As the season ends, Tampa Bay Lightning players reflect on the ups and downs of a very tumultuous season. Relevant quotes from the recent interviews are transcribed below. For the sake of clarity and fluency, I have omitted extraneous uses of the phrases “you know,” “obviously,” “and,” “so,” and “but.”
Question: Ondrej, is it a little surreal coming in today, looking around, knowing this is it for this year?
Ondrej Palat: Yeah, it’s frustrating. It’s really sad for me personally, when you see the playoffs starting and we’re done. It’s just frustrating and sad.
Question: Was today when it hit you? The reality of it?
Palat: Yeah, well the last two days, it was tough to know we’re not going to make the playoffs. Like I said, it’s frustrating and tough.
Question: When you look at how close it was, just a victory away, and you can probably look back at a lot of games this season. You guys went 1-5 against the three teams at the bottom of the league [Arizona Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche, and Vancouver Canucks]. Is that what’s hard to swallow?
Palat: I think it is. We could have won one more game and we would be in probably, but that’s “if.” We had to play better in the first half of the season. The second half of the season was great, but you can’t make the playoffs in this league if you’re not going to play the whole season.
Question: Will you watch the playoffs? Or will it be good to just kind of get away from everything for a little bit?
Palat: I told myself I’m not going to watch it, but I probably will because I just love watching hockey. I love playoff hockey, so I probably will.
Question: What did the team show you by the way everybody fought to the finish and you guys never gave up, even to the bitter end? Even after you were eliminated, really.
Palat: [sigh] We showed everybody how good we can be when we play the right way, we play as a team, we [are] defending well. But like I said, the first half of the season we didn’t do that.
Question: Why do you think it took a while for you guys to get to play the right way?
Palat: I don’t know, Joe. If I would have answer, I would - I don’t know. Hopefully we can learn from our mistakes, from the season, and come ready to play and have a good season next year.
Question: You guys lost a lot of key members early on in the season. Were there guys waiting for them to come back and get healthy, not knowing if the young guys could fill in as well as they were going to?
Palat: Well, we knew they’re injured. I don’t know. It would be nice to get Stammer [Steven Stamkos] back, fully healthy - yes. But we had to play with the young guys and everybody did a great job. Everybody stepped up and we played really well. Yeah, it was tough to lose all the big players.
Question: How are you approaching the summer personally? I know you have free agency coming up. Just expecting something to get done?
Palat: Yeah, hopefully we can work everything out as soon as possible. Hopefully I’ll be back. [smiles]
Question: I know you guys would rather be in the playoffs, but you guys have played a lot of hockey the last three or four years, especially the guys who have come up through the AHL. Could a long summer, getting guys healthy and getting refreshed, be something that can spring forward for you guys next year?
Palat: Yeah, maybe it’s a good thing now when you look at it. Everybody’s going to be healthy for next season. Everybody’s going to be ready. That’s probably one good thing.
Question: What are you going to do with all this time on your hands? Two extra months, that’s quite a bit.
Palat: I have no idea. I will stick around here for a bit and then come back home and start training and get ready for the season.
Question: Ondrej, you got to play with Brayden Point there for a good portion of the season. How impressive was he for coming in and filling the role that he did?
Palat: Yeah he was impressive, but even two years ago when he didn’t make the team and I saw him in training camp, I was talking to the guys [about] how good he is. I knew he was going to become the player [that] he is right now. It’s not really shocking to me, but he’s a great player. It was a lot of fun to play with him.
Question: He’s mentioned how easy it was to play with you and Nikita Kucherov, how easy was it for you guys to play with him?
Palat: Same thing. It was easy to play. He’s a high-IQ guy, player with a lot of skills, and he’s working really hard. It’s easy to play with those type of players.
Question: Another guy I’m sure you’re not surprised about is Jonathan Drouin, the way he took a step this year with his scoring. Do you think it was just a matter of time for him to be put in that situation to be able to produce like that?
Palat: Yeah, it is. He’s I think one of the most skilled players in the league. He’s been awesome this season. It’s fun to watch him, fun to play with him. I can’t wait for next season - what he can show us.