After a flurry of activity leading up to Christmas, the Tampa Bay Lightning made one last announcement before the holiday with the signing of Anthony Cirelli to a three-year, $14.4 million deal. This extension will carry a cap hit of $4.8 million per year.
After he was selected in the third round of the 2015 NHL Draft, Cirelli has done nothing but impress with the Lightning. He quickly proved that he had legit NHL upside after just a few months in the AHL, and took over a starting role with the franchise after scoring two goals in his first NHL game against the Dallas Stars back in Mar. 2018.
Since that breakout game, Cirelli established himself as Tampa Bay’s best two-way forward. By the 2019-20 season, he joined the national discussion, earning enough votes to finish fourth in Selke voting.
Should he continue developing his game, Cirelli could become a perennial candidate for the Selke award while playing a two-way game that the Lightning need to contend for the Stanley Cup.
Signing Cirelli Was a Priority for the Lightning
Heading into the 2020 offseason, Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois stressed that signing Tampa Bay’s three restricted free-agents (Mikhail Sergachev, Erik Cernak, and Cirelli), was a top priority for the franchise. As BriseBois said to Joe Smith of the Athletic:
“Not keeping them was never something we would seriously consider… There’s significant will on our end to make (new deals) happen. They’re a big part of why I look at our organization and future with a lot of promise.”
From “How Lightning deal with Mikhail Sergachev got done” The AthleticNHL – 11/25/20
While it was obvious that Tampa Bay wanted to keep all three players, it was difficult to imagine how they could afford these signings since they had, essentially, no available cap-space.
However, with the announcement of Nikita Kucherov missing the entire 2020-21 regular season due to a hip injury, the Lightning will have his $9.5 million cap hit to become compliant when he is placed on Long Term Injury Reserve (LTIR). While this is far from an ideal situation, it will open up a significant amount of space that should provide a temporary answer for the franchise.
With this cap space becoming available, BriseBois was able to sign both Cernak and Cirelli to reasonable bridge-deals after inking Sergachev back in November. So, while these signings felt impossible a few weeks ago, it appears that Tampa Bay will be able to keep the majority of their roster together than won the 2020 Stanley Cup.