Steven Stamkos’ contract situation has been a huge soap opera all year in Tampa Bay. Does he want to stick around, or is he going to take the chance to bolt to Toronto and fulfill his childhood dream of playing for the Maple Leafs? Should they trade him, becoming younger and cheaper in the process, or keep him around for a playoff run, as they’re just a few months removed from the Stanley Cup Finals? What a headache.
Thankfully the Lightning, once their franchise centre makes his decision this summer, things will quiet down and return to normal, right? Wrong. Along with Stamkos, Steve Yzerman is facing the task of coming up with new contracts for pretty much his entire team over the next couple of summers. The name at the top of that list is Victor Hedman, who’s established himself as one of the league’s best defencemen, and arguably Tampa’s most important player moving forward.
The Lightning selected Hedman second overall behind John Tavares in the 2009 entry draft, and since then, he’s pretty easily been Tampa Bay’s best and most consistent defenceman. Since breaking into the league in the 2009-10 season, nobody has logged more minutes or produced more than Hedman on Tampa’s blue line. He’s played parts of seven seasons in the league, averaging more than 20 minutes of ice time per game in each of them, and managing a career average of 0.47 points per game and a 51.7 Corsi For percentage at even strength.
Of course, it hasn’t really all that difficult to be one of Tampa Bay’s better defenceman in the not-so-distant past. Over the past few seasons, they’ve put together a formidable group, acquiring Anton Stralman via free agency and Braydon Coburn through trade, but before that, Hedman’s competition for the title were names like Mark Barberio, Mike Commodore, and Brian Lee.
That said, over the past few years, Hedman has established himself as not only Tampa’s most valuable defenceman, but one of the game’s elite at the position. Over the past three seasons, only Brent Burns has produced more points per 60 minutes at even strength than Hedman has, and the former spent a good chunk of that time playing forward with one of the game’s all-time greatest playmakers. This season, when Hedman is on the ice, the Lightning are scoring 65.8 per cent of the total goals at even strength, thanks largely to a 56.9 Corsi For percentage that paints his ability to not only produce offensively and generate scoring chances, but also suppress chances of the sort from his opponents.
So I think it’s pretty fair to say that Hedman is a damn good player, and if he does make it to the open market on July 1, 2017, every single general manager in the league is going to be phoning him and begging him to come and play for their team. Currently in the fourth of a five-year contract that pays him $4 million annually, Hedman is obviously going to be seeking a huge upgrade on his next deal. He’ll be 26-years old when his contract comes to an end, so he still has many, many good, prime years ahead of him.
It’s not very common a player of Hedman’s calibre hits the market, and it’s even less common that it happens when they’re still prime aged. The only other example in recent memory is Ryan Suter, who became a free agent in 2012 after seven seasons in Nashville before signing a 13-year, $98 million deal with the Minnesota Wild. Before that, there was Zdeno Chara, who signed with the Boston Bruins as a free agent when he was 29-years old. But otherwise, the league’s top defencemen either sign huge deals with the teams who drafted and developed them (Subban, Letang, Doughty), or they’re traded and signed by their new team before they become free agents (Phaneuf, Burns, Boychuk).
So with all of that considered, Hedman’s skill, his production, and his age heading into free agency, it’s pretty clear that he’s in line to become one of the league’s most expensive defencemen. Right now, that honour is held by P.K. Subban, who’s paid $9 million annually, but I except Hedman will be right around that figure when his next deal is signed. Obviously a lot of what happens in Tampa hinges on what happens with Stamkos, but I think Yzerman will be looking to sign Hedman regardless. I went into detail about whether or not the Lightning could afford both of them, and while it’s doable, it’ll result in them having to shed a lot of the depth around them to make it all fit under the cap.
Anyways, judging by the way the Stamkos contract situation has hovered over the Lightning like a dark cloud all year, I would guess that Yzerman is going to try to get a deal done with Hedman this summer before the beginning of the 2016-17 season. Sure, it’ll be pricey, but defencemen like Hedman are expensive for a reason: because they’re really, really difficult to get.
Previously in this series: