Lightning’s Sergachev Under Pressure Following McDonagh Trade

When the Tampa Bay Lightning extended Mikhail Sergachev to an eight-year, $68 million contract at the start of free agent and shortly after trading Ryan McDonagh to the Nashville Predators, they did so knowing that Sergachev was not only a big part of their recent success but an even larger part of their future. Now, Lightning fans are just hoping he can live up to that contract and it doesn’t become a hindrance the way other contracts like Alex Killorn or Tyler Johnson’s did after a few years.

Improvements Need to Be Made

One of the most glaring issues in Sergachev’s game is turning the puck over. While Victor Hedman and McDonagh were really good through the postseason about holding the puck behind the net and then hitting those stretch passes right onto the tape of a teammate’s stick, that was a big struggle for Sergachev. He turned the puck over more often than he connected with a teammate or it would result in an icing and avoid everyone’s sticks altogether. Those types of passes are a big part of Jon Cooper’s offense in order to try and get players like Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, or Anthony Cirelli the puck in space and allow the Lightning to get into transition, utilizing their speed and skill to create scoring opportunities. If those passes aren’t hitting, all he is creating is an opportunity for the opposing team.

Another part of Sergachev’s game that needs improving is his temper. While it’s great to see him out there standing up for teammates or being in scrums, he has a propensity to take unnecessary shots or instigate problems. Sergachev finished with a career-high 59 penalty minutes during the regular season and tacked on 18 more in the postseason – finishing in the top five on the team in total penalty minutes for the 2021-22 season and postseason.

This was an issue – and at some points, still is – with Kucherov. While these guys are playing a high-intensity sport, there still has to be some situational awareness and not putting your team in a bad situation. Fights, scrums, and dirty plays are going to happen but they don’t need to be exacerbated by immaturity or emotional lapses in judgment. Now, anchoring the second defensive pairing in place of McDonagh, it’s on Sergachev to take that next step and become a leader who can keep a handle on his emotions more often than not.

Plenty of Room to Grow

Something that a lot of people don’t realize – or just don’t think about – when it relates to Sergachev is how young he is. It feels like he’s been in the league forever, having started with the Montreal Canadiens in the 2016-17 season before being traded to the Lightning in the deal involving Jonathan Drouin. So Sergachev has been with the Lightning through some rough and some great times, losing the Eastern Conference Final against Washington, the sweep by Columbus, winning two Stanley Cups, and last year suffering a loss in the Final to the Avalanche.

Lightning Defenceman Mikhail Sergachev
TORONTO, ON – FEBRUARY 12: Tampa Bay Lightning Defenceman Mikhail Sergachev (Photograph by Julian Avram/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Sergachev just turned 24 years old during the Cup Final and has been playing in the NHL since he was 18. The average age for a rookie in the 2021-22 season was 24, so Sergachev already has 454 games under his belt at that same age. So when you take a look at his development through the first six years of his career, it’s easy to forget that he is nowhere near his prime and every facet of his game is likely to get better over not just the next few years but over the duration of his new contract.

Somewhere you’d like to see his game continue to evolve is on offense. His strength and wrist shot from the blue line are fantastic, but he doesn’t utilize them enough. In an age where teams look to their blueliners, like Hedman, Cale Makar, and Roman Josi, to generate as much offense as they contribute on defense, Sergachev can begin using that part of his game more often and give the Lightning another threat on the back end and make them even harder to stop.

Return on Investment

While the extension is a big one, there’s a key element to consider when looking at it. His new deal doesn’t kick in until the 2023-24 season, so for the upcoming year, he will only cost $4.8 million. Once his new contract begins, there is widespread speculation that the cap will take a big jump now that the NHLPA has “repaid” the owners for the bubble play where there was no stadium revenue while players were still getting paid.

Even if you moderately project a $2 million increase in the cap, that would put the 2023-24 cap at approximately $84.5 million. So, his new deal will cost just a tad over 10% of the team’s cap for that season with that percentage going down each and every season.

When you have a young, talented player locked up for that long your return on investment – more often than not – is going to be a good one. In the Lightning’s case, they have someone locked up that likely would have gotten at least a million dollars more on the open market and certainly would garner more than the $8.5 million he’s getting in the next three-to-four years had he signed a shorter term.

Related: 3 Lightning Defensemen Who Need To Step Up

Hedman is 31 years old and has just two years left on his current deal. Before the Sergachev contract expires, it’s likely he will become the number one defenseman on the team following Hedman’s retirement. Hedman would be 40 years old at the end of Sergachev’s new deal, likely meaning he will be out of the league. Now, with the improvements and developments we expect to see in his game, you’re looking at Sergachev being the face of the defense and likely one of the alternate captains on the team.

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