Steve Yzerman is widely regarded as one of the top general managers in the NHL. The Lightning’s GM had serious business to take care of this summer, such as signing restricted free agents Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat. In addition, Yzerman needed to bring in players to improve his team, which fell short of a playoff spot in 2016-17
The Lightning now sit atop the league’s standings with 22 wins in their first 30 games. A great deal of the team’s success has to do with the moves made by Yzerman during the offseason. Here are how some of the Lightning’s most notable acquisitions from this summer have paid off for them.
Girardi a Pleasant Surprise for Lightning Fans
Dan Girardi signed a two-year deal with the Lightning worth a total of $6 million on July 1. At the time, Lightning fans were not convinced signing the 33-year-old defenseman would improve the team’s back end. Throughout the past couple of seasons, the long-time Rangers defenseman struggled with his defensive play and suffered a couple of injuries, which have slowed him down. Nonetheless, the 33-year-old has been a consistent top-10 shot blocker and brings tons of experience and leadership to the Lightning.
Despite many expecting a train wreck season from Girardi, the undrafted defenseman fits in nicely with the Lightning’s defense core. Averaging less ice-time than usual has helped Girardi, who has been a reliable penalty killer for the Lightning. Scoring is not considered one of his strengths, but the 33-year-old has a respectable one goal and six assists this season. Girardi has had some mishaps from time to time, however, there hasn’t been any real reason for concern about this signing up until now.
Kunitz an Effective Fourth Liner
Signing Chris Kunitz to a one-year deal worth $2 million last July was a sneaky move by Yzerman. This signing quietly worked out well for the Lightning. Though there was a lot more confidence in the Kunitz deal than Girardi’s, Kunitz embraced his new role of being a nasty fourth-line player. The 38-year-old’s scoring ability shouldn’t be overlooked either. Kunitz scored 20 or more goals in six seasons and still has some scoring touch left in him. Kunitz has five goals this season, just four away from last season’s total of nine with the Pittsburgh Penguins while averaging four fewer minutes.
Kunitz’s versatility also benefits the Lightning. Having played with guys like Sidney Crosby, the 38-year-old is capable of slotting anywhere in the Lightning’s line-up. If head coach Jon Cooper needs to adjust his lines in the case of an injury or if the team needs a shake-up, Kunitz could be tried out on different lines. The undrafted forward has all the experience you could ask for in a player, with four Stanley Cups and an Olympic Gold to his name; this signing has only benefitted the Lightning.
Sergachev Showing Elite Potential
Mikhail Sergachev was acquired in the Jonathan Drouin trade with the Montreal Canadiens. The 19-year-old has been all the Lightning could have hoped for, and more, as he leads all Lightning defenseman in points with 21. While averaging under 15 minutes of ice-time, Sergachev is in the top-10 in scoring for all NHL defensemen, and could end up being a candidate for the Calder Trophy at season’s end.
Sergachev looks rather calm on the ice when making nifty plays in the offensive zone to create chances. This isn’t commonly seen from 19-year-old defensemen. A perfect example of this can be seen on Sergachev’s seventh goal of the season against the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday. Sergachev made an incredible move to find some open space and fire a shot into the net.
Sergachev’s offensive ability is clearly far superior to his age. There is tons of room for him to grow, which can only excite Lightning fans. It seems like someday Sergachev will be among the best defensemen in the league. Lightning fans should acknowledge that acquiring the talented young defenseman back in June was another terrific move by Yzerman.