal scoring with 23. Though he’s been an excellent playoff contributor and provides flexibility by being a fit in multiple spots throughout the lineup, the team needs him on the ice more consistently if they want to really get any return value on his $5.3MM cap hit. Because of the unusual structure of his deal, he’s actually earning $6.855MM in salary this year.