The Tampa Bay Lightning checked a major box off on their offseason to-do list on Wednesday by re-signing defenseman Mikhail Sergachev to a three-year, $14.4 million contract.
That comes out to a salary cap hit of $4.8 million per season and will run through the end of the 2022-23 season.
Acquired by the Lightning in 2017 in a trade with the Montreal Canadiens (in exchange for Jonathan Drouin), Sergachev has become a major part of the team’s blue line over the past three seasons and figures to be a core player in the coming years.
He appeared in 70 games this past season, scoring 10 goals and 34 total points while logging more than 22 minutes of ice-time per game. He also added three goals and 10 total points in 25 playoff games during the Lightning’s Stanley Cup run.
That cap hit is right in line with what players like Tony DeAngelo ($4.8 million with the New York Rangers) and Charlie McAvoy ($4.9 million with the Boston Bruins) over the past two offseasons. The big difference: Those two contracts were two-year deals while Sergachev’s is a three-year deal.
Tampa Bay Still Has Work To Do
The big question for the Lightning this offseason was how they would manage the salary cap to keep their championship team together as much as possible.
The team was already pressed against the salary cap and had to re-sign two significant restricted free agents in Sergachev and Anthony Cirelli. Because of that cap situation, as well as the quality of their RFAs, they should have been prime candidates to be targeted with an offer sheet. But because NHL teams rarely explore that avenue one never came.
With Sergachev signed the Lightning currently find themselves nearly $2 million over the cap with 19 players under contract. Cirelli still needs to be re-signed (as does defenseman Erik Cernak) and it is a safe assumption his contract will be in the same ballpark as Sergachev’s. That means the Lightning are going to have to shed some significant salary to become cap compliant before the start of the season.
They tried to waive veteran forward Tyler Johnson earlier in the offseason in the hopes that someone would claim him and his $5 million salary, but nobody took the bait.
Johnson and Alex Killorn seem to be the most likely trade candidates (even with their no-trade clauses), but given the situation and lack of leverage the Lightning will almost certainly have to retain some salary or give up additional assets to convince another team to help them out. Would they consider trading Cirelli instead? Or moving another player with a larger contract? Neither of those options seems ideal. Cirelli is still only 23 years old and is already an outstanding two-way player.
Players like Yanni Gourde and Ondrej Palat might have more trade value than Johnson or Killorn, but they are also better players.
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.