The Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup with a stacked team of stars and a few new faces, but after the playoffs, they found themselves in a salary-cap crunch with three restricted free agents to sign – Anthony Cirelli, Mikhail Sergachev, and Erik Cernak. After the news broke that Tampa re-signed Sergachev for three years at a $4.8 million average annual value, the Lightning were left with zero cap space. This means general manager Julien BriseBois must find a way to create cap space for both Sergachev’s contract and ones yet to be signed (Cirelli/Cernak).
Sergachev took a team-friendly deal that shocked the hockey world. His value has gone up each season, as he continues to prove himself as a solid top 4 defenseman, and he was due for a raise. Now Tampa needs to figure out a way to re-sign Cirelli for a deal similar to Sergachev’s, or trade him for another forward who is already signed.
Where Would the Lightning Stand Without Cirelli
Cirelli was selected in the third round of the 2015 NHL Draft by the Lightning. He made his NHL debut with them in the 2017-18 season where he had 11 points in 18 NHL games before he finished the season with the Lightning’s AHL team, the Syracuse Crunch. His last season with Syracuse in 2017-18 proved he earned a permanent spot with Tampa Bay by finishing the season with 37 points in 51 games. His two-way play makes him the ultimate piece for Tampa.
In the last two years, Cirelli has proven himself as one of the top defensive forwards in the league. He is the type of player that the Lightning cannot afford to lose next season, with Kevin Shattenkirk, Carter Verhaeghe, Zack Bogosian, and possibly Jan Rutta, not returning for the 2020-21 season. With losing key members of Tampa’s defense, they will need to keep a forward who is responsible at both ends of the ice.
Cirelli not only put up 44 points in 68 games played before the COVID-19 pause, but he also went up against the opposition’s best players. He was also in the top ten for shorthanded points in the 2018-19 season. When the Lightning are on the penalty kill, he will almost always be on the ice.
Tampa’s Future Without Cirelli
Tampa has been a scary team to face for years, but their strength is subject to change with the inevitable aging of their star players. Cirelli is only 23 years old, and it can be argued that we have yet to see his best. Keeping a young Cirelli gives the Lightning the hope of a bright future, while also remaining a Cup contender in the upcoming season. He has displayed his ability to do well in multiple line combinations.
He has been the scariest on the ice when playing alongside Steven Stamkos, Alex Killorn, Ondrej Palat, Mathieu Joseph, and Tyler Johnson. His ability to play on the killer power play combination with Nikita Kucherov, Stamkos, and Brayden Point just proves he would leave a hole in the team if a contract cannot be agreed upon with Tampa.
2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs
During the 2020 Playoffs, Cirelli scored the goal that ended the New York Islanders season and sent the Lightning to the Stanley Cup Final. In the second period of Game 6, he collided with Anders Lee that sent him out of the game, but the minor setback did not keep him from coming back on the ice in full force. His ability to be there when the team needs him the most is another talent that would be greatly missed if he remains unsigned.
It is safe to say Tampa would benefit long-term to lock Cirelli down, even if BriseBois can only manage a bridge deal for now.