Jake Dotchin

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Lightning look to use Dan Girardi as a top-pairing D. In 2017.

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After years of debate, it seemed like most of the hockey world agreed recently that Dan Girardi might be a little … overmatched as an NHL defenseman. Even his biggest proponents would probably acknowledge that years of wear-and-tear have left him limited.

Even so, the generally shrewd Tampa Bay Lightning handed Girardi a polarizing two-year, $6 million contract. There might have been talk of Girardi scoring well based on their own internal metrics. It was weird.

MORE: After being bought out by the Rangers, Girardi wants to show he can still ‘play and contribute.’

The bottom line is that at least someone in the organization disagrees with the consensus against Girardi. And that voice – or those voices – proved loud enough to allocate precious cap space to him.

To really hammer home that belief, consider this: it looks like he’ll line up with popular PHT Norris pick Victor Hedman on the top pairing tonight against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Now, it’s true that there are some extenuating circumstances. The Tampa Bay Times’ Joe Smith notes that Jake Dotchin, Hedman’s most common preseason partner, looks to be a surprise scratch for the Bolts. It seems like Dotchin is still in Jon Cooper’s dog house for some murky “team rules violation.”

Perhaps it’s a balm for Bolts fans that Cooper told Smith that combos might be temporary?

“You look all around the league, I don’t know if there’s a d-core that has stayed completely intact,” Cooper said. “Maybe Nashville, but (Ryan) Ellis is hurt. Different guys have got to play and get a different feel for each other. It’s Game 1, there’s 82 in a season. You hope chemistry comes because we don’t know if this is going to stay together the whole time. But you’ve got a good veteran guuy that can protect the net and you’ve got a horse that leads the charge out there. For tonight, that’s how it’s going to go.”

Still, the Lightning clearly hold Girardi in higher regard than … just about any objective measure.

You might not see a more dramatic disparity between two HERO charts than Hedman vs. Girardi. Confession: I didn’t know that a player could score poorly enough on shot suppression to not even show up on the chart.

via Dom Galamini

OK, again, Hedman will make most defensemen look bad. And maybe there’s some thought that he can carry Girardi around; the other pairings appear to be Anton StralmanMikhail Sergachev and a less inspiring third duo of Andrej Sustr and Braydon Coburn, with Slater Koekkoek joining Dotchin in street clothes.

What about Girardi against, say, Dom Galamini’s standards for a bottom-pairing duo?

via Dom Galamini

Yeah, also not great.

Again, the Lightning’s lineup will probably look more sensible once Dotchin leaves timeout.

Still, as much as injuries and bad luck plagued the Lightning, it’s a little troubling to see certain patterns from Cooper & Co.

Sergachev could very well end up filling a serious need for the Bolts. Still, while Jonathan Drouin seemingly always struggled to gain Cooper’s approval, an extremely limited player like Sustr keeps getting chances, often taking away opportunities for defensemen with better potential. If Girardi serves a similar role, Lightning fans could grow increasingly frustrated, particularly if this places excessive pressure on Andrei Vasilevskiy to save the day.

It’s not the end of the world that Girardi is starting with Hedman, especially if it’s a short-term thing.

For a team that’s often seen as brilliant, decisions like these do make people scratch their heads, however.

Looking to make the leap: Mikhail Sergachev

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This post is part of Lightning Day on PHT…

Mikhail Sergachev, the talented defenseman Tampa Bay acquired in the Jonathan Drouin trade with Montreal, is ready to play in the NHL.

But circumstances beyond his control might keep him back.

On talent alone, Sergachev should push for a roster spot. The 19-year-old wowed in a four-game cameo with the Habs last season, and was a dynamic offensive force in junior with OHL Windsor. The 6-foot-3, 212-pound rearguard put up 10 goals and 43 points in 50 games for the Spits and, in January, starred on the international scene by helping Russia capture bronze at the World Juniors.

Sergachev says he’s ready to make the next step.

