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Lightning re-sign defensemen Erik Cernak and Jan Rutta

The team addresses one of its top offseason priorities by retaining the 23-year-old Cernak.
Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak protects the puck from Anders Lee of the New York Islanders during Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final  in September in Edmonton, Alberta.
Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak protects the puck from Anders Lee of the New York Islanders during Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final in September in Edmonton, Alberta. [ MARKO DITKUN | Special to the Times ]
Published Dec. 22, 2020

TAMPA — The Lightning addressed another one of their top offseason goals on Tuesday by re-signing hard-nosed defenseman Erik Cernak to a three-year deal worth an average annual value of $2.95 million a year.

The 23-year-old Cernak was one of three restricted free agents the Lightning focused on retaining this offseason to keep their young core together.

They re-signed defenseman Mikhail Sergachev last month to a three-year deal with an average annual value of $4.8 million. Now, their focus turns to forward Anthony Cirelli, who remains unsigned.

The team also announced the signing of defenseman Jan Rutta to two-year deal worth an $1.3 million annually.

The signings put the Lightning more than $6 million over the $81.5 million flat salary cap, but the team has until the beginning of the regular season on Jan. 13 to get under the cap.

Cernak emerged as one of the league’s top young shot-blocking defensemen last season. He was especially effective in the playoffs, blocking 52 block in 25 postseason games while averaging 20:43 of ice time — fourth among Lightning defensemen in the playoffs. He also had four assists during the postseason.

Cernak, acquired in the 2017 deadline deal that sent goaltender Ben Bishop to the Kings, had five goals and seven assists in 67 regular-season games, along with 97 blocks and 172 hits.

Paired primarily with veteran Ryan McDonagh, Cernak emerged as a top-four, two-way defenseman. He had a plus-11 plus-minus during the regular season, and his 2:56 average ice time on the penalty kill ranked second on the team.

Though he played in only 33 regular-season games and five during the playoffs, Rutta is a key piece to the Lightning’s blue line, playing well alongside Conn Smythe Trophy winner Victor Hedman before injuries shortened his regular season. The 30-year-old Rutta averaged 17:47 of ice time in his five postseason games.

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at eencina@tampabay.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.

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