The Tampa Bay Lightning season is over. With a long summer ahead of us, we’re going to hand out grades to each player on the roster. You did your part submitting your grades via the reader survey, and they are presented along with our writers’ grades. All told, about 360 of you submitted grades, which is less than last season, but that’s understandable considering how the season went. Follow along with the series through the month of May and share your thoughts in the comments.
After a strong rookie season, it was hoped that Mikhail Sergachev would further blossom into one of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s best defensemen. Overall, I’d argue Sergachev definitely improved, but his sophomore campaign did pose some growing pains for the young Russian. Sergachev’s offensive output slightly dropped compared to his rookie season, while his propensity for getting a bit too cute in the defensive zone still lingered from time to time. However, his ability to effectively transition the puck into the offensive zone in addition to his improved defensive play should be enough to view Sergachev’s season in a positive light.
Given that the Lightning had a crowd on the left side of their defense this season, it was Sergachev who was tapped most often to play on his weak side. The ability to play at a high level on his weak side shouldn’t be discounted here. Not every defender can do that. Sergachev took the assignment and handled himself quite well during the season. His pairing with Braydon Coburn was among the strongest the Lightning could put on the ice every game. Coburn and Sergachev played 659 minutes together and controlled 54% of the shot attempts at 5v5 while generating an identical xGF%. Sergachev also flourished away from Coburn, controlling 53% of the shot attempts at 5v5 while generating an xGF% of 52%. It didn’t really matter who Sergachev played with, he was normally dictating the pace of play.
The visualizations back up this assertion as well.
Sergachev has always been one of the more aggressive defenders at the offensive blueline for Tampa Bay, and his heat map shows that. Additionally, his defensive play should be lauded as well. Yes, he still makes mistakes occasionally, but given his upside you take the good with the bad since more times than not, he’s going to make a good play. What’s even more impressive is that Sergachev is only 20 years old, and he’s already this good. Imagine how good he will be at 23 or 24 years old.
Take note on what two defensemen are all positive here. A Norris Trophy winner (also, just marvel at how good Hedman is), and Sergachev. This also helps support my Coburn article where I suggest he should be the UFA defensemen Tampa Bay brings back. Regardless, Sergachev has shown this season that he is firmly one of Tampa Bay’s top four defenders. Once you look at how his ice time increased as the season went on, you’ll notice that the coaching staff started to use him like one as well.
If there is one area that I’d like to see Sergachev get a prolonged look at next season, it’d be the penalty kill. Tampa Bay loaded their penalty kill time onto five defenders: Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh, Anton Stralman, Dan Girardi, and Erik Cernak. Those defensemen all played 130+ minutes while shorthanded. The only two defenders who didn’t register 100+ minutes were Coburn (75) and Sergachev (15). In the extremely small amount of shorthanded time that Sergachev did see, his suppression numbers were quite good. Hopefully the coaching staff will use him more there so we can see if he is actually good on that unit.
On the other side, Sergachev has been the anchor for the second power-play unit. Tampa Bay did toy with the idea of splitting time between Sergachev and McDonagh quarterbacking the second power-play, but that was quickly thrown out the window with Sergachev controlling the second unit. Also, whenever Hedman did miss time, it was Sergachev who took over as the lead defensemen on the top power-play unit. That should tell us all we need to know about his ability on the man advantage.
As for grades, I gave Sergachev a B while the consensus from all of you was a B-. Again, we’re close with our grades. I think a lot of folks wanted Sergachev to exceed his rookie point totals and were understandably disappointed when he failed to do so. Being snake bitten in the goals category until January certainly didn’t help his confidence, but once he found his groove after the All-Star break, we began to see Sergachev’s swagger come back. Still, even though he had a less impressive offensive season, he definitely improved in his own end which helps mitigate the offensive drop.
Heading into next season, Sergachev should be a lock for top four minutes. The question that should be asked is “who will his partner be?” In their short time together, Hedman and Sergachev did put up some strong numbers. They controlled 53% of the shot attempts at 5v5 while generating an xGF% of 51%. This was with only 211 minutes of playtime together. If the Lightning want to load up their top four, then having a pairing of Hedman-Sergachev followed by McDonagh-Cernak wouldn’t be a bad avenue to take.
However, the coaching staff will likely want to spread their talent around and see if Sergachev can carry a pairing on his own. The numbers suggest that Sergachev can do that, but it’s simply a matter of who will they put with him. If Coburn is brought back, then that is an obvious fit, but there is also Jan Rutta who could also be paired with Sergachev next season.
Rutta was paired with Sergachev this year, but rarely; the two only logged 20 minutes of ice time together. The funny thing is their numbers together are absurd. The Sergachev-Rutta pairing controlled 63% of the shot attempts at 5v5 while generating an xGF% of 57%. Small sample size is obviously going to dismiss a lot of the optimism that those numbers provide, but that pairing could be something for Tampa Bay next season.
The future is bright for Sergachev and I’m excited to see how much better he will become. He’s easily a part of Tampa Bay’s top four, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he could be their second best defensemen by the end of next season.