With the current high demands from Ottawa in a possible Erik Karlsson trade making it less and less likely that anything will happen, the Tampa Bay Lightning must choose whether they should be content with their defense or need to find another fit.
On paper, the team seems more solid than most as the team boasts Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh to go with promising Mikhail Sergachev and a host of solid blueline depth, including Anton Stralman, Dan Girardi, Braydon Coburn, Jake Dotchin and Slater Koekkoek. Yet when looking a step further, their elite defensemen are all left-handed. Hedman, McDonaugh and Sergachev are all left-handed, leaving Stralman, Dotchin and Girardi on the right, which isn’t nearly as solid. While Sergachev has proven he can play on the right side, that isn’t ideal for the Lightning, which was another reason why the team was intent on adding the right-handed Karlsson.
In a mailbag segment, The Athletic’s Joe Smith (subscription required) suggests the team needs to continue looking for a right-handed defenseman to even out both sides, suggesting the team should monitor the Jacob Trouba situation in Winnipeg since the stud defenseman refuses to sign a long-term deal with the Jets. Trouba, who received a one-year, $5.5MM deal from an arbitrator last week will have to go through the same process next year as he will be a restricted free agent again. If the two sides can’t reach long-term agreement then, he will be an unrestricted free agent in 2020-21 and might force his way out of Winnipeg.
Another option, Smith writes, would be prying Justin Faulk away from the Carolina Hurricanes. The right-shot defenseman has two years remaining on his contract at $4.83MM AAV, but with the acquisition of Dougie Hamilton and Calvin de Haan and the plethora of young defensive talent on the roster, including Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce, Haydn Fleury and Jake Bean, the team is expected to move Faulk for more help in other areas.
One final option and perhaps the cheapest would be to trade for Vancouver Canucks’ Chris Tanev. The 28-year-old stay-at-home defender has been solid for the Canucks, but is being overpaid at $4.45MM for the next two seasons. The right-handed defenseman would be a reliable presence.
Regardless, the team needs to shake up their defense. Coburn and Girardi, who have played bigger roles in the past, are better off as third-pairing defenders, while Sergachev played the best hockey of his career during the playoffs, suggesting he’s likely going to move into the top-four. Dotchin and Koekkoek are also both likely going to fight for time in the top-six, so something needs to change.