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2020-21 Lightning Grades: The Defense

The dudes on the blue line get their report cards.

2021 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Five Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Welcome to the 2020-21 RawCharge Lightning Player Grades. Today, we’ll be handing out grades to the defensemen. We’ve already covered the depth defensemen that didn’t play that much during the season. So today, we’ll be covering every one else on the blue line.

Stats from Player stats for 2020-21 on the player cards have been pro-rated by Evolving-Hockey to an 82 game season.

Cal Foote

Regular Season Grade: C+

Playoffs Grade: INC

NHL Stats: 35 GP, 1 Goals, 2 Assists, 3 Points; Playoffs - Did Not Play

Player Card:

Foote made his NHL debut this season after spending the previous two seasons in the AHL with the Syracuse Crunch. A first round pick by the Lightning in 2017 Foote is thought of as a top four defenseman prospect. The biggest knock on him is his skating. He’s got the kind of size the Lightning like on the blue line at 6’4” and 227 pounds. The season was quite an adjustment for him and it appeared at times that he was having some trouble keeping up with the speed of the game. It also appeared that the coaching staff lost confidence in him as he was sent to the taxi squad just prior to the trade deadline in favor of Luke Schenn. He only played one game after the trade deadline (when David Savard was out with an injury) and didn’t appear in the playoffs.

Foote is a smart player and it is my hope that he’ll be able to continue to learn and progress and compensate for his skating through his smarts. He’ll have competition for ice time from free agent signing Zach Bogosian. I would have liked to see a little more point production from him, but he performed basically as I expected, earning him his C+ grade.

Luke Schenn

Regular Season Grade: B+

Playoffs Grade: B-

NHL Stats: 38 GP, 2 Goals, 2 Assists, 4 Points; Playoffs - 8 GP, 1 Goal, 0 Assists, 1 Point

Player Card:

Schenn actually ended up having a pretty solid year on the blue line. I think you do have to take his performance with a little bit of a grain of salt because he was very limited in his ice time and was well protected. However, because of the usage, the coaching staff ended up getting the best possible Schenn. Because of that, he ends up earning a B+ grade from me as I thought he performed a good bit above my expectations. He also got a B- in the playoffs as I felt he wasn’t quite as good as regular season Schenn in his 8 games, but he was still better than my pre-season expectations for him.

David Savard

Regular Season Grade: D

Playoffs Grade: C-

NHL Stats: 14 GP, 0 Goals, 0 Assists, 0 Points; Playoffs - 20 GP, 0 Goals, 5 Assists, 5 Points

Player Card:

My expectations for Savard were not very high when the Lightning acquired him. I was not a big fan of the trade, especially the cost, for a player that I didn’t think would have a big impact on the roster. I suppose he provided a little bit more than Foote and Schenn, but I didn’t think the price was worth it, and am still a bit disappointed at what the Lightning got for the price which plays into my grades.

Savard really struggled to adjust to the Lightning’s system during the regular season and looked really rough. He continued to look rough through much of the playoffs too and didn’t really look like he started to fit in until pretty late in the playoff run. I think the best thing I can say about Savard is that at least he stayed out of the penalty box with just 6 PIMs in the playoffs, though he’s never been a guy that takes a lot of penalties in the NHL.

Mikhail Sergachev

Regular Season Grade: C

Playoffs Grade: D+

NHL Stats: 56 GP, 4 Goals, 26 Assists, 30 Points; Playoffs - 23 GP, 0 Goals, 3 Assists, 3 Points

Player Card:

Sergachev had a pretty solid regular season on the offensive end of the ice and performed like he normally does in that respect, but his defense was off from the very good season he has in 2019-20. I don’t know what was up with Sergachev in that regard if he was just trying to do too much or was playing through an injury, but his defense was just not up to his normal standards.

For reference, in the three seasons prior to 2020-21, Sergachev was in the 80th percentile among defensemen for Defensive WAR. For that reason, he got a C in the regular season from me because his offense was there, but under-performing his defense of the previous seasons was a disappointment for this season.

The playoffs were also a disappointment for me as well. He only managed three assists in 23 games. His offensive production in the 2020 playoffs was also less than his regular season norms, which isn’t that unexpected by defensemen in a smaller sample size in the biggest games, but he still put up three goals and 10 points in 25 games. I’m left looking at the points totals for the defenseman, and only Schenn recorded less points than Sergachev in these playoffs. It is my hope that he was dealing with an injury that was hindering his play and that he’ll be fully healthy and bounce back to his expected levels of performance next season.

