TAMPA — Just in time for Christmas, Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois is able to check off all the items on his offseason wish list.
The Lightning re-signed forward Anthony Cirelli to a three-year contract Thursday worth an annual average value of $4.8 million, securing the team’s final restricted free-agent target.
The Lightning’s primary offseason focus was to retain the 23-year-old Cirelli as well as defensemen Mikhail Sergachev and Erik Cernak while remaining cap compliant.
Because of star winger Nikita Kucherov’s hip injury, which will cost him the entire regular season, the Lightning will be able to get under the $81.5 million flat salary cap. The Lightning will get the necessary cap relief by placing Kucherov on long-term injury reserve.
“Essentially we have everyone signed that we wanted to have signed prior to the start of the season,” BriseBois said Wednesday. “...And because of Nikita’s injury, obviously there’s no good news out of that injury, but it will allow us to use a long-term injury exemption to bolster our salary cap.”
The team also retained forwards Mathieu Joseph and Alex Volkov and defensemen Jan Rutta to lesser deals in recent days as the framework of the NHL’s abbreviated 56-game season was made official.
Re-signing Cirelli was the final piece to the big-picture roster puzzle. Cirelli’s deal is back-loaded, paying him $2.4 million this season, $4.8 million next season and $7.2 million in 2022-23. It’s the same structure as the deal Sergachev signed last month.
Cirelli has 16 goals and 28 assists in 68 regular-season games last year while earning the reputation as one of the NHL’s top defensive forwards. Cirelli wasn’t among the finalists for last year’s Selke Award, given annually to the top defensive forward, but metrics showed he was one of the best.
Cirelli had three goals and six assists in 25 games during the Lightning’s Stanley Cup run. All three of his postseason goals came in series clinchers, including his overtime game-winner in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference final against the Islanders.
While Kucherov’s injury gets the Lightning under the cap, it doesn’t allow for much flexibility, so BriseBois said he will continue to find ways to free up space.
“At least as of now I know that, worst case, we can go into the season and we’re going to be cap compliant,” he said.
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.
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