Star free agent forward Ondrej Palat was one of the more sought-after names in the NHL when free agency opened on Wednesday. It wasn't until early Thursday morning that his future would be clear.
Palat is reportedly signing a five-year contract with the New Jersey Devils, according to TSN's Chris Johnston. The deal is worth about $6 million per season.
The 31-year-old Czechia native had previously spent his entire career with the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning drafted Palat in the seventh round of the 2011 NHL Draft.
Palat and the Lightning reached the Stanley Cup Finals on four occasions together. They won back-to-back Cups in 2020 and 2021.
Many considered the Detroit Red Wings as a potential team for Palat. However, the team signed Dominik Kubalik and David Perron. This ended any chance the 31-year-old had of reuniting with Steve Yzerman, the general manager who drafted him.
The Devils were considered front-runners for star-free agent Johnny Gaudreau. “Johnny Hockey” reportedly decided to leave the Calgary Flames to be closer to home. However, Gaudreau shockingly decided to sign with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Palat's game is not the most explosive. He isn't the best offensive point producer and has never scored 20 or more goals in a season in his career. However, the 31-year-old is still a solid offensive presence, especially in the playoffs.
Palat recorded 18 points in 25 playoff games in 2019-20 as the Lightning won their first Stanley Cup since 2004. He then added 21 points in 23 playoff games this past season, but Tampa fell to the Colorado Avalanche in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Signing Palat gives the Devils a top-six winger the team had desired. They certainly would have liked Gaudreau, but they bring in a proven winner for two years and around $3 million per season less. The 31-year-old will boost a Devils team looking to take the next step next season.