Two years ago, we were wondering how the Tampa Bay Lightning were going to fit Erik Cernak, Anthony Cirelli and Mikhail Sergachev under a flat salary cap with all three coming off their entry level contracts.
Now, entering this off-season general manager Julien BriseBois has the opportunity to sign the three young core players, that have helped lead the team to two Stanley Cups, to extensions a year before their bridge deals expire as restricted free agents. And if recent history is any indicator, then there’s a good chance at least one, and likely all, will be locked up this summer.
Beginning with Nikita Kucherov and Ryan McDonagh in July 2018, all but one of the Lightning’s big contract extensions since have been signed in the off-season before they became an unrestricted or restricted free agent. The only exception being Yanni Gourde, who signed in-season in November 2018 shortly after the season started.
The full list since July 2018:
- Ryan McDonagh (Signed July 1, 2018 – 2019-20 start)
- Nikita Kucherov (Signed July 10, 2018 – 2019-20 start)
- Yanni Gourde (Signed November 2, 2018 – 2019-20 start)
- Andrei Vasilevskiy (Signed July 29, 2019 – 2020-21 start)
- Brayden Point (Signed July 28, 2021 – 2022-23 start)
While the salary cap always seems to be a pressing issue for Tampa Bay – already $52.1M committed to 10 players, not including Seabrook’s LTIR contract, of an expected $83.5M salary cap for the 2023-24 season – the move to trade McDonagh to Nashville looks to have cleared the necessary cap space for extensions to Cernak, Cirelli, and Sergachev.
Currently, BriseBois’ top priority is to navigate the team through free agency – which opens July 13. Nick Paul has already re-signed for seven years, but Ondrej Palat and Jan Rutta are still due to become free agents if not signed by the 13th. Additionally, McDonagh being traded likely necessitates adding a left-handed defenseman in free agency or by trade.
Once the most pressing tasks are dealt with, there’s a good chance we will hear news on progress being made towards extensions for the three big 2023 RFAs. All three will be eligible to sign extensions on the 13th.
In a sign that the players themselves are gearing up for contract talks, Mikhail Sergachev just changed his agent to Dan Milstein – the agent of Nikita Kucherov and Andrei Vasilevskiy.
This should not come as a surprise as there appeared to have already been a relationship between both parties as Sergachev frequently joined his teammates and their agent during their Stanley Cup celebrations in 2021. If anything, the familiarity between Milstein and BriseBois should speed-up contract discussions.
Additionally, Ross Colton, Cal Foote, and Philippe Myers will all become restricted free agents during the 2023 off-season as well, but their relatively small sample size of games played should see that none of them sign a year out as it would be in the best interest of both parties to wait and get a fair salary number.