The Tampa Bay Lightning have wasted no time getting a head start on their restricted free agent signings for 2023. The team has signed defenseman Mikhail Sergachev to an eight-year contract extension with an $8.5 million cap hit that will keep him in Tampa through the 2030-31 season. The next decade!
Right after the draft, it was announced that Sergachev had made an agent change moving to Dan Milstein’s Gold Star Sports Management. Milstein represents a number of Russian and other Eastern European NHLers, though he also has some North American clients as well. Most notably, he also represents Nikita Kucherov and Andrei Vasilevskiy, both of whom signed contract extensions a year before becoming a restricted free agent for the last time in their careers. So it seemed like it was pretty obvious that Sergachev was going to follow that route as well.
Sergachev was originally drafted 9th overall in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft by the Montreal Canadiens while he was playing in the OHL for the Windsor Spitfires. The Canadiens returned him to Windsor for another season, but he played in four games in the NHL for the Canadiens. The following summer, the Lightning traded forward Jonathan Drouin for Sergachev. While there were conditional draft picks attached on either side of the deal, because Sergachev played enough games in 2017-18 as a rookie, the deal ended up being one-for-one and the Lightning have gotten the better end of the deal.
In Sergachev, they picked up a legitimate top four, left-handed defenseman with a lot of offensive potential. Sergachev had actually taken a little bit of a step back offensively the previous few years, but that was also partly because he was working on his defensive game and being a more responsible, well-rounded defenseman that can anchor a top pair. With Victor Hedman ahead of him in the depth chart, he doesn’t have to be the top guy, but is certainly capable of stepping in and taking over when needed.
Sergachev is still a young player, only turned 24 just a few weeks ago. It feels like he should be much older since he’s already been with the Lightning for five seasons and won two Stanley Cups with the team. This contract will take him through his age-32 season and he’ll turn 33 just as the contract expires. The Lightning are getting all of his prime years and a little bit more beyond that.
That does come at a pretty hefty price tag of $8.5 million. It’s been a little bit harder projecting some of these longer term RFA contracts. There’s certainly a number of comparable deals that one can look to, such as Charlie McAvoy ($9.5 million) and Zach Werenski ($9.583) but in some ways, Sergachev isn’t quite at the same level as those two players. Plus we also have to consider that while the cap has been stagnant because of the pandemic, it’s expected that the players will make up the shortfall in revenues in the next couple seasons and the salary cap could rise substantially within just the first year or two of Sergachev’s deal.
It could rise so much, and thus also inflate other contracts signed in the next few years, in a way that will make the Sergachev deal look like a bargain, much like how Victor Hedman’s contract has after he signed for $7.875 million. It’s a lot to pay, and it’s a lot for the Lightning to navigate still when it comes to the 2023-24 salary cap. But you can see why Julien BriseBois felt he needed to move on from Ryan McDonagh, since he knew these big numbers for the RFAs were coming.
Sergachev is here to stay. He’s under contract for nine more seasons. He’s had a great career so far in Tampa, and this will just mean he has all of his prime years to further refine and improve his game. At 24 years old, he’s still got his best years of hockey in front of him. Most hockey players tend to peak around 25 years old, plateau for a few years, and then start their climb. Sergachev still has more to give and more room to grow, and with the elite skillset he has, there’s every reason to believe he’ll still be an incredibly talented defenseman throughout the life of this contract.
Let’s Go Bolts!