Part 12 of my Tampa Bay Lightning player evaluations has arrived, and I’m sticking with forwards here.
This forward has been thrown around in trade discussions recently, in order to free up cap space to re-sign upcoming restricted free agent forward Brayden Point. This player has been with the Lightning organization since being drafted in the seventh round (208th overall) in the 2011 National Hockey League entry draft. That player is Ondrej Palat.
Palat played in 64 games last season, recording eight goals (0.13 goals per game) and 26 assists (0.41 assists per game) for a total of 34 points (0.53 points per game). Palat averaged just 14:53 time on ice, which is almost three minutes less than his career average of 17:17 TOI.
In that time, he started 59.2% of his shifts in the offensive zone, recording a 51.1 Corsi-For%. His takeaway to giveaway ratio was 18 to 41, which is a putrid -23 differential, and when looking at years prior, is by far his worst season in this metric, as his career takeaway-giveaway differential is -3. Before this season, it was +20. Palat registered a 101.2 PDO, telling me he had above average luck this past season. With Palat on the ice, Tampa Bay had an expected goals for of 36.9 and an expected goals against of 36.4, which is a +0.5 differential.
Palat had a major drop off in takeaways to giveaways, where in past seasons he showed reliability. Not just that, but he finished in the top 15 for the Selke Trophy twice in past seasons. This season, he looked like a shadow of that player.
While his possession stats are good, that can be attributed to his high offensive deployment. Despite the high offensive deployment however, Palat put up a career-low goal total and point total since the 2012-13 season where he played just 14 games. Rather than comparing him to other Lightning players on the spider graphs that you usually see in these evaluations, we are going to look at his advanced stats from the past three seasons, and see if his apparently rapid decline is even more noticable.
It seems as though Palat has improved in every area, though it is important that the data only tracked 11 games for Palat this season, compared to the 39 in 2017-18 and the 31 in 2016-17, so it may not be the most telling.
Despite putting up real low point totals, he had a high shot contribution count (ShotContr60, ShotAssists60). He also didn’t shoot very often, which could have been why he had such a low point total, but then again he shot fewer times in 2016-17 and still put up 52 points.
It seems as though his transitional game has improved when entering the zone (PossEntry60, PossEntry%) and breaking out of the defensive zone (PossExit60, PossExit%). Unfortunately, there is no data for Palat on CJ Turtoro’s Exit per 60 minute visual, therefore I will use Sean Tierney’s GAR (Goals Above Replacement) visual to determine how vital Palat is to the Lightning, comparable to that of his teammates.
Palat ranked 17th on the Lightning roster when it came to his GAR metric. He is most effective at even strength (displayed as the gray bar) and on the power play (displayed in blue).
But the tiny negative, that you can’t really see, is his ineffective penalty killing. Though it is not an awful negative, it’s still there, and it needs to be much better, especially since he has lost lots of ice time to younger, more skilled forwards. He needs to regain trust and go back to being that reliable middle-six forward for the Lightning or he will soon see himself wearing a different jersey. Despite not having his Exit per 60 minutes data, we do have his Entry per 60 minute data, from CJ Turtoro.
Palat ranked sixth on the Lightning in this metric, as shown above. While he passed the puck to a teammate and into the offensive zone a little bit more than he skated it in himself, what he did more often than not, was dump it in deep.
While you’d probably expect Palat to do more than just dump it in, considering his past seasons, his role on the third line and the system put forth by head coach Jon Cooper, it seems as though the bottom-six forwards are expected to play it safe, and play defense first. He failed a bit, but not enough where it would be a problem or concern.
Palat is making $5.3M per season, and his contract runs for the next three seasons. For him to lose nearly three minutes of ice time off his average over the last six seasons in just one year, is a major concern for me, and the value of his contract is superseding the value of his play on the ice.
While I’d like to hold on to Palat for one more season, it may be best to move him before he loses more value, if this pattern keeps up. Brayden Point is far more important to the team’s success than Palat is, and hockey is a ruthless business. Palat might just fall victim to the ruthlessness and be sent out of town.
All Stats via hockey-reference
The Spider Charts used Data from CJ Turtoro, created by Kyle Pereira
Entry/Exit Charts via CJ Turtoro
GAR chart via Sean Tierney