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NHL Hot Seat Radar: Tampa Bay Lightning

With Ryan McDonagh gone, the Tampa Bay Lightning will lean even more on defenseman Victor Hedman – so how far can he take his game?
Victor Hedman

We’re back with the latest edition of the THN Hot Seat file, a continuing series of columns where we identify one member of each NHL franchise who will be working under intense pressure in the 2022-24 season. Our choice for the Hot Seat could be an NHL player, head coach, team owner, or GM. 

On this day, we’re examining the Tampa Bay Lightning:


WHY: In some regards, it’s unfair to put Hedman in the Hot Seat. The 31-year-old is coming off a career year in goals (20), assists (65) and points (85) and, consequently, he was one of three Norris Trophy finalists last season. It’s tough to ask more of someone who plays at the elite level.

But being on the Hot Seat doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve got to be an NHL individual award frontrunner, or someone who’s struggling. Rather, it’s about the particular situation a player is in, and what his teammates and team management desperately need out of them.

In Tampa Bay’s case, the biggest issue isn’t up front, where Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, Alex Killorn and Nikita Kucherov all will help lead the way. Neither is the big issue in the Lightning’s net, where superstar netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy shows his all-world talents night after night, and where Vasilevskiy turns his game up to another gear.

That leaves us with Tampa’s defense corps, which took a significant hit this summer when Bolts GM Julien BriseBois traded mainstay Ryan McDonagh to Nashville. The move was forced by the Lightning’s salary-cap problems – problems that also forced them to say goodbye to top winger Ondrej Pala via free agency. McDonagh averaged 22:26 of ice time per game for Tampa Bay last year, and the Lightning will miss his experience and puck-moving capability.

This leads back to the Hot Seat conversation. With McDonagh gone – and even with BriseBois’ signing of veteran D-man Ian Cole to take his place – the Lightning are going to have to depend even more on Hedman. At 31-years-old, and on a relatively huge bargain at $7.875 million, Hedman has been a cornerstone of Tampa’s blueprint for success, and he once again will be the centerpiece of their defensive play.

The rest of Tampa Bay’s group of defensemen are a mixt of youth (Mikhail Sergachev, Cal Foote), and unspectacular veterans (Erik Cernak, Philippe Myers). Hedman is the guy who does it all for the Bolts, at both ends of the rink. He averaged 25:04 per game, and he played in all 82 regular-season games for the first time in his NHL career. Meanwhile, during the Lightning’s amazing playoff run last spring, Hedman chipped in 16 assists and 19 points in 23 games.

Could the Bolts have gone as far as they did if Vasilevskiy didn’t wake up late in the first round of the playoffs last year and perform near-perfect the rest of the way? No, they couldn’t have done that. But just because Vasilevskiy’s game was at a different level doesn’t mean we ought to forget about Hedman’s contributions. Without Hedman’s sky-high panic threshold, his ability to get the puck out of the Lightning’s zone as quickly as possible, and his savviness using his 6-foot-6 frame to keep opponents on the outside areas of the ice, the Lightning wouldn’t likely have won two Stanley Cups in a row, let alone challenge for a third straight Cup as they did last season.

Hedman’s quiet demeanor belies the ferocious energy he brings to the Lightning night-in and night-out. He’s always shown the ability to rise to the occasion, and the occasion this regular season will be the nights the Bolts have to lean on him. There will be many of those, and Hedman is prepped and ready for them.


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