Tampa Bay Lightning forward Walterri Merelä
Photo credit: Etelä-Soumen Sanomat

Tampa Bay Lightning forward abandons the NHL to sign in Europe

Published June 10, 2024 at 4:19 PM

After a short stint in the NHL, Tampa Bay Lightning forward Walterri Merelä has decided to abandon the league next season to play in Europe instead.

The Tampa Bay Lightning have had a series of solid seasons, making it into the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the last seven years. Yet, the team decided they were not done building, and decided to take a chance on a now 25-year-old Finnish forward to an entry-level contract. This being Walterri Merelä, a 6'2" right wing player who pulled in 123 points in 212 games with his home country's league.

"#GoBolts offseason signings
• 🇫🇮 Walterri Merelä 6'2 RW 24 yrs
In 5 seasons in Finland (4 full) he has 123 points in 212 games.
• 🇳🇴 Emil Martinsen Lilleberg 6'2 LHD 22 yrs
5 seasons in Norway/Sweden he has 36 points in 187 games."

Yet, despite the success of Tampa Bay during the regular season, Merelä has opted not to rejoin the team next year. After only 19 games and one goal in the NHL, the Finnish forward will instead back his bags for Europe and play for SC Bern of the top professional league in Switzerland.

"Walterri Merelä will not return to the #GoBolts next season. The Finland-native is returning to Europe to play for SC Bern of the top Swiss pro league, per @scbern_news. Merelä made the #TBLightning's opening night roster, played 19 NHL games, had a goal, was a plus-2."

While many would look at this player's lack of ice time as a sign to move on, many fans are upset by Merelä's decision. Most of the Lightning fanbase saw a future as a bottom-six player for the team, providing the necessary depth for another playoff run.

While it is clear that the fanbase appreciates him, the Lightning could not provide Walterri Merelä the respect and ice time he felt he deserved and made an appropriate decision. Hopefully the player gets what he is looking for in Sweden and Tampa Bay can find someone to fill his spot on the roster.
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