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Ask Burnsie: Early season success

Lightning beat writer Bryan Burns answers your questions about Tampa Bay's hot start and more

by Bryan Burns / TampaBayLightning.com

TampaBayLightning.com beat writer Bryan Burns will answer readers' most intriguing questions in a regular mailbag feature. Be sure to tweet questions to @bburnsnhl and include the hashtag #AskBurnsie to have your question answered in a future mailbag. If your question wasn't answered today, resubmit it in the future and we'll attempt to get it in for another edition. Have fun with your questions too; the more off-beat the query the better. 

Is there any concern of overworking Hedman early and wearing him out? Could a trade be made to acquire another trusted D? (via @mcgucks91)
Until last season, Victor Hedman was averaging about 23 minutes a game, but he saw that number rise to 24:30 in 2016-17 and with it, his point totals also drastically increased, the Swedish defenseman tallying career highs for goals (16), assists (56) and points (72).

So far in 2017-18, Hedman is right around 26 minutes per game, another rise of about a minute and a half per game
Is it a concern?

Possibly

Sure, you don't want to run your star defenseman and Norris Trophy candidate into the ground early in the season. But Hedman has proven, particularly last season, he's capable of handling an increased work load. Truth be told, for as skilled and valuable as he is to the Lightning, he was probably getting a bit shortchanged for time on ice up until last season.

In 2014-15, Hedman ranked tied for 40th in the NHL for TOI. In 2015-16, he was tied for 34th.

Last season was the first where Hedman was up near the leaders in the League for TOI at 15th. This season, he's ninth. The players in front of him are all the top defenseman for their team.

I think Hedman is more than capable of continuing his current minutes per game pace, and if I'm the Lightning, I want him on the ice more often than not because he's one of the best players on the team and his production increases with higher ice time.

As for your second question, got a lot of queries as to whether the Lightning could make a move to add to an already stacked roster. Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman has said repeatedly in the past he's always looking for ways to improve his team. But he's not going to mortgage the future to do so. I'd say with the way the Lightning are playing currently, there's no real reason to mess with a good thing. But depending where the Lightning sit in the standings as the trade deadline approaches, a deal later in the season would be more feasible.

Do you predict Sergachev will remain in Tampa Bay for the remainder of the season including playoffs? (via @Polak_18)

Video: TBL@CAR: Sergachev deposits Stamkos' feed by Darling

Unless he suffers some unforeseen midseason tailspin, I expect Mikhail Sergachev to play every game for the Lightning this season provided he's healthy.

Sergachev took the opportunity presented to him in training camp and ran with it, quickly (and permanently, it seems) establishing himself as the Bolts' second-pair left-handed defenseman alongside veteran Anton Stralman.

Sergachev's emergence allows the Lightning to split up the Hedman-Stralman pairing to more evenly spread the wealth along the blue line. Hedman can continue partnering with Jake Dotchin, that duo proving an effective combination last season. Stralman can mentor Sergachev and continue the Bolts' affinity for pairing a veteran defenseman with a youngster.

I like all three Tampa Bay defensive pairings as they currently stand, and Sergachev has played a large role in solidifying the back end. Consider: The 19-year-old Russian has put up more points through 15 games (4-8-12) than all but one other Lightning rookie in history, that being Cory Conacher (5-9-14) in 2012-13.

Tampa Bay ranks fourth in the League for defensemen scoring with 39 points. Only Toronto (43