Lightning trade Mikhail Sergachev and Tanner Jeannot ahead of free agency


TAMPA — The Lightning on Saturday abruptly said goodbye to another part of its championship core that was expected to become the Bolts of the next decade, giving general manager Julien BriseBois the salary cap flexibility he has wanted for years to keep the Lightning a contender.

But at the moment, that free money isn't earmarked for Steven Stamkos, and the Lightning captain looks to be headed to the open market when free agency begins at noon on Monday.

Brisebois made a surprise move, trading 26-year-old emerging superstar defenseman Mikhail Sergachev to the Utah Hockey Club on day two of the NHL Draft in Las Vegas.

There was a big blow at the end of the day. Brice Bois said that even after gaining $11.15 million in cap space by selling Sergachev and forward Tanner Jeannot, they contacted Stamkos' agent Don Meehan again but did not make Stamkos a better offer.

“There’s no change in our respective positions after (Saturday’s) trade,” BriseBois said by phone after the draft. “As of now we’ve both agreed to reach out by July 1. That doesn’t mean we can’t get back to each other. But we’re both going to move forward and do our due diligence, seeing what’s out there and what’s best.”

“My reaction was to look at what's best for the Lightning organization. And Stefan 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'll get to (free agency).”

The team could look a lot different over the next few days without two of the franchise’s favorite players, Sergachev and Stamkos.

The Lightning may not be a better team today, but they are younger. For Sergachev, they got a 24-year-old top-four defenseman in JJ Moser, who averaged 20:34 of ice time for Arizona last season, and 20-year-old forward Connor Geekie, a former No. 11 overall pick who instantly became 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 is now a major player in free agency. The Lightning's cap space has grown to $16.5 million, so they can take a chance on some of this year's top free agents, or explore trade offers from $88 million cap-constrained teams that need to shift salaries.

“We now have a wealth of cap space to improve our team in free agency,” BriseBois said. “And hopefully that newfound cap space, our favorable taxation situation, the opportunity to be on a competitive team and play with some great players will make us an attractive destination when free agents have to decide where to sign on July 1.”

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

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Still, it was surprising to learn that Sergachev was the player to be moved. The Lightning had viewed him as part of their long-term future, signing him to an eight-year extension during the 2022 offseason to keep him under team control until 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 guidance of Hedman and McDonagh.

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

In addition to parting ways with Sergachev, the Lightning also added the 27-year-old Jeannot, who they paid a hefty price to acquire at the 2023 trade deadline. He failed to live up to expectations, and they found a player in the Kings who will take on his $2.665 million cap hit for next season before he hits free agency.

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

“I'm so grateful to (the Lightning) for everything we've been through together, all the ups and downs, from losing 4-0 in the first round to winning two Stanley Cups! Thank you to the organization for providing everything I needed to be at my best! Thank you to the coaches, I've learned so much from you. Thank you to the medical staff, I love you guys and thank you so much to the players I played with, you really made it special!”

“I was proud to call myself a Bolt and I gave this team my all! Tampa will always be a home for me and my family! And thank you to the fans and city of Tampa! I have felt the love and support from you and it has made me better! Everything comes to an end, but we are forever champions and I love you Tampa!”

Mikhail Sergachev (98) learned from Victor Hedman (77), the league's best defenseman.
Mikhail Sergachev (98) learned from Victor Hedman (77), the league's best defenseman. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

Entering the offseason, BriseBois said his mission – along with re-signing Stamkos – was to improve defensively after the Lightning finished 22nd in goals allowed. He traded to get McDonagh back, and claimed to have a top-four group composed of Victor Hedman, McDonagh, Sergachev and Erik Cernak.

But BriseBois said that earlier this month — when negotiations with Stamkos reached an impasse — his staff began sending out feelers for trades and taking a closer look at the free-agent market, which they may not have considered in depth before. They decided to upgrade the forward group, focusing on possibly the top two-way forward available.

The Lightning could also seek a contract extension for Hedman, who is entering the final year of his contract, in the coming days.

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

Moser was selected in the second round by Arizona in 2021. Another left-shot defenseman, he scored five goals and 26 points in 80 games for the Coyotes last season. He will receive a significant raise from the $886,667 cap hit he carries 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 at this year's world juniors, recording two goals and one assist in five games.

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

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