The Tampa Bay Lightning shocked everyone at the draft when Bill Daly entered the stage to announce a trade. The Lightning's trade sent Mikhail Sergachev to the Utah HC for Conor Geekie, JJ Moser, a 2025 second-round pick, and the 199th overall selection in the 2024 draft. Sergachev had been one of the integral pieces in winning two Stanley Cups after getting traded to the Lightning from the Montreal Canadiens in 2017.

Sergachev played just 34 games in 2023-24, tallying two goals and 17 assists. He sustained a serious leg injury during the regular season, which saw him get carried off the ice on a stretcher in Madison Square Garden. He miraculously returned in the first round of the playoffs to face the rival Florida Panthers, but didn't contribute much, which was to be expected after a short layoff.

Sergachev's steady presence on the blue line will be lost when it comes time for the postseason. He has 34 points in 100 career playoff games, a massive number for a 26-year-old. Sergachev has also contributed to the Lightning in the regular season, with 257 points in 475 games. The experience that Utah HC will receive with Sergachev just entering his prime will prove to be exceptional.

Mikhail Sergachev covers a major need for Utah HC

Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev (98) at Madison Square Garden.
© Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The Utah Hockey Club desired to improve their defense heading into this offseason. Most pundits expected them to draft a prospect like Zayne Parekh, Zeev Buium, or Sam Dickinson with their first-round pick. However, they pivoted to take Jarome Iginla's son, Tij. The move to take a reliable forward with a Hall of Fame bloodline isn't the worst idea for a team looking to build credibility with a new fan base.

Bill Armstrong decided it'd be best to build his blueline with proven players instead of a prospect that may not materialize. The move to draft Tij Iginla opened up the possibility of moving one of their better young prospects, which Armstrong took by trading Conor Geekie. Armstrong also traded away two draft picks to acquire John Marino from the New Jersey Devils, forming a new top pair in Utah.

Geekie also fills a need for the Lightning, who need some young, valuable talent for a team with a lot of money tied up in its stars. Geekie had 43 goals and 56 assists in 55 WHL games last season and could challenge for a roster spot on the Lightning this season.

The Lightning were in a cap crunch

Tampa Bay had more substantial moves in their minds when they traded away Sergachev's $8.5 million cap hit. Initially, the thought was that the Lightning would be using the cap space to re-sign captain Steven Stamkos. However, the Lightning shockingly pulled the offer to Stamkos and elected to sign Jake Guentzel. They also signed Victor Hedman to a four-year contract extension at an $8 million cap hit. The Lightning have $4.1 million in cap space with most of their roster set.

The question is whether the Lightning are a better team without Sergachev, Stamkos, and Jeannot. The Lightning could have used the money they spent on Guentzel to keep Stamkos, giving the rest of the team some familiarity. They also could have re-signed Stamkos for less than Guentzel, which would have helped make the money work to keep Sergachev.

It's the tough part of the business when a team has to trade away an integral piece to save money. The Lightning will realize next postseason how much they miss Sergachev, especially if the Guentzel signing is a failure.

JJ Moser still hasn't signed

JJ Moser is a restricted free agent this offseason and hasn't agreed to terms with the Lightning. Moser's deal will take up most of their remaining cap space, and he won't bring the same production level as Sergachev.

Moser's advanced numbers are all negative when comparing them to Sergachev's. Moser will be in a better environment than he was in Arizona last season, but it'll be a colossal failure if he crumbles under the pressure. Victor Hedman won't be around forever for the Lightning. The belief that Moser can fill his shoes when he starts to drop off isn't good thinking and could cost the Lightning.

They had a No. 1 defenseman waiting in the wings if they had kept Sergachev. Instead, they gave Utah a new backbone and immediately made the newest franchise a better team next season. Along with Marino, the Mikhail Sergachev trade could turn Utah into an instant success and have the Lightning searching for answers.

The Mikhail Sergachev trade wasn't a complete disaster for both teams, but Utah HC will be the clear winner in the interim.

Utah HC Grade: A-

Tampa Bay Lightning Grade: C+