Erik Cernak

Regular Season Grade: A+

Playoffs Grade: A+

NHL Stats: 46 GP, 5 Goals, 13 Assists, 18 Points; Playoffs - 21 GP, 1 Goal, 9 Assists, 10 Points

Player Card:

Cernak took a big step forward this season offensively. The points may not be overly exciting on first glance, but he finished third on the team in defensemen scoring. He was also even stronger defensively than he had been in the past. Take a look at the three-year player card for Cernak for the three seasons prior to 2020-21.

This offensive breakout for Cernak is what really drove my grade up for him, on top of still putting up extremely strong defensive numbers. I feel like Cernak is still very underrated by NHL fans in general and is a name that more fans should know. You could also make a strong argument that he’s the third best defenseman on the team.

Cernak continued his very strong play into the playoffs and produced a lot of offense with his goal and nine assists that put him second on the team in defensemen scoring during the playoffs, but first in even strength points and tied for 4th overall on the team in even strength points. Appreciate this man.

Ryan McDonagh

Regular Season Grade: C+

Playoffs Grade: B-

NHL Stats: 50 GP, 4 Goals, 8 Assists, 12 Points; Playoffs - 23 GP, 0 Goals, 8 Assists, 8 Points

Player Card:

I felt like McDonagh performed basically as expected throughout the year. His offensive impacts though have dropped over the past two seasons though. It feels like age, and some of the injuries he’s dealt with have started to drag on him a little bit. He still has a positive impact on the team, just not as big as he had in 2017-18 and 2018-19.

I ended up giving him a B- in the playoffs. Even though I didn’t feel like he performed all that well offensively, and it felt like he was often on the ice for a lot of shots against, he and Cernak were both really effective at limiting the danger level of shots against. While they may have been giving up more shots than their peers, a lot of those shots were getting blocked and being taken from the perimeter rather than getting right in front. McDonagh had some big moments in the playoffs though with some key blocks and an assist on the Stanley Cup Winning Goal.

Jan Rutta

Regular Season Grade: C+

Playoffs Grade: C+

NHL Stats: 35 GP, 0 Goals, 8 Assists, 8 Points; Playoffs - 23 GP, 2 Goals, 1 Assists, 3 Points

Player Card:

Rutta is as Rutta does. He’s not a high end defenseman. He’s not a star. And his play on the ice shows that. But at the same time, that’s what I expect of him. Even though he gets a good share of time on the top pair with Victor Hedman, he doesn’t get much more than third pairing minutes, since other guys would jump up to the top pairing with Hedman to take a shift in Rutta’s place throughout the game.

I can’t really complain that much about Rutta. He just does what he does. I do wonder though if Foote can take a foote forward in his development, along with the return of Zach Bogosian, if Rutta might see more press box time this year.

Victor Hedman

Regular Season Grade: ???

Playoffs Grade: A-

NHL Stats: 54 GP, 9 Goals, 36 Assists, 45 Points; Playoffs - 23 GP, 2 Goals, 16 Assists, 18 Points

Player Card:

This year was very hard to grade Hedman. And I just honestly couldn’t decide what to give him for a grade on the regular season. He had fantastic offensive impacts on the ice. He had bad defensive impacts on the ice. And a lot of that has to do with the partially torn meniscus he suffered in March. That slowed him down, made him less mobile, and definitely impacted his ability to defend. Much of the rest of the regular season seemed to be all about him trying to figure out what he could and couldn’t get away with while dealing with his injury. So... without taking the injury into account, his season was a bit of a disappointment, but I have a hard time holding the injury against him.

Especially in light of his playoff performance. By the time the playoffs rolled around, Hedman seemed to have figured out what he needed to do to compensate for his limitations. He continued to have strong offensive impacts, but his defensive impacts started to get much better in the playoffs. Maybe it was also his fierce competitiveness that also drove him to push himself to the limits that the injury imposed. Any which way, he led the Lightning defensemen in scoring in the regular season and playoffs and showed why he’s one of the best defensemen in the world, even with a partially torn meniscus.