Lightning Defense Pair Predictions for 2022-23

With training camp a month away, the Tampa Bay Lightning will have a few decisions concerning their lineup for the 2022-23 season. Trades and free agency have altered their team roster for next season, with head coach Jon Cooper and his staff looking to see how the new players will fit in. This will be especially true on defense as they look to what pairings will work best without veterans Ryan McDonagh and Jan Rutta and losing Zach Bogosian at the beginning of the season due to an injury.

Victor Hedman Will Have a New Partner

Rutta was Hedman’s primary partner for the last three seasons. This leads to one of the bigger questions leading into the season: which player will be selected as his linemate? After Rutta, the next player skating with Hedman was Erik Cernak, who logged 170 playoff minutes during the last two seasons. The native of Slovakia recently signed an eight-year contract for $41.6 million ($5.2 million AAV). His physical, shot-blocking defensive style makes him a good fit with Hedman, allowing him to be aggressive offensively, knowing that he has help on the other side.

Travis Konecny, Erik Cernak
Tampa Bay Lightning’s Erik Cernak collides with Philadelphia Flyers’ Travis Konecny (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Another possible linemate for Hedman could be Cal Foote. The 23-year-old son of NHL veteran Adam Foote played well early on in the playoffs but did not appear in a game after Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final. His best effort in the playoffs may have come when he drew a high-sticking penalty on David Kampf in the third period on the Lightning’s overtime win in Game 6 against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Playing with Hedman could allow him to continue to develop his instincts, which include the ability to carry the puck into the offensive zone and make hard plays in deep.

Sergachev to Anchor Second Defensive Pairing

One of the reasons why the Lightning traded McDonagh was that they believed Mikhail Sergachev was ready to step up and take a bigger role with the team. So much so that they recently signed the former Montreal Canadiens draft pick to a contract with an average annual value of $8.5 million. He is coming off a season with seven goals and 38 points in 78 games while adding two goals and 10 points in the playoffs. He is now primed to be the cornerstone of the Lightning’s second defensive pairing.

Tampa Bay Lightning Mikhail Sergachev Toronto Maple Leafs Mitch Marner
Tampa Bay Lightning defenceman Mikhail Sergachev trips up Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Mitch Marner (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

His partner on that line will likely be Foote. There is also the possibility that if Foote does skate with Hedman, Cernak would skate with Sergachev to be the shutdown pair. Another potential partner could be the newly acquired Phillipe Myers. When the 25-year-old was acquired from Nashville in the McDonagh trade, many assumed he was selected so that the Lightning would buy out his contract and save the team around $2.5 million in cap space. Instead, they kept him as the team believes that he has a lot of upside and would make a nice addition to the roster. The Lightning are hoping Myers will play as he did in the 2020 bubble playoffs.

The Lightning Have Many Options for the Third Defense

The Lightning’s third defensive pairing will probably include the newly acquired Ian Cole. The veteran of 670 NHL games recently signed on a one-year, $3 million deal with the Lightning. He does have a great deal of playoff experience, being a part of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ two Stanley Cup titles in 2016 and 2017. He spent last season with the Carolina Hurricane, scoring two goals and 17 assists with a plus-15 and an average ice time of 17:09. Cole brings a physicality to the Lightning that can help them in that third slot as a left-handed shot, as well as having the ability to kill penalties.

Ian Cole Carolina Hurricanes
Ian Cole with the Carolina Hurricanes (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Myers and Foote are the leading candidates to join Cole on the third line. Another possibility would be the newly acquired Hayden Fleury. The former top-ten draft pick has struggled in his 215-game NHL career, but the Lightning believe that the 26-year-old has the skills to be productive in the NHL. They’re willing to take a chance on a player that is still in his prime, with the added bonus of only having a cap-friendly two-year deal worth $762,500. Other options for the final defensive pairing could come from prospects in Syracuse, such as Sean Day, Nick Perbix, and Darren Raddysh.

Related: Lightning Will Need Different Defensemen to Step up This Season

Offseason movement and injuries will force the Lightning to develop some new defensive pairings for the 2022-23 season. They have some nice options moving forward that will still allow them to experience success in the coming season.

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