As the Tampa Bay Lightning approached the 2018 NHL trade deadline, it was clear that the franchise needed to add top-flight defensemen to round out their core. While many speculated that they would be going after a permanent partner for Victor Hedman on the top-pairing, then general manager Steve Yzerman decided to trade for Ryan McDonagh. Once he was acquired, McDonagh took over duties on the second-pairing, eventually finding a permanent partner in youngster Erik Cernak.
While McDonagh and Cernak are still playing together over year later, Hedman still has not had any consistency. Over the last two seasons alone, he has found himself playing alongside just about every defenseman on the Lightning roster. From veterans like Dan Girardi, Brayden Coburn, Kevin Shattenkirk and Anton Stralman to relative newbies like Mikhail Sergachev and Jan Ruutta, the top pairing has been a veritable turnstile next to Tampa Bay’s top-defender.
Why Can’t Hedman Find a Permanent Partner?
When you look at the list of players who have played next to Hedman, you can’t help but ask the question, why? Over the last two to three seasons, he has been one of the best defensemen in the NHL, so why hasn’t he been able to find a consistent partner?
In an odd way, Hedman’s success on the ice has been a bit of a double-edged sword for him. Since he is so good, it can be difficult to find a partner that can match his level of play. He does, after all, receive some of the hardest minutes for the team, and he plays at least 20 minutes each night.
So, when the Lightning are looking for a partner for Hedman, they need to find someone who can keep up with him. Few players in the NHL can do that, which can cause any holes in their gameplay to become magnified.
Can Sergachev Find a Role With Hedman?
While Hedman has been able to cover up some of his partners’ deficiencies on the ice, he can’t do that forever and continue to be successful. If the Lightning truly want to make a run at the Stanley Cup, they have to find him a permanent partner.
When you look at the Lightning’s current roster, there’s really only one name that appears to be a solution: Sergachev. As a 21-year-old defenseman, he is already playing with an impressive offensive game and is steadily improving his defensive side as well. Two and a half seasons into his NHL career, he has posted 91 points while going plus-25.
Right now, it looks as if Sergachev is ready to take on a bigger role with the Lightning, which means he could be able to play up to Hedman’s standards on the top-pairing. Even if he is currently playing well on the third-pairing alongside Shattenkirk, an increase in playing time should be considered as the season progresses.
Lightning Need an Answer for Hedman
If the Lightning decide that Sergachev isn’t ready to take on a permanent role in the top-two, then the franchise should consider making a big trade in 2020. While that isn’t an ideal use of assets, bringing some consistency to Hedman’s ice-time would be worth it.
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Besides, while players like Ruutta, Coburn and even Luke Schenn are serviceable defenders, they simply look overwhelmed taking on top-paring ice-time. If Hedman can be a Norris-caliber defenseman without a consistent partner, there’s no telling what he could do with someone that can complement his playing style.
All statistics are taken from hockey-reference.com
Eugene Helfrick is a Tampa Bay Lightning writer who is actually from Tampa Bay. He has written about the Lightning for six years, covering everything from their run to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, to their crushing first-round exit in 2019, to their redemption in the bubble in 2020. While he is happy to talk about just about anything from cows to cars to video games, hockey will always remain one of his favorite pastimes.