Depth on 'D' - That's A Good Thing!
I sense that the emotion stems from two sources. In the absence of actual games to watch, fans like to speculate who is going to be playing on what line (for forwards) and with whom. It’s true that the Lightning have added a handful of new defensemen this year and therefore, the math has become a little more complicated that just plugging in six or seven players into that position. Another reason for anxiety could be that some fans are concerned that a player they like may see less ice time with the team.
Well, let’s review the defense scenario. Paul Ranger and Andrej Meszaros will be back from their shoulder injuries. The new players include first round pick Victor Hedman and free agents Mattias Ohlund, Matt Walker and Kurtis Foster. The Lightning also picked up David Hale from Phoenix in the Radim Vrbata trade. Then there are four guys who played regular minutes for the Lightning at different points over the previous two seasons: Lukas Krajicek, Matt Smaby, Matt Lashoff and Mike Lundin. Rounding out the list are players who enjoyed a cup of coffee with the club last year – guys like Vladimir Mihalik, Ty Wishart and Kevin Quick.
There’s always a chance that a players with limited NHL experience such as Mihalik, Wishart, Quick or even another young D might propel themselves up the depth chart during training camp, but for the time being, let’s limit the list to the other 11 players: Ranger, Meszaros, Hedman, Ohlund, Walker, Foster, Hale, Krajicek, Smaby, Lashoff and Lundin. Teams typically dress six defensemen per game, although sometimes teams use seven. An NHL roster cannot exceed 23 players, meaning that teams scratch up to three roster players each game. The Lightning could keep eight defensemen on the roster (meaning that they’d just scratch one forward each game). If that’s the case, then only three of the aforementioned players wouldn’t be on the NHL roster.
That, of course, is assuming that the roster doesn’t change between now and the start of the regular season through a trade. It also doesn’t take into account injuries. Remember – the Lightning used a league-record 22 defensemen last year. Many of those players were forced into duty because of injuries. Everyone in the organization hopes that the injury bug doesn’t hit as hard this year, but one cannot plan on having a completely injury-free season.
So the bottom line is this: we don’t know definitively which players will start the season on the Lightning’s roster. Competition during camp and the preseason will help sort all of that out. But the Lightning have helped themselves by addressing the depth question. Now, they are better equipped to handle the loss of players due to injury.
If you have any questions for me, please submit them to email@example.com. I will do my best to answer them all next week.