The Tampa Bay Lightning announced today the team re-signed defenseman Mikhail Sergachev to a three year contract worth just under $15 million dollars. This new deal for the 22 year-old Sergachev has an AAV (cap hit) of $4.8 million. For General Manager Julien Brisebois, this signing is but one item checked off a fairly lengthy to-do list.
Locking up the improving Russian defenseman was a very high priority after the Cup win on September 28th. Clearly, Brisebois has been attempting to clear some cap space prior to inking any new deals to no avail. Despite no success yet on that front, obviously that did not deter the GM from taking care of business. This signing sends a message to the rest of the league that the Lightning are determined to keep as much of the band together for as long as it can.
Keep in mind that in early October the team re-signed Forward Patrick Maroon and Defenseman Luke Schenn. Maroon got two years at $900,00 per and Schenn got $800,000 for next season. These savvy veterans bring experience, grit and heart to the bottom of both the forward lines and defensive pairings. It is hard to quantify those traits but at those team friendly cap hits, it is definitely advantage: Lightning.
The Future Is Now
Sergachev should not yet be considered part of the core group of players on this team but he’s circling the neighborhood. Since joining the team, Sergachev has seen his ice time go from about 15 minutes a game to over 20. He has continued to improve that thunderous shot and became integral on the power play last season.
Obviously, the expectation is that there is tremendous upside for Sergachev. Imagine where he will be in 2023 as this new deal is coming to an end. It isn’t a stretch to see 24-25 minutes TOI and 12-15 goals to go with 35-40 assists. There should be no doubt his overall performance trajectory should continue to rise. As he gets more NHL games under his belt, his game continues to get better. Listen, he will still be 22 during the upcoming season but he was ready for prime time at an early age.
Hall of Fame coach, Scotty Bowman often said that an NHL defenseman needs to play 300 games before any judgment made on that player. Anyone who saw Victor Hedman in his first three seasons would wholeheartedly agree. In Hedman we saw flashes of brilliance with an occasional bonehead mistake. But with each game, we saw more of the former and less of the latter. Now, Hedman is the best defenseman on the planet.
Let’s agree that Sergachev’s star will continue to ascend. It is way too soon to begin any comparisons with Hedman but if the kid needs a role model, who better? Since the Cup win and celebrations, Sergachev had made it known that he absolutely wanted to remain in Tampa. While this may have made things easier for Brisebois, it still required finesse that seems to define the deals this GM continues to get done.
What or Who is Next?
The answers of what Brisebois will get done next is lengthy with each task seemingly more critical than the other. Next up should be re-signing forward Anthony Cirelli, followed shortly by a deal for defenseman Erik Cernak. As the team is now over the salary cap by about $2 million dollars, Brisebois has to juggle a couple of priorities.
Off loading Tyler Johnson’s contract is job one. The team has attempted to trade the 30 year old center with no luck. When a trade didn’t materialize, the team put Johnson on waivers. Surprisingly, not even a nibble. Though most NHL teams generally don’t make things easy for the reigning Cup champions – EVER. This off-season is proving no exception. There are a couple of teams that need a number two or three center who have the cap space to add Johnson’s $5 million hit. Hint: New York Rangers.
Brisebois may have to sweeten a trade involving Johnson but there is no reason to think it won’t get done. Once that saga is over, bringing Cirelli and Cernak back in the fold should be accomplished.
While there are many questions about the next NHL season, the Lightning are handling their business. Getting Sergachev locked up is a great first step towards keeping the Lightning as a bona fide Stanley Cup contender.
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