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Tampa Bay Lightning Mikhail Sergachev contract salary cap
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Mikhail Sergachev thinks Lightning will find a way to work out his next contract

By just about any standard, it sure doesn’t look like it will be easy for the Lightning to sign pending RFA defenseman Mikhail Sergachev to a new contract. Sergachev told NHL.com’s Dan Rosen that he believes it will all work out, though.

“It’s a little different obviously right now, but I’m trying to leave it to my agent (Mark Gandler),” Sergachev said on Thursday, via Rosen. “He’s going to deal with it, I guess. But for me, I just want to continue the season, play and get better and see what happens. I feel like they’re going to work out something. I have a good agent.”

Here’s why this is an interesting situation to watch, considering Sergachev’s potential, and also the Lightning’s larger cap challenges.

What is the right contract?

Sergachev, 21, really earned more trust — and playing time — from the Lightning this season.

Sergachev’s ice time climbed from 15:22 per game in 2017-18 to 17:55 in 2018-19, and finally 20:22 on average this season. Despite the pause, Sergachev set career-highs in goals (10) and points (34).

The Lightning see improvements in his all-around play, too, as Victor Hedman noted to The Athletic’s Joe Smith in January (sub required).

“He’s evolved into a great two-way defenseman,” Hedman said. “ … He’s an unbelievable talent offensively, we all know that. But the shot blocks, the hits, the way he plays in his own end, it’s fun to watch.

“I’ve said this many times before, the sky is the limit for this guy. This is just the start.”

During certain stretches, I couldn’t help but wonder if the Lightning were holding Sergachev back a bit.

Such a thought makes you wonder if we haven’t really seen his offensive ceiling yet. On the other hand, theoretically, veteran defenseman Hedman and Ryan McDonagh could also insulate Sergachev defensively.

So what’s a fair contract for Sergachev? Again, it’s tough to tell.

Using Evolving Hockey’s contract projection tool while adjusting for an $81.5M cap hit, the anticipated deal might be for eight years with a $6.5M cap hit. While Evolving Hockey’s model puts an eight-year deal at a 32-percent chance, other most likely outcomes sit at six years (25 percent) or a two-year bridge (13%).

Let’s zoom out, though, as the Lightning’s overall situation and history could factor into Sergachev’s individual value.

Can the Lightning pull off salary cap magic again with Sergachev, Cirelli, Cernak?

Time and time again, we’ve seen the Lightning pull off serious wizardry in tight cap situations. All of Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, and Victor Hedman signed for less than market value.

Watching Alex Killorn zoom around Tampa Bay docks on his jet ski provides a reminder of why they took discounts, along with the “playing for a really good team in a state with tax breaks” factors.

Financial blowback from COVID-19 might make this offseason the trickiest one yet for Tampa Bay. After all, they were already anticipating some challenges if the cap went up to, say, $84.5M or so.

When rating all 31 NHL teams’ salary cap situations, The Athletic’s James Mirtle ranked Lightning dead last (sub required).

(You’d think it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to be compared to a “deep-fried pickle,” but alas.)

Via Cap Friendly, the Lightning already have $76.16M devoted to 15 players for 2020-21. That’s before you factor in new contracts for Sergachev, but also dark horse Selke candidate Anthony Cirelli, and useful defenseman Erik Cernak.

Going back to Evolving Hockey’s projection tool, hypothetical estimates combine the three at $14-$15M. Even Mirtle’s more generous estimate would tack on $11M.

(Frankly, if the Lightning signed Sergachev and Cirelli for $11M, let alone Cernak, they’d be getting great deals.)

But, yeah, we’ve seen players accept less than they might otherwise get with the Lightning. It wouldn’t be shocking to see this happen again, especially if Sergachev is OK betting on himself by taking a shorter “bridge” deal.

Even so, expect painful losses for the Lightning. It’s tough to imagine bargain bin free agent Kevin Shattenkirk squeezing in again, and you’d expect Tampa Bay to lose one or more of Tyler Johnson or Yanni Gourde.

Yes, there are worse problems to have … which is probably why Sergachev will just relax and do cat-centric exercises rather than worrying too much.

More on the Lightning:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

A best on best mythical tournament: 30-and-over

Sidney Crosby of Pittsburgh Penguins and Alex Ovechkin of Washington Capitals
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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold, Pro Hockey Talk will be creating full rosters for an imaginary best on best tournament. The first teams created were a 23-and-under and players in their prime.

Connor McDavid and other exciting young players have taken part of the spotlight, but Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin remain the most prominent faces in the NHL. The next roster to enter this mythical best on best tournament consists of players 30-years-of-age-and-over. It has several of the League’s most accomplished players, including numerous skaters with multiple Stanley Cup rings and Olympic gold medals.

Line Combinations

First line: Alex Ovechkin – Sidney Crosby – Patrick Kane

Thoughts: Kane and the Chicago Blackhawks have fallen out of the limelight in recent years after an era of dominance that included three championships. However, Kane has remained one of the most productive players in the NHL and the thought of his on-ice vision combined with Ovechkin’s blistering slapshot strikes fear into the heart of any opponent. Crosby has the wisdom and skill to balance this line to formulate a trio only used in a video game environment.

