The offseason, that beautiful time of year when there really isn’t much going on so we’re forced to speculate, ruminate, and flat-out create discussion and controversy. For today’s question we’re heading into the hypothetical arena to deal with a real life problem facing Julien BriseBois.
He has two rather important Restricted Free Agents that he has to sign, Mikhail Sergachev and Anthony Cirelli. Both young players have exceeded expectations and contributed greatly to the team’s success over the past two seasons. That’s excellent for winning games, but puts them on the radar of other teams. While we’ve only seen one half-hearted offer sheet over the past few seasons, this year’s salary crunch, partnered with an infiltration of younger GMs across the league who don’t fear repercussions or barn fights, we might actually see an offer or two with some teeth to it.
So, for our hypothetical situation two rival GMs have submitted offer sheets. One is for Anthony Cirelli, and one is for Mikhail Sergachev. Due to a stroke of luck and definitely not collusion, the offers are exactly the same: 5 years, $33 million. The AAV is $6.6 million which, according to the compensation grid, nets the Lightning a first round and a third round pick per player.
The question is multiple choice. If you’re Julien BriseBois what do you do?
A. Match both offers
B. Match offer for Anthony Cirelli
C. Match offer for Mikhail Sergachev
D. Decline to match both offers
The tiny editorial part of my brain that obsesses over page views and reader engagement is screaming quite loud for the answer to be “D”. Oh my goodness would there be outrage. So much glorious outrage. How could a team let two of their best young players walk away for a couple of measly draft picks?
Luckily, the site-responsible portion of my brain is quite easy to ignore. Signing both to deals of that magnitude will put the Lightning in an untenable position. They simply cannot afford $13 million in additional salary this season.
So it comes down to either Cirelli or Sergachev. In my mind, it’s an easy choice - you match Sergachev’s contract. Anthony Cirelli is going to have a long, good career in the NHL. At some point he will probably be a captain of a team. That being said, in my opinion, it’s easier to replace a two-way center than it is an offensively-inclined defenseman.
While not quite a hockey unicorn, Mikhail Sergachev is still a rare specimen. He’s kind of like a key deer - there are enough out there that you will probably see one at some point if you live in Florida, but not enough that you can hit them with your car and use them for throw rugs. He has the ability to put up points at even strength and can run the point of a power play.
Most of all, he’s still getting better. He hasn’t hit 300 games in the NHL yet and is just 22-years-old. The defensive part of his game is just going to get better. A lot of being in the right position and making plays look easy comes simply from repetition. The more he sees how NHL forwards act in certain situations, the better he will become at defending against their actions.
Besides, I’m sure there is one team that already regrets trading him away, hopefully the Lightning don’t become the second.
Damn you, Justin, for making me answer this.
First and foremost, I don’t think there will be an offer sheet, and in the unlikely scenario where there is one, I don’t think Sergachev or Cirelli will accept it. I imagine JBB has a strong relationship with both players — there has been nothing to suggest otherwise and both get lots of minutes on a newly championship team — so I don’t think it’ll get to the point where a choice will have to be made.
HOWEVER. If I did have to make the choice, my first hope would be to keep both players. Neither would be on an unreasonable contract for what they bring to the team, it’s arguable they would be underpaid if they were on a team with less star power (this makes me think the offer sheets would higher cap hits if they come). In order to make the cap work with both players under a $13.2 million combined cap hit, the Lightning would have to be absolutely brutal and break some hearts on the team that just won the Stanley Cup.
Knowing that Alex Killorn has a modified no-trade clause, I would go after the teams that aren’t on the list. He’s already submitted his list and it can’t be changed, so I would even pay a team to take him if I had to as long as they’re on the list. Next up, Tyler Johnson and Yanni Gourde. I would put offer after offer on the table of both players, urging them to waive their NTCs. The writing would be on the wall that they wouldn’t be wanted in the city or on the team. This has happened to other players, so there’s a reasonable chance it works. It would be devastating, but I would blame Justin and the GMs that put me in that position and force them out.
A buyout wouldn’t work, all three would need to go in order to dress a 20-man roster with bare-bones options to the bottom half of the defense and bottom six. The Lightning would essentially turn into the Leafs if they land Alex Pietrangelo. With those moves made, I would have $6,750,000 to spend on six skaters in order to reach 20 players on the roster.
If the likes of Mathieu Joseph, Carter Verhaeghe, Alex Volkov, and Alex Barre-Boulet make the roster at league minimum (or equivalent free agents or trade acquisitions), that leaves $3.9 million for two players. Splitting that on two RHD (like Jan Rutta and Kevin Shattenkirk), that’s the roster filled out.
In terms of whether this team with both offer sheets matched would be competitive next season, I would say it largely would be. Sergachev, Victor Hedman, and Ryan McDonagh are going to be your three most-used defensemen, Sergachev will be playing with one of them. I have confidence in JBB to find defensemen to fill out the bottom half with Braydon Coburn and a potentially cheap RFA Erik Cernak on a one-year deal.
The biggest hit would come to the forward group. One of Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman is in the top six and the other is the third line centre. I don’t feel too bad about that. The third line wingers would be some combination of Cedric Paquette and the league-minimum guys. I would look hard into buyout victims Michael Grabner and Bobby Ryan on cheap deals to fill out the third line.
The bottom pair is whatever the team can afford. I try to retain Shattenkirk or Rutta to play with Hedman, Schenn and Bogosian for the third pair, or possibly go after the likes of Dylan DeMelo, Jon Merrill, and Cody Ceci if I can’t retain any of them.
The fourth line will be what it is. Regardless of how the bottom of the roster fills out, I still think the team is a contender next year. Stamkos, Point, Kucherov, Cirelli, Hedman, Sergachev, McDonagh, Vasilevskiy. As long as the team has that, they’ll be okay.
For the record, I tried making the roster work with someone like Gourde still on the roster, but even with players like Paquette and Coburn traded, it would be almost impossible to make it work.
Damn you, Justin and unknown awful GMs. Let me enjoy this win for one offseason please!