The Tampa Bay Lightning will look a little different in the 2022-23 season. The salary cap has forced general manager Julien BriseBois to change the roster to stay under $82.5 million for next season. Gone are a handful of players who have been key in the team’s ability to play in three straight Stanley Cup Finals. Some of these key members have come on the defensive side of the ice.
The Lightning traded away veteran Ryan McDonagh, let Jan Rutta sign with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and will lose Zach Bogosian for a significant part of the season after the veteran recently had shoulder surgery. This will give the opportunity for three defensemen to step up and play a bigger role next season as the team seeks a fourth straight trip to the Stanley Cup Final.
The departures and injuries open an opportunity for the former first-round pick to emerge as an everyday player. During the past two seasons, Foote had been in and out of the lineup but now needs to produce at least close to what is usually expected from an early-round pick. The Lightning signed Foote to a two-year contract extension worth $850,000 per year, marking an important investment that the team made in Foote after selecting him 14th overall in the 2017 NHL Draft. He missed the Lightning’s first four games of the 2021-22 regular season after having finger surgery to repair a tendon during the offseason. He appeared in 56 games last season, tallying nine points on two goals and seven assists.
Foote appeared in 13 playoff games last season but did not see the ice after the second game of the Eastern Conference Final. His biggest accomplishment of the playoffs may have come in the critical Game 6 of the opening series against the Toronto Maple Leafs. In the third period of that game, he took and “sold” a high sticking penalty, the first of two penalties that led to the Lightning’s game-tying power-play goal. During the season and into the playoffs, Foote has demonstrated some solid hockey instincts, as well as showing the confidence to take the puck into the offensive zone and make difficult plays in deep. He should get the opportunity to continue this growth during the 2022-23 season and play some significant minutes for the team.
The 25-year-old was acquired from Nashville in the McDonagh trade and is under control for one season. He played in 27 games for Nashville during the 2021-22 regular season, notching a goal, four points, and a plus-five rating. After being placed on waivers on March 17, 2022, he played 16 games with the Toronto Marlies of the AHL, scoring two goals with five assists. The 6-foot-5, 210-pounder had his best year statistically with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2019-20 when he posted four goals, 16 points, and a plus-17 rating through 50 games; he was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Flyers in 2015.
After the Lightning acquired Myers, there was speculation that they would buy out his contract, a move that would have cleared more than $3.166 million in cap space this season. However, shortly after the trade, it was announced that the Lightning would not buy out Myers, as the team feels that he has the tools to be a productive player for the team in 2022-23. A Myers that performed at the level he did with the Flyers in 2019-20 would be a valuable addition to the team. At 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds, he plays with a physical edge. He is also a rare right-side defenseman with size who has no problem sacrificing his body to block shots.
When free agency opened, the Lightning signed the 24-year-old to an eight-year, $68 million extension. The team has been impressed by the development of Sergachev, as he is a player who can kill penalties and run a power play as he can skate will with good size. He played very well in the playoffs, as he was one of just two defensemen in the playoffs to have at least 10 points and a rating of plus-7 or better. The other, as you may have guessed, was Cale Makar.
Sergachev’s best game in the playoffs may have come in the pivotal Game 5 in the Eastern Conference Final against the New York Rangers. He not only scored the tying goal, but his puck on net deflected off Ondrej Palat for the game-winner. With McDonagh gone, he should see more minutes and take on a bigger role on the penalty kill. The Lightning rightfully offered him the extension as he has developed into a solid puck-moving defenseman. When the extension begins in the 2023-24 season, Sergachev will surpass Victor Hedman as the highest-paid defenseman on the roster. Now is the time for him to step up and justify the faith that team has in him.
The Lightning’s roster will have a different look when the season opens on Oct. 11. The salary cap has forced the team to part ways with some key players that helped them win back-to-back Stanley Cups. Whether or not the team can get back to the playoffs and make a deep run will depend on a number of current players, especially on the defensive side of the ice, who can elevate their games to allow the Lightning the chance to make that deep run.
Jim Bay writes about the Tampa Bay Lightning for THW. A retired Special Education Teacher, Jim enjoys writing about hockey and all sports when he is not slashing his way around local golf courses. For interview requests or to provide content info, follow Jim on Twitter. (https://twitter.com/baysports007)