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Lightning trade Mikhail Sergachev, Tanner Jeannot ahead of free agency

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Lightning trade Mikhail Sergachev, Tanner Jeannot ahead of free agency


TAMPA — The Lightning said an abrupt good-bye to another piece of their championship core Saturday, one that was expected to be a Bolt into the next decade, giving general manager Julien BriseBois the salary cap flexibility he’s coveted for years to keep the Lightning a contender.

But for now, that freed-up money is not earmarked for Steven Stamkos, and the Lightning captain appears headed to the open market when free agency begins Monday at noon.

BriseBois made a shocking move, dealing away 26-year-old budding superstar defenseman Mikhail Sergachev to the Utah Hockey Club during the second day of the NHL draft in Las Vegas.

A bigger shock came later in the day. BriseBois said that even after gaining $11.15 million of cap space by trading Sergachev and forward Tanner Jeannot, he re-approached Stamkos’ agent, Don Meehan, but didn’t make Stamkos a better offer.

“Our respective positions haven’t changed following (Saturday’s) trades.” BriseBois said by phone after the draft. “As of now we’ve both agreed to get to July 1. It doesn’t mean we can’t circle back to one another. But we’re both going to go ahead and follow through with our due diligence, seeing what’s out there and seeing what’s best.

“My response was to see what’s best for the Lightning organization. And Stephen has to do what’s best for him, his career and his family. So unless something changes between now and July 1, and it doesn’t look like it will, we will get to (free agency).”

The roster could look a lot different in the next couple days without two of the franchise’s fan favorites in Sergachev and Stamkos.

The Lightning might not be a better team today, but they are younger. For Sergachev, they received a 24-year-old top-four defenseman in J.J. Moser, who averaged 20:34 in ice time last season for Arizona, and 20-year-old forward Conor Geekie, a former No. 11 overall pick who immediately becomes the Lightning’s top prospect.

Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev celebrates a goal against the Maple Leafs during the 2023 playoffs.
Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev celebrates a goal against the Maple Leafs during the 2023 playoffs. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

And BriseBois now becomes a major player in free agency. The Lightning’s cap space increased to $16.5 million, so they can make a run at some of this year’s top free agents, or explore trade offers from teams hamstrung by the $88 million cap who need to move salaries.

“We now have a war chest of cap space to go out and improve our team in free agency,” BriseBois said. “And the hope is that the newfound cap space, our favorable taxation situation, the opportunity to be on a competitive team and to play with some great players should make us an appealing destination when free agents have to make decisions on where to sign come July 1.”

BriseBois didn’t want to necessarily move Sergachev, calling him a “stud, two-time Stanley Cup-winning, 26-year-old No. 1 defenseman,” but he saw strength on the left side of the Lightning blue line after re-acquiring defenseman Ryan McDonagh last month and decided to next improve the depth of the forward group.

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Still, that Sergachev was the player who had to be moved came as a shock. The Lightning had seen him as a part of their long-term future, signing him to an eight-year extension during the 2022 offseason to keep him under team control through 2030-31, making him the highest-paid defenseman on the team. He won his second Stanley Cup just days after his 23rd birthday, and he learned under the tutelage of Hedman and McDonagh.

“Looking at what we had on our back end, it felt like you would end up with a better collective group if we reallocated some of our riches from the back end to improve our depth at the forward position,” BriseBois said. “And this time of year, during the draft and the opening of free agency is one such time, and what we’re trying to do, it’s always about the collective group. It’s always about trying to build the strongest group possible.”

Besides parting ways with Sergachev, the Lightning cut bait on the 27-year-old Jeannot, whom they paid a hefty price to acquire at the 2023 trade deadline. He didn’t live up to expectations, and they found a suitor in the Kings that would take his $2.665 million cap hit for next season before he reaches free agency.

Shortly after Saturday’s trade, Sergachev posted on Instagram, thanking the Lightning and their fans:

“I’m grateful to (the Lightning) for everything we’ve had together, all the ups and downs, from losing 4-0 in the first round to winning two Stanley cups! Thanks to the organization for providing me with everything I needed to perform my best! Thanks to the coaches, I’ve learned a lot from you. Thanks to the medical staff, I love you guys and huge thanks to the players that I played with, you truly made it special!

“I was proud to call myself a bolt and I gave my absolute everything to this team! Tampa will always be a home to me and my family! And thank you to the fans and city of Tampa! I’ve felt love and support from you and it made me better! Everything comes to an end, but we’re forever champs and I love you Tampa!”

Mikhail Sergachev (98) learned from one of the league's best defensemen in Victor Hedman (77).
Mikhail Sergachev (98) learned from one of the league’s best defensemen in Victor Hedman (77). [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

Entering the offseason, BriseBois said his mission — along with re-signing Stamkos — was to improve defensively after the Lightning ranked 22nd in goals allowed. He traded to get McDonagh back, and boasted having a top-four group made up of Victor Hedman, McDonagh, Sergachev and Erik Cernak.

But BriseBois said that earlier this month — when negotiations with Stamkos hit a impasse — his staff started sending out feelers for trades and took a closer look at a free-agent market they previously couldn’t deeply delve into. They decided to address upgrading the forward group, likely focusing on the top two-way forwards available.

The Lightning can also pursue an extension for Hedman, who is entering the final year of his contract, in the coming days.

Along with Moser and Geekie, the latest trades netted the Lightning four more draft picks, including two in Saturday’s draft.

Moser was a second-round pick by Arizona in 2021. Another left-shot defenseman, he had five goals and 26 points in 80 games last season for the Coyotes. He will get a significant raise from the $886,667 cap hit he carried on his entry-level contract.

Geekie is coming off his third full season in the Western Hockey League, where he scored 43 goals and 56 assists in 55 games between the Wenatchee Wild and Swift Current Broncos. His plus-51 rating was the second-highest among Western Hockey League skaters. Geekie also represented Team Canada in this year’s World Juniors, recording two goals and an assist in five games.

Geekie, whose entry-level contract runs through 2026-27, is expected to start the season at AHL Syracuse after making his pro debut last season with the Coyotes’ AHL affiliate in Tucson.

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