Something simply isn’t proper with Victor Hedman’s defensive play this season. While I wouldn’t say he’s utterly misplaced his sport by any means, he’s been removed from the defenseman we’re used to seeing contend for Norris Trophies each season, particularly while you have a look at his underlying numbers.

After having a 5-on-5 anticipated objectives towards per 60 minutes of two.12 from 2012 to 2022, which was tied for 56th within the league, it’s dropped to three.1 this season, which is the nineteenth worst within the NHL and places his identify subsequent to the likes of David Savard, Seth & Caleb Jones, Erik Gudbranson, and Vladislav Gavrikov, all defensemen who’re both well-known for his or her defensive struggles or who’re taking part in on groups that bleed scoring possibilities towards. And to cap all of it off, his defensive objectives above substitute is -5.1, which is the sixth worst amongst defensemen.

So, not solely is Hedman not taking part in to his regular elite normal, he’s truly placing up outcomes much like the worst defensemen within the league. He clearly isn’t one of many worst within the league, although, so let’s dive into why that is the case on paper.

What makes this a bit simpler is that there’s truly a precedent for this, as Hedman additionally had some struggles within the 2020-21 season. While his offense was nonetheless nice and was what helped him safe his fifth of six straight Norris Trophy finalist finishes that season, his protection was subpar with a -1.4 defensive GAR.

However, we discovered there was a purpose for it, as after the Lightning received their second straight Stanley Cup that season, he underwent knee surgical procedure to handle an harm he’d been coping with for a majority of that season.

So, an easy reply for his struggles this yr might simply be injury-related points. He’s solely missed three video games, with one because of attending the beginning of his second son, however the different two coming from when he was scratched for 2 straight contests because of an undisclosed upper-body harm. Whether that harm absolutely healed or has simply develop into bearable sufficient to maintain taking part in, we received’t know till the top of the season, however it’s a chance.

Another essential issue is his age and the quantity of fatigue he might be experiencing. While elite gamers like Hedman nonetheless often play at a high-end stage of their early 30s, Hedman is not any spring rooster at 32, and that does imply bodily features like accidents and fatigue will impression his play, particularly contemplating Hedman’s measurement, the quantity he performs each sport, and the toll his model of play takes on his physique.

Since the beginning of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs within the bubble, solely two gamers have performed as many video games as Hedman’s 251, and that’s his teammates in Alex Killorn (with 251) and Pat Maroon (with 254). Considering that Hedman performs extra minutes each sport and a a lot greater function than these two teammates, it’s secure to say that nobody has performed as a lot hockey as Hedman has in that time period.

I take advantage of the beginning of the bubble playoffs because the cutoff for 2 causes. First, each sport earlier than that got here earlier than an almost 5 month break from precise gameplay and about 4 months from any type of hockey generally earlier than coaching camps had opened in July of 2020, that means each participant was well-rested at that time. Second, it’s the beginning of a two and a half yr stretch that covers elements of 4 seasons tightly cramped collectively, and it’s the stretch the place the Lightning went on three straight Stanley Cup Final journeys, giving them the shortest offseasons doable in that span.

The Lightning completed their 2020 playoff run on Sept. 28, 2020, and had about three months (not together with any Cup-related celebrations or offseason exercise schedules) to relaxation earlier than they began taking part in a tightly compacted 56-game shortened season in January 2021. They then completed that season on July 7, 2021, and had about two months of relaxation (not together with any Cup-related celebrations or offseason exercise schedules) earlier than beginning the 2021-22 season in September. They then completed that season on June 26, 2022, and had about two months of relaxation earlier than the present 2022-23 season, though this offseason got here with none Cup-related celebrations.

That’s numerous hockey in a brief period of time for a man in his 30s. It’s not your complete purpose for his struggles, however I wouldn’t be shocked if it has performed a job. While I’m positive he’d like to go on one other Cup run this season, an early summer time and a pair extra months of relaxation in all probability wouldn’t damage him proper now.

That stated, there have additionally been some on-ice causes for his struggles this season as nicely, and it’s an typically neglected side of the various cap casualties that Tampa Bay has seen over time. The Lightning blueline was gutted over the previous offseason, dropping two key items of the workforce’s prime 4 in Hedman’s common associate Jan Rutta and Ryan McDonagh.

Rutta was a crucial loss for the Lightning within the sense that he’s the type of participant that you’ve got on a Cup-contending workforce to enhance your principal core, and the second you attempt to preserve these gamers round is while you begin to self-sabotage your closing possibilities at one other run. But that doesn’t imply that it nonetheless wasn’t a loss, particularly for Hedman. It will be fairly the adjustment dropping an everyday protection associate that you just had established chemistry with, particularly stylistically, and I wouldn’t be stunned if a few of Hedman’s points are rooted in adjusting to new companions.

While Hedman and McDonagh hardly ever performed collectively (they’d simply 89:49 of ice time collectively in the course of the 2019-20 to 2021-22 common seasons, and 34:43 of their three Cup Final runs), McDonagh was important to Hedman’s play as nicely as a result of he took on the massive shutdown function for Tampa Bay.

That’s to not say that Hedman was sheltered and McDonagh was carrying the load all by himself, however his absence actually disrupts the construction they’d in Tampa Bay throughout their three seasons that noticed journeys to the Final. Hedman and Rutta had been on one pair, McDonagh and Erik Cernak had been on the opposite, they usually break up the duties of the massive shutdown minutes towards their opponents’ prime six forwards, which allow them to shelter Mikhail Sergachev and whoever else they’d taking part in that night time on the underside pair.

With Rutta and McDonagh out of the image, that implies that Hedman and Cernak will get loaded onto one shutdown pair, and thus faces the hardest competitors each night time in order that the Bolts can shelter the pair of Sergachev and Nick Perbix, or they break up Hedman and Cernak up and pair them with Ian Cole and Zach Bogosian.

That isn’t all dangerous, as Cole truly leads Lightning defensemen in 5v5 xGA/60 regularized-adjusted plus-minus (a stat from Evolving Hockey which isolates a gamers impression on the ice from components like teammates and competitors) with -0.332. Unfortunately for Hedman, although, that’s the man Cernak performs with, whereas Hedman will get Bogosian, who’s a wonderful backside pair defenseman however isn’t meant for a job like this.

The charts that illustrate Hedman’s impact can be viewed here.

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