June 15th, 2017. The date the Montreal Canadiens decided to move then top prospect Mikhail Sergachev to the Tampa Bay Lightning. In exchange, the Canadiens acquired promising francophone star, Jonathan Drouin. The trade came with some mixed emotions from fans. On one hand, the Canadiens just traded one of the most promising defencemen outside of the NHL at the time. Who conveniently is a left-hand shot, something the Canadiens currently need. On the other hand, the Canadiens acquired a hometown elite offensive talent. Something the club has not had since the days of Stephane Richer and Pierre Turgeon.
Drouin has not quite lived up to the hype. However, he is still young and has shown some flashes of brilliance, especially before his injury this season. Sergachev, on the other hand, has become better and better each year and is evolving into a top-pairing defenceman. Fortunately for the Canadiens, they have an opportunity to re-write the script and reacquire the stud defenceman and it could happen this offseason.
Canadiens Have a Legitimate Opportunity to Bring Back Mikhail Sergachev
Mikhail Sergachev is set to become a restricted free agent at the end of the season. With the Lightning’s cap issues, it’s going to be hard to re-sign the stud defenceman. In order to do it, they’ll need to move out some of their core who have significant cap hits. However, this will not be an easy feat for the Lightning. If you look at the club’s roster, the players we come across as potential trade pieces are Yanni Gourde, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Ryan McDonagh and Alex Killorn. Each of them have no-trade clauses. Of those players, only Killorn’s no-trade clause will turn into a modified no-trade clause this off-season. If the Lightning wants to try to move any of these players, they would need to accept a trade out of Tampa Bay. This does not seem likely. Hence why they had the no-trade clause put in their contract in the first place.
The Lightning only have $7.8 million in cap space as it stands for next season. With only 15 players under contract for next season, only three of them being defencemen, the Lightning have some work to do. They will need players on entry-level deals to step up. However, that does not solve the issues they will have signing key free agents in Sergachev, Anthony Cirelli and Erik Cernak. Even if they can move out Killorn, his $4.45 cap hit they clear out added on to the $7.8 they currently have won’t be enough to get these players under contract while filling out the rest of the roster. The Lightning are in an extremely tough spot and it’s something Marc Bergevin could take advantage of.
Possible Offer Sheet?
Ahh, the dreaded offer sheet. Something that NHL general managers hate to see. However, it is a very useful tool and it’s something that Marc Bergevin has shown he is not afraid to use. Even though it failed last season while trying to snatch Sebastian Aho away from the Carolina Hurricanes, it is definitely something he could try to utilize again. If he does, surely this time he will make sure he doesn’t miss.
So what would it cost to get Sergachev? Bergevin will need to make sure the offer is something that one, Sergachev would sign. Two, the Lightning would not be able to match. And three, be comfortable with the compensation heading out in order to acquire the defenceman’s services. An offer sheet of $8.45 million would put the Canadiens right on the line of moving into the next bracket of compensation. The cost for the Canadiens would be a first, second and third-round pick. Considering the magnitude of the player and how good he already is at just 21, this certainly seems worth it. It’s also an offer large enough that it would be next to impossible for the Lightning to match. However, if the Canadiens really want to ensure they get Sergachev, they could step the offer up slightly above $8.5 million which would add a second first-round pick to the compensation. This would almost guarantee Sergachev would be in a Canadiens uniform next season.
Would Sergachev Even Sign an Offer Sheet in Montreal?
That’s a million-dollar question, literally. Marc Bergevin traded Mikhail Sergachev. So there could be some animosity towards the GM and the club. Especially considering Sergachev never found out the news from Bergevin. He found out from a fan on Twitter. Mind you, as Sergachev stated, he did not have cell service where he was at the time of the trade so we’ll assume Bergevin did try to get a hold of the player.
Sergachev was first shocked and frustrated by the news. However, it appears that feeling did not last long. In an interview by Russian reporter Pavel Panyshev of Championat.com, which was translated by Igor Nikonov of rawcharge.com, Sergachev said that he was upset for the “first five minutes then saw it as a new opportunity.” He goes on to say that “it’s a business and being upset or resenting anyone is pointless. Montreal needed a good forward and trading me was the only way they could get one.” Sounds like Sergachev is completely understanding of the move. This bodes well for the Habs chances to sign him.
What Does Mikhail Sergachev Bring to the Table?
What the Canadiens would get in Sergachev is something they have been missing for years. A big, strong, puck-moving defenceman capable of playing top-pairing minutes and quarterbacking the power play. He boasts a large frame at 6’3”, 215 lbs and skates like the wind. Sergachev is not afraid to use this size and has a bit of a mean side to him. As was shown in his scrap with Habs captain Shea Weber.
Mikhail Sergachev’s development has been outstanding as he has dedicated the time to become a much more solid two-way defenceman. His evolving play earned him a major jump in ice time from 17:55 per game in 2018-19 to 20:22 per game in 2019-20. He saw time on both specialty teams and managed to contribute on both, scoring five of his career-high 10 goals on the powerplay and well as one shorthanded marker. Sergachev’s 34 points this season may not have topped his rookie scoring production, however, his offensive zone starts in his rookie season were at 70% compared to 54% now. This just shows Sergachev is now being trusted more in the defensive zone because he has developed into a better all-around player.
Sergachev’s advanced are outstanding as well. When looking at these advanced stats we looked at all NHL defenceman who played at least 500 minutes. Sergachev had an xGF/60 of 2.49 at even strength. Pretty average number overall but what really jumps out is his xGA/60. His number of 2.01 would sit him above any defenceman on the Canadiens roster and 13th in the entire NHL. His CorsiFor% is also outstanding with a number of 54.14. This sits him in 18th place.
Putting up these kinds of numbers at just 21 is outstanding. He’s just scratching the surface at this point. Sergachev has all the tools to become an elite defenceman.
Bringing Back Sergachev Would Be a Game-Changer
Bringing back Sergachev would be an absolute game-changer for the Canadiens. They have been missing a top pairing left-shot defenceman since the departure of Andrei Markov after the 2016-17 season. Sergachev would slot in next to Shea Weber immediately and become one of the top defence pairings in the entire NHL. With top prospect Alexander Romanov set to join the Canadiens as well, the Habs left side would be set for years to come.
Ben Chiarot was forced into the top pairing role this season. He performed admirably, however, there is no denying he is miscast as a top-pairing defender. Chiarot would much better serve as a second or third pairing defenceman who specializes in killing penalties. Signing Sergachev would allow Chiarot to slide back into a role he is more suited for. As well, he would take the pressure off newcomer Romanov. It will also give the Romanov another Russian defender to learn from and ease the transition for him entering the NHL.
All things considered, reacquiring Mikhail Sergachev looks like a realistic possibility for the Canadiens. It is certainly an option Marc Bergevin will pursue this offseason. If he can manage to lock up the 21-year-old defender, we can go ahead and cross him off as ‘the one who got away’ and label him the club’s franchise defenceman for years to come.