One down, one to go. OK, it’s not quite that simple, but Tampa Bay GM Julien BriseBois did get an important piece of business done today by signing defenseman Mikhail Sergachev to a new three-year contract that comes with a cap hit of $4.8 million. Now, the Lightning need to get two-way center Anthony Cirelli under contract and the Stanley Cup champions will have to do some deft maneuvering to make that happen.
Tampa Bay is currently over the salary cap by about $2 million and Cirelli’s awesome play up the middle means the 23-year-old will not come cheap. Just to increase the level of difficulty, defenseman Erik Cernak is also in need of a new pact.
The most obvious move for the Lightning is to find a suitor for Tyler Johnson, the veteran forward whose $5 million cap hit and diminishing contributions make him a target for change. Tampa Bay already tried waiving Johnson to get rid of his contract, but no other franchise was willing to help them out. In all likelihood, BriseBois will have to part with an asset in order to trade Johnson and receive that ever-so-important cap space. And even after that, the Bolts probably have to get more money off the books.
But let’s focus on Sergachev, the man of the hour. A two-way defenseman with great size and upside, Sergachev has largely been sheltered early in his career – but when your blueline peers are veterans like Ryan McDonagh and Norris Trophy winner Victor Hedman, that’s understandable. Heck, it’s actually ideal. At just 22 years old, Sergachev is just entering his prime years as an NHL defenseman and the youngster is trending in the right direction. He established a new career-high with 10 goals this past season, half of which came on the power play.
As the years go on, Sergachev’s importance in Tampa Bay will continue to climb. He was already third in ice time this past season (behind Hedman and McDonagh) and as his game matures, those minutes won’t be as sheltered as they have been in the past.
Sergachev will still be a restricted free agent when his new deal expires, though to be fair, this is only his second NHL contract (his entry-level deal being the first) and these bridge deals are quite common.
It does give BriseBois and the Bolts more control in the next negotiations with the Russian defender, who could be in line for a hefty raise on his future contract if he becomes a legitimate star in the coming seasons. On the open market, he would almost certainly fetch such a price – but he’ll have to sign another extension with the Lightning before that can happen now.