TAMPA, Fla. — Listening to Mikhail Sergachev reminisce about the Lightning's Stanley Cup run — and the camaraderie the team formed in the bubble during the playoffs — he clearly wanted to remain in a Tampa Bay uniform.
Sergachev signed a three-year contract to stay with the Lightning for a $4.8 million average annual value, a deal slightly under projections. But the 22-year-old defenseman said Thursday that money wasn't going to get in the way of his return.
"I've had the best memories in my hockey career here in Tampa, the first goal and the Stanley Cup and many, many more things," Sergachev said on a video conference call from Russia. "I miss the boys on our team and want to get back to Tampa as soon as possible and that means a lot to me. I wouldn't want to change the team for money."
In his third full NHL season, Sergachev learned to play with more physicality in the second half of the season and through the playoffs. He set a career high with 10 goals, led all Lightning defensemen with five power-play goals and earned the coaching staff's trust on the penalty-kill unit.
Hoisting the Stanley Cup was certainly the highlight of Sergachev's career, but he talked Thursday about how the team thrived being together in Canada, whether it was on the ice or off it playing PlayStation 4, ping-pong or card games in the players' lounge.
"Every night every player was there and staff members, too," Sergachev said. "So it was pretty, pretty memorable. We had so much fun. Obviously, lifting the Cup is great, but being with the boys is No. 1.
"Usually when you spend some time with people for like more than a week, you start getting sick of them, and especially in the hotel where you don't see other faces," Sergachev said. "We just had fun together and it was an unbelievable time. I kind of miss it, not the bubble but being with the boys in the bubble. Obviously, the games were fun, too."
Despite the team's need to clear cap space — and uncertainty about the upcoming season that slowed roster movement around the league — Sergachev said he never doubted a deal would get done. The Lightning are now $2 million over the flat $81.5 million salary cap.
"I was pretty confident that everything would be all right," Sergachev said. "Obviously, you start thinking about the cap situation and the whole virus thing and it was tough at the beginning, but then I just realized I did what I had to do and played as good as I could and now it's just up to my agent and to (general manager) Julien (BriseBois). I kind of stopped worrying about the contract and I just focused on my everyday life and getting ready for a new season. So then when the call came, obviously I was very happy."(c)2020 Tampa Bay Times (St. Petersburg, Fla.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC