Tampa Bay Lightning Fantasy Forecast: Defense

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Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman set out very matter-of-factly this past off-season to address his team’s weaknesses.  And while the Lightning were much improved defensively last season, in large part thanks to the team’s forwards finally pitching in in their own end, it was clear there was still work to be done.

The writing was on the wall as early as twelve months ago that last season would be Sami Salo’s finale in Tampa Bay.  It was also clear that Eric Brewer, while still a serviceable defenseman, is no longer capable of handling top-four minutes.  And several of the team’s defensemen, while brimming with talent, are under the age of twenty-five, and we all know what they say about defensemen: they take extra time to hit their primes.

This year’s defense looks much improved.  Yzerman’s first acquisition came by surprise, when he landed veteran defenseman Jason Garrison for a second round pick from the Vancouver Canucks.  Then, on July 1, Yzerman made a shrewd signing when he picked up former New York Ranger Anton Stralman, a player who, by most opinions, appears to be just what the doctor ordered for a defense that struggles to gain possession of the puck inside its own blue line.

But the crown jewel of the Tampa Bay Lightning defense remains Victor Hedman.  And last season, all our patience with him finally paid off when Hedman lit the NHL up for 55 points.  While that’s an exceptional total, it might be, in Hedman’s case, just the tip of the iceburg.

The big question, as always, will be: How well will these guys play together?  It’s one thing to turn your defense into one that looks sharp on paper, but that’s meaningless if they don’t get results on the ice.

In that regard, early indications are good.  Hedman and Stralman, both Swedes, appear to have found quick chemistry during training camp.  That alone will give the Lightning 20-plus minutes per night that should be improved over last year, when Hedman was paired with the steady, but obviously declining, Sami Salo.

So now it’s time to take a look at this year’s crop of defenseman case by case and see what’s reasonable to expect.  As always, players are ordered numerically.  We’ll start with #2, Eric Brewer, and you can click the “Next” button all the way to #77, Victor Hedman, and then to a quick look at what’s in the Lightning’s prospect pipeline.