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Tampa Bay Lightning Top-Six Defence Final Report Cards

Tampa Bay Lightning Predictions; Tampa Bay Lightning Playoff Preview

It is Tampa Bay Lightning report card time! The Tampa Bay Lightning have two games remaining in the 2023-24 regular season. The Bolts completely turned their season around with stellar play throughout the 2024 months of the season. The team will likely finish fourth in the Atlantic Division with the first Wild Card spot for the 2024 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs in the Eastern Conference.

After a rough start to the season, Andrei Vasilevskiy returned to the net, and the supporting cast stepped up. The Lightning blue line struggled with injuries this season. Victor Hedman carried a heavy workload, and Darren Raddysh stepped into a top-pairing defenceman for the Lightning. With that, we will grade the top six defencemen based on their performance and look back at their mid-season grades.

Tampa Bay Lightning Top-Six Defence Report Card Grades

Victor Hedman (77 Games, 13 Goals, 63 Assists, and 76 Points)

Victor Hedman experienced an intense decline on the defensive side of the puck to start the season. With his massive frame and defensive stick, one would expect Hedman to post stellar defensive results. However, up until January 15th, with Hedman on the ice, the Lightning allowed 3.28 expected goals per hour (xGA/60), the worst rate on the team. 

While Hedman performed poorly defensively in the first half of the season, his 5v5 offensive game was solid. Furthermore, the Lightning experienced multiple injuries on the blue line this season, increasing Hedman’s workload. His defensive play improved with the rest of the team since January 15th. Since that date, Hedman has allowed just 2.45 xGA/60 at 5v5. Hedman is a top power play quarterback and offensive presence on the backend for the Bolts, but his defensive play keeps him below an “A” grade.

Grade: A-

Mid-season Grade: B+

Darren Raddysh (80 Games, six Goals, 26 Assists, and 32 Points)

There is one big surprise in handing out the end of season Tampa Bay Lightning report cards. After reaching the AHL All-Star game in 2023, Darren Raddysh earned an opportunity with the Lightning to end last season. Raddysh performed solidly in the regular season and playoffs and earned a roster spot in the NHL. He worked his way up the depth chart and now plays alongside Victor Hedman. Moreover, Raddysh found his offensive touch in the second half of the season. 

The stable defender helps his partner and allows Hedman to take more risks on offence. When Raddysh is on the ice, the Lightning allow expected goals at a rate eight percent better than the league average this season, according to HockeyViz. From our microstats tracking project here at Last Word, he ranks first in total turnover differential amongst defenders (+21). Raddysh will continue to play a vital role on the top pairing come playoff time and shut down top opponents.

Grade: B+

Mid-season Grade: B

Nick Perbix (75 Games, two Goals, 22 Assists, and 24 Points)

Nick Perbix is another inexperienced defenceman on the Tampa Bay Lightning blue line this season as we continue with our report cards. Perbix plays responsible in his end and has the best defensive shot quality rate on the team through the second half of the season. He has allowed 2.17 xGA/60 since January 15th. 

Perbix remains without a stable defensive partner despite his ability to defend the rush. His zone entry defended percentage of 29.07% ranks first amongst all defencemen on the roster. Perbix is a reliable, puck-moving defender who can play second or third-pairing minutes and chip in some offence. We expect his two-way game to be valuable in the first round of the playoffs.

Grade: C+

Mid-season Grade: C+

Erik Cernak (67 Games, one Goal, 11 Assists, and 12 Points)

Erik Cernak continues to have a rough season for the Lightning. The physical defender is nearly a shell of his former self during the Stanley Cup runs. Cernak is an offensive blackhole for the Lightning while providing minimal defensive help. However, he ranks third in total turnover differential. But, he ranks sixth in expected goals percentage (42.66 xGF%) amongst defencemen since January 15th. 

Cernak proved he’s incapable of supporting offensive minds like Hedman and Sergachev, which left Raddysh and Perbix to fill those roles. With his massive contract extension, we hope to see Cernak healthier and ready for the playoffs and next season. His ability on the penalty kill for the Tampa Bay Lightning is the factor that keeps him above a “D” for our report cards.

Grade: C

Mid-season Grade: C-

Calvin de Haan (58 Games, three Goals, six Assists, and nine Points)

Calvin de Haan is the definition of know your role and execute. He is the ideal, cost-effective third-pairing defenceman the Lightning needed this past offseason. Despite his sheltered, third-pairing minutes, de Haan is responsible on the defensive side of the puck. He is an impactful rush defender who ranks second in zone entries defended via our microstats workbook.

With the addition of Matt Dumba, de Haan has experienced a decrease in his role heading into the playoffs. His shot quality rates took a bit of a dip, but we anticipated this due to exceeding expectations at the start of the season. Overall, de Haan offers solid depth as a sixth or seventh defender.

Grade: C

Mid-season Grade: C

Emil Martinsen Lilleberg (35 games, zero Goals, five Assists, and five Points)

The final of our Tampa Bay Lightning report cards for defencemen, Lilleberg. When Sergachev went down with another injury, the Lightning relied on their organizational depth to fill the defensive depth. Emil Lilleberg earned an opportunity with the Lightning after starting the year with the Syracuse Crunch of the American Hockey League. He is a giant presence on the ice who loves throwing his weight around. 

While Lilleberg provides minimal offensive help, his defensive game is sound for a rookie. We are excited to see the Lightning work with Lilleberg, and a comparable projection seems to be his teammate Erik Cernak. Jon Cooper can develop the Norwegian defenceman into a stable third-pairing option with penalty kill upside as soon as next season. 

Grade: C-

Mid-season Grade: N/A

Main photo: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports


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