Second line: Brad MarchandPatrice BergeronBlake Wheeler

Thoughts: The Bruins have had the most complete line in hockey and two/thirds of that trio reside here. Blake Wheeler has the offensive punch coupled with strong defensive instincts to fill the void left by David Pastrnak. This line will be relied upon to matchup with skilled lines from opponents but also will need to contribute on the offensive side of the ice.

Third line: Claude GirouxEvgeni MalkinJakub Voracek

Thoughts: Malkin has been one of the top centermen since bursting onto the scene in 2006-07 and should bring out the best from his new linemates. Giroux and Voracek each took a step backwards in terms of offensive production this season, but the Flyers have emerged as legitimate Cup contenders in Alain Vigneault’s first season behind the bench in Philadelphia. The effectiveness of this line will determine how far this team could advance in the competition.

Fourth line: Jamie BennAnze KopitarT.J. Oshie

Thoughts: Is there anything else a coach could want in his fourth line? A two-time Selke Trophy winner flanked by a power forward and a skilled winger with defensive awareness? This line will start in the defensive zone majority of the time and be needed to flip momentum of the game within the game.

First D pairing: Mark GiordanoJohn Carlson
Second D pairing: Zdeno CharaDrew Doughty
Third D pairing: Ryan McDonaghAlex Pietrangelo

Thoughts: The absence of Shea Weber is jarring at first, but what attribute is missing from this defensive group? The biggest question facing this collection of rearguards is, do they have the foot speed to keep up with the quickness each team in this tournament possesses?

Starting Goalie: Tuukka Rask
Backup Goalie: Ben Bishop

Just Missed: Nicklas Backstrom, Phil Kessel, Carey Price, Steven Stamkos, Shea Weber

Captain: Sidney Crosby

Alternate captains: Patrice Bergeron, Alex Ovechkin

Analysis

The biggest advantage this team has over the competition is experience. Over half of the roster has a Stanley Cup championship under their belt and several players earned multiple championship rings in their respective careers.

Leadership will not be an issue with nine current NHL captains to help this team manage the emotions through this highly competitive tournament.

One area of concern is the speed of the game throughout the competition. Can the defense move the puck up the ice in a timely manner? Can the veteran forwards play at this pace each shift without sacrificing production? This team will be expected to play smart situational hockey and take advantage of special teams opportunities, but can they win even-strength matchups on a consistent basis?

There is an abundance of talent and wisdom up and down the lineup, but will they be able to dictate the pace and play the style they choose, or will they be forced to adapt to the opponents’ preferred style?

The answer to that question will determine how successful this team will be in this imaginary Best on Best tournament.

Surprising omissions

Phil Kessel: He was originally slated to skate alongside Bergeron and Marchand on the second line, but he doesn’t play a strong two-way game that his linemates would have demanded on a consistent basis. It was tough to leave a pure goal scorer like Kessel off the list, but his effectiveness is diminished if not playing in an offensive oriented role.

Steven Stamkos: The captain of the Tampa Bay Lightning is probably the most prolific player left off any roster in this tournament to date, but it was tough to find a spot for the skilled center. Crosby and Bergeron were no-brainers for this team, but the debate was between him and Malkin for the third line slot. The size and strength of the Russian forward were the deciding factors as that toughness will be needed throughout the tournament.

Shea Weber: He could easily slide into any spot along the blueline and the team likely wouldn’t suffer but tough decisions had to be made. The roster is not lacking in the leadership department and the three right-handed shot defensemen selected have the speed needed to keep up with the blazing speed of the competition.


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Lightning add defensive depth by signing Zach Bogosian

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With the trade deadline nearing, teams are coughing up picks and prospects, even for sheer depth. By that standard, the Lightning got a deal in merely signing Zach Bogosian off of the scrap heap. The team announced that it is a one-year deal with a prorated $1.3 million AAV.

Tampa Bay locked up Bogosian not long after he parted ways with the Sabres.

Injuries may have played a role in the signing, as the Bolts are a bit banged-up. Looking at the defense alone, Erik Cernak joins Ryan McDonagh and Jan Rutta as blueliners dealing with bumps and bruises. The Lightning didn’t want to chalk up a slight hiccup (two straight losses) to injuries, but they’re worth noting.

“It’s easy to blame that. That’s not who we are,” Victor Hedman said, via the Lightning website. “We’ve been battling injuries for a long time. I think we’ve done a great job of overcoming that. Bottom line is we’ve got to play better and not give up as many goals and just be better as a team.”

Bogosian mainly brings depth to Lightning

Expecting too much from Bogosian wouldn’t be wise. Injuries limited Bogosian to 19 games played so far in 2019-20. When he’s played, the impact has been minimal, with just five points and generally mediocre underlying stats. Gander at his RAPM charts at Evolving Hockey and you’ll gain further evidence that he’s mainly just a depth option.

That said, Bogosian brings experience, size, and a right-handed shot to the table. The Lightning don’t even need to give up a low-end pick for Bogosian, either, so that’s a nice luxury this late into the season.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Lightning stay hot but lose Kucherov, Cirelli to injuries

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PITTSBURGH — Thanks to a 37-save effort from Andrei Vasilevskiy and a game-winning goal from Yanni Gourde to snap what had been a 35-game goal drought, the Tampa Bay Lightning extended their winning current winning streak to eight games with a 2-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday night.

The Lightning are now 20-3-3 over the past 26 games and are rapidly gaining ground in the Presidents’ Trophy race, now sitting just one point back of the Boston Bruins for the top spot in the league.

The only concerning news for the Lightning on Tuesday is that they lost two more key forwards to injuries as Nikita Kucherov and Anthony Cirelli both exited the game with lower-body injuries and did not return. Coach Jon Cooper had no update on the status of either player after the game, only to say they are being evaluated.

The Lightning were already playing shorthanded on Tuesday with as Steven Stamkos, Ryan McDonagh and Jan Ruuta were already sidelined.

As if that was not enough, the Lightning were also playing the second half of a back-to-back, on the road, against one of the league’s best teams in Pittsburgh and still managed to come away with two points.

Kucherov assisted on Mikhail Sergachev‘s power play goal in the second period before exiting the game.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Lightning could suddenly use help on defense

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The Tampa Bay Lightning don’t have any obvious holes on their roster when everyone is healthy. The Bolts were likely just going to do some minor depth tweaking ahead of the Feb. 24 trade deadline, but that plan may have been thrown out the window this week.

In Tuesday’s win over the Vegas Golden Knights, Tampa lost defenseman Jan Rutta to a lower-body injury. Head coach Jon Cooper said the injury will keep him out for a few weeks. On Thursday night against Pittsburgh, they lost Ryan McDonagh to a lower-body injury, too. The veteran exited the game after taking a slap shot to the ankle. Cooper didn’t have provide much of an update after the game, but said it may not be as bad as it looked.

As of right now, the healthy bodies on the blue line are: Victor Hedman, Kevin Shattenkirk, Brayden Coburn, Mikhail Sergachev, Luke Schenn and Erik Cernak. They’ll likely call someone up from the minors in the next little while so that they have an extra body around on defense.

Hedman already plays nearly 24 minutes per game, so it’s tough to envision him eating up a lot more ice time, but a player like Sergachev could be in line for a lot more work (he averages 19:29 of ice time per game). The rest of the ice time will likely have to be eaten up by a committee of players.

Now, general manager Julien BriseBois needs to figure out whether or not he wants to add a defender and how much he’s willing to pay for a depth one.

If they want to add a depth player, who could they target? Let’s take a look at some options.

Zach Bogosian – RD – Buffalo Sabres: Bogosian has struggled badly while in Buffalo, but a chance of scenery and playing on a different (and much better) team could make him a solid depth defender again. He’s in the final year of his monstrous contract and the Sabres could retain some of his remaining salary to make a trade work with the contending Bolts.

Trevor Daley – LD/RD – Detroit Red Wings: Daley has missed a good chunk of the season due to various injuries, but he could be a nice veteran addition to a team that only needs a depth player. The 36-year-old is on an expiring contract and he’s picked up four assists in his last four games. Daley has two Stanley Cup rings in his jewelry box. He’s allowed to provide the Wings with a 15-team no trade list.

Dylan DeMelo – RD – Ottawa Senators: DeMelo’s been an important part of Ottawa’s defense since they acquired him in the Erik Karlsson trade. He plays almost 20 minutes per game with the Senators, but likely wouldn’t see as much ice time on a contender like Tampa. He’s scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. The Sens may want to re-sign him though.

Brenden Dillon – LD – San Jose Sharks: The Sharks probably didn’t think that they’d be sellers at the trade deadline, but that’s where this aging group is right now. Dillon is going to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st and paying him a big sum of money probably isn’t in San Jose’s best interest. The 29-year-old has one goal and 14 points in 55 games this season. He’s added 79 penalty minutes this season and he averages 19:15 of ice time. He’d make the Bolts blue line tougher. Whether or not San Jose wants to part ways with him is another story.

Ron Hainsey – LD/RD – Ottawa Senators: The veteran has spent most of the season as Thomas Chabot‘s defense partner in Ottawa. He’s capable of playing both sides and he’s also scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. Hainsey also has a Stanley Cup ring and plenty of experience, which could be huge for a Lightning team that’s looking to shake off the embarrassment of a first-round sweep last spring.

Marco Scandella – LD – Montreal Canadiens: Scandella was acquired from the Buffalo Sabres in early January for a fourth-round draft pick. He’s from Montreal, so he may want to just re-sign there eventually, but the Lightning only need him from the trade deadline to the end of their playoff run anyway. The 29-year-old has three goals and 10 points in 46 games this season. He averages 17 minutes of ice time per game. He could likely be had for a third or fourth-rounder.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.