And Julien BriseBois said “LET THE EIGHT YEAR EXTENSIONS FLOW!” Not satisfied with getting Mikhail Sergachev and Anthony Cirelli under contract, the Tampa Bay Lightning have gotten another big piece of business done well ahead of the 2023 offseason by re-signing defenseman Erik Cernak to an eight-year contract with a $5.2 million salary cap hit.
A right-handed defenseman, Cernak was originally drafted in the second round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft by the Los Angeles Kings. The Lightning acquired him from the Kings when they traded Ben Bishop. Cernak only needed one season in the AHL with the Syracuse Crunch before making his debut in Tampa Bay during the 2018-19 season.
Cernak quickly grew into a very reliable top four defenseman. He’s big and physical and moves very well for a man of his size. He provides a decent amount of offense, but his full value comes from his ability to play shutdown defense against the toughest competition. And he’s right handed, which makes him a very rare and valuable commodity in it’s own right. Through 226 career NHL games, Cernak has recorded 16 goals and 59 points. He’s also recorded two goals and 19 points in 73 career playoffs games.
If Cernak had Sergachev’s offensive skills to go with his own defensive talent, than Cernak would have gotten one of the richest contracts a defenseman has ever seen. But because of the limitations in his offensive game, he’s signed for $5.2 million. That is right around what I had expected for him, as I had been penciling him in for a $5 million cap hit when I was projecting out the future for the Lightning.
Erik Cernak, signed to an 8x$5.2M extension, has developed into one of the league's most reliable defensive defencemen, consistently facing the toughest matchups and shutting them down. #GoBolts pic.twitter.com/NJI5xLbT3n— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) July 13, 2022
Perhaps even more so than Sergachev and Cirelli, this contract can look like a great bargain when the salary cap starts going up again after the stagnation caused by the pandemic. If we were expecting the salary cap to stay stagnant for the life of this contract, then I’d be a bit more worried.
At the end of his contract, Cernak will be 33 years old, turning 34 during the playoffs. The biggest concern in this contract though is injuries. Cernak plays a physical game, but also blocks a lot of shots. This has led him to miss more time than you’d like for a top four defenseman. He’ll need to manage the injuries as best as he can (and perhaps invest in some more padding around his skates and ankles) so that he can remain an effective defenseman throughout the life of this contract.