On the first day of NHL free agency, Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois not only set up the roster for the 2022-23 season, but also locked in the core of future rosters for many years to come. He found a veteran for the left side of the defense in Ian Cole, a reliable middle-six forward in old friend Vlad Namestnikov, and a little defensive insurance in Hayden Fleury to help cover a temporary opening caused by shoulder surgery for Zach Bogosian.
Mr. BriseBois also brought some scoring in for the Syracuse Crunch as he signed Felix Robert. While the names weren’t known, those types of signings were needed and expected. Having crossed that off of his to-do list, he went ahead and started working on 2023-24 business as well. It’s obvious that he didn’t want to have to deal prolonged negotiations or the remote possibility of an offer sheet so he just went ahead and signed Anthony Cirelli, Erik Cernak, and Mikhail Sergachev to 8-year extensions.
Along with the Nick Paul signing from earlier in the offseason, Mr. BriseBois has identified and locked in several players that will likely carry the Lightning beyond the Steven Stamkos Era. Is it a risk to sign these them now? Of course, but it’s also a belief in their talent (mixed in with the hope of a significant boost to the salary cap in a couple of years). Cirelli could be a future captain of this team and Sergachev a top-pairing defenseman. Cernak is the steadiest of defensemen and, if he can avoid significant injuries, his game should age well.
There was some grumbling among national media members as to why the Lightning chose now to sign them when they had all year, but does it really make a difference? If Mr. BriseBois believes that these three players are the best fit for the future, why put off the signing. We’ve seen in the past that players can be affected by contract issues, especially when it comes to big deals, so that pressure has been removed from the trio. They can just go out and play, secure in the knowledge that they aren’t going anywhere for a long time.
While the signings lock up the biggest names that would have been restricted free agents, Mr. BriseBois will still have his work cut out for him next summer as Cal Foote and Ross Colton will need new deals and his cap space is starting to look a little tight for a roster that will only have 12 players signed. That’s a battle for another day and he has managed to work out those pesky details in the past with no problem. Trust in BriseBois.
Lightning / NHL News
Both players needed surgery to repair injuries to their shoulders and will be out until late November or early December.
Ondrej Palat signs with the New Jersey Devils [All About the Jersey]
The Lightning’s moves did come at a cost. There was no space to bring back Ondrej Palat. Sneaky P signed late Wednesday night with the New Jersey Devils, negotiating a 5-year deal with an AAV of $6 million. Congrats! Thank you for all of the playoff goals, smart plays, and hockey hugs.
Jan Rutta signs with the Pittsburgh Penguins [Pensburgh]
The Lightning’s other pending free agent also joined the Metro Division as Rutta signed a three-year deal worth $2.5 million per season with the Penguins. Pittsburgh now has nine defensemen under contract. That seems like a lot.
Johnny Gaudreau signs with the Columbus Blue Jackets [The Cannon]
Talk about a move from out of nowhere. Gaudreau left money on the table from Calgary to sign with the Blue Jackets, adding them to the mix of Metro Division teams that drastically improved on Wednesday.
ESPN Free Agency Tracker [ESPN]
Get the latest on all of the other deals that went down (and continue to go down). Nazem Kadri still hasn’t chosen a new home yet, and there are a smattering of smart signings still to be had.
After pressure from their sponsors and the Canadian government, Hockey Canada has agreed to reopen the investigation into the alleged assault that took place during a June event that was held for the 2018 World Juniors team. An independent third party will lead the investigation and all players from the team are required to cooperate or face a ban from future Hockey Canada activities.