“I’ve played a lot in juniors and I learned a lot in those years,” he told the Tampa Bay Times. “And I feel like this is my time to play in the NHL and I’ll do my best and play my best to make the Lightning roster.”

But there are those aforementioned circumstances at play.

If Sergachev doesn’t play 40 games for Tampa Bay this season, then the Lightning will receive the Canadiens’ second-round pick in 2018, and the Canadiens will receive the Lightning’s sixth-round pick.

So in a roundabout way, there’s an incentive for the Lightning to return Sergachev to junior for another year. The Bolts would get a second-round pick for a sixth-round pick, and that’s a good trade.

There’s another factor to consider as well. The Lightning have Stanley Cup aspirations. As such, they’re not in a position to gift anyone a roster spot — especially if it costs them a second-round pick.

Right now, the club projects to ice a top-six defense of Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman, Braydon Coburn, Dan Girardi, Slater Koekkoek and Andrej Sustr. Jake Dotchin is firmly in that mix as well, and Ben Thomas — a key part of the Syracuse team that made the Calder Cup Final last year — could also push his way into the conversation.

Still, the allure of getting Sergachev into the lineup is high.

His puck moving skills and creativity would be a boon for the power play, especially on a back end that’s essentially carried by Hedman. To that point: Hedman led the team in PP assists last year, with 29. The next closest blueliner was Stralman, who had six.

In the end, this decision could come down to the preseason. If Sergachev plays like a guy Tampa has to keep in the lineup, the club will probably respond accordingly. And if not? Well, the consolation prize is a second-round pick, which isn’t too bad.

Bolts get Dotchin under contract, still need to sign Johnson and Palat

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Two days after signing Slater Koekkoek, the Tampa Bay Lightning got another young defenseman under contract. Jake Dotchin has inked a two-year, one-way deal with a cap hit of $812,500.

Dotchin, 23, was a pleasant surprise for the Bolts in 2016-17. As a rookie, he played 35 games and had 11 assists.

Now that Koekkoek and Dotchin have been taken care of, GM Steve Yzerman can turn his attention to restricted free agent forwards Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat.

Johnson and Palat both have until 5 p.m. ET today to file for arbitration.

Bolts extend d-man Koekkoek — one year, $800,000

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Looks like Slater Koekkoek could be a full-time member of the Bolts next season.

On Monday, Tampa Bay extended Koekkoek with a one-year, one-way deal worth $800,000, suggesting the 10th overall pick in 2012 will have a larger role in ’17-18.

Previously, Koekkoek split his time between Tampa and the club’s AHL affiliate in Syracuse. The 23-year-old appeared in a career-high 29 NHL games last season, but featured more prominently for the Crunch. He played 48 regular-season games and was a big part of the club’s Calder Cup Final run, scoring seven points in 22 contests.

There are some blueline minutes up for grabs in Tampa next year. Jason Garrison was lost to Vegas at the expansion draft, while depth guy Luke Witkowski signed with Detroit in free agenc

It also remains to be seen if head coach Jon Cooper will give youngsters like Koekkoek, Jake Dotchin and Mikhail Sergachev bigger roles, while dialing back the workloads of his veterans. Newly signed Dan Girardi is 33 years old with a lot of miles on the odometer. Braydon Coburn is 32, while Anton Stralman is 30.

Auston Matthews’ parents were incensed after knee-to-knee hit

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The beauty of having a player’s parents on hand is that you can capture reactions in real-time. In many cases, that means happiness (or even tears of joy) following a big success. Of course … there’s always the chance you’ll film a moment of righteous anger, too.

Toronto Maple Leafs fans were holding their breath after star Auston Matthews was shaken up by a knee-to-knee hit via Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Jake Dotchin. You can see that check in the video above.

While Leafs fans were worried, his parents were justifiably angry (and worried):

The good news is that Matthews is at least seemingly OK.

It’s been a long night for Matthews already.