On Monday, the Tampa Bay Lightning announced that they signed defenseman Nick Perbix to a two-year contract extension. The contract carries a cap hit of $1.125 million for the 24-year old rookie. A right-hander, Perbix was drafted in the 6th round, 169th overall by the Lightning in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.
Perbix was passed over in his first draft as one of the youngest players in the draft after his junior year of high school, and the Lightning took a chance on him after he scored 10 goals and 40 points in 25 games as the Captain of Elk River High as a senior. He also recorded three goals and 13 points in 21 games for Team Northwest in the UMHSEHL, a high school all-star tournament held before the high school season starts up.
After being drafted, Perbix spent a year in the USHL with the Omaha Lancers where he posted four goals and 29 points in 56 games. Perbix then attended St. Cloud State University on scholarship and recorded 22 goals and 89 points over 135 games in NCAA hockey. The Lightning had offered Perbix a contract following his junior season, but he decided to finish his degree and waited until after his senior season to sign with the Lightning. By waiting, he also was given the opportunity to play at the Olympic Games for Team USA, recording one assist in four games.
After signing his one-year entry-level contract, he also signed an Amateur Try Out contract with the Syracuse Crunch since his ELC did not start until the 2022-23 season so that he could report to the AHL and play immediately. He made an immediate impact with the Crunch and found himself playing on the power play, recording two goals and eight points over 12 games. He added another point in five playoff games.
Perbix was one of the last cuts for the Lightning during training camp entering this season. He reported to the Syracuse Crunch, but only played in two games before being recalled to the big club. He made his debut on October 18th at home against the Philadelphia Flyers and hasn’t looked back since. With Zach Bogosian still recovering from offseason surgery, Perbix quickly moved past Cal Foote on the depth chart. The only games Perbix has missed since making his debut were a few games due to injury. Meanwhile, Foote, Bogosian, and Haydn Fleury have rotated in and out of the line up as the 6th defenseman.
In 29 games so far, Perbix has recorded three goals and eight points while averaging 15:26 TOI. He’s moved around, playing with different defense partners as the coaching staff has dealt with some injuries, but also trying to find the right mix and match of players and pairings on the blue line. He has spent most of his 5v5 time with Mikhail Sergachev (219 minutes), but has also gotten quite a bit of time with Victor Hedman (143 minutes). His results with Sergachev have been stellar, while his pairing with Hedman has been a bit shakier. However, Hedman has generally struggled defensively this season no matter who his partner has been.
When Perbix was drafted, I read scouting reports on him that suggested he was a player that had a high hockey IQ. While there were questions with his skating, he had size and was a right-hander, both of which are coveted with defensemen. I compared him at the time to a late career Braydon Coburn if he could reach his potential as a third pairing type of defensively sound defenseman. So far in his NHL career, he’s shown exactly that kind of game. He has great positioning and doesn’t panic when the pressure is on.
Perbix has a bit of an advantage over many rookies in that he is already 24 years old due to his time in NCAA hockey. It’s not the same as a 20-year old coming in with limited professional experience. He’s had the poise that his age suggests and he has quickly gained the coach’s trust. He’s even been tapped to play on the second power play unit recently when Mikhail Sergachev missed a couple games after blocking a shot with his hand.
While Perbix has not yet played on the penalty kill, I think that will come in time. He has the kind of positioning and defensive awareness that should serve him well as a penalty killer and I think before long, we’ll be seeing the coaching staff trusting him with some ice time there too.
From a salary cap perspective, this is a great contract. The Lightning lock him up for a couple years at a very reasonable cap hit that is easy to work with. The down side of the two-year contract length is that the contract will expire with Perbix being an unrestricted free agent since he will be 27 years old. That will allow him to leave in free agency if he desires to. But it also likely helped the Lightning to keep his cap hit down for the next two years, since typically the Lightning (and most NHL teams) like to end a deal one year before free agency, or at least get the first year or two of free agency before expiration.
It also signals the potential end of the line for Cal Foote in Tampa. Since the Lightning would need to go salary in, salary out due to Long Term Injured Reserve to make trades, the Lightning could use Foote as a piece in a trade to move the salary around.
Right now, the Lightning have the room to carry two extra skaters and they have chosen to go with two defensemen with Cal Foote and Haydn Fleury while only carrying 12 forwards on the roster. If the Lightning look to make an upgrade in the forward ranks, Foote could be the odd man out, especially since he has a slightly higher cap hit than Fleury, to help make room on the roster and salary cap for an acquisition. Even if Foote isn’t moved at the deadline, there is still the potential that he could be moved in the offseason. For the Lightning, that wouldn’t change much about the cap future since Perbix is essentially subbing in for what Foote would have been in their planning for the salary cap in the future.