TAMPA — The Lightning took a big step toward maintaining the young core of their their Stanley Cup-winning team on Wednesday, announcing a three-year deal with defenseman Mikhail Sergachev worth an annual average value of $4.8 million.
Re-signing the restricted free agent, who is coming off a season in which he posted a career-high 10 goals, was a top offseason priority for the Lightning.
The Lightning were able to keep a player who has grown into a top-four defenseman, who has three full seasons under his belt at the young age of 22 and whose best hockey, the club believes, is still ahead of him.
“He’s a really good young, two-way defenseman who’s got size and he’s got skill and he can skate,” Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois said. “He’s got all the tools, and it really came together for him, especially in the second half of the year this past season.”
Sergachev’s five power-play goals led all Lightning defensemen, and he played some of his best hockey during the Cup run, with three goals and seven assists in 25 postseason games. He had a goal and two assists during the Cup final, including a two-assist game in Game 4.
Sergachev averaged a career-high 20:22 of ice time and 22:37 in the playoffs. As his playing time increased, he was used on both power-play units, his penalty-kill role grew and he saw time on both sides of the ice.
“Will be making noise for three more years in Tampa, couldn’t be happier,” Sergachev posted Wednesday on his Instagram account.
With Sergachev re-signed, the Lightning’s focus now turns to retaining restricted free agents Anthony Cirelli and Erik Cernak while finding the necessary relief to make it under the $81.5 million cap.
The Lightning’s salary-cap crunch prevented the team from signing Sergachev to a long-term contract, but both sides clearly wanted to make a deal work so the Russian blueliner could stay in Tampa.
“Our ongoing dialogue with ‘Misha’ was good from the start,” BriseBois said. “So I knew we could get a deal done, and I appreciate his patience as well as the patience of Anthony Cirelli and Erik Cernak. We’ve been working hard at trying to free up some cap space. But in the meantime, at this point, we had the space to get ‘Misha’ signed, and we were able to quickly agree on a deal.”
Re-signing Sergachev puts the Lightning $2 million over the cap with just 19 players under contract. They can be 10 percent over until the beginning of the season and now have their restricted free agent who will command the most money under contract.
But they still must find a way to sign Cirelli and Cernak, both 23, while shedding roughly $10 million of cap space.
“I never had doubt that we would be able to,” BriseBois said of getting under the cap. “And that remains to be the case. Exactly how that will come to be, I’m not in a position to make that announcement today ... but we’re still working on it. The plan continues to be to keep those three young players for the foreseeable future. One of them we were able to lock up today, and the other two we’re working on.”
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Exactly how much time BriseBois will have to sign players and get under the cap is uncertain.
While the NHL continues to aim for a January 1 start, the league and its players association still don’t appear close to coming to an agreement on a format. Owners asked for further concessions after agreeing to a new CBA when play resumed four months ago.
“It’s an ongoing process,” BriseBois said, “but from my vantage point, there’s a lot of work being done.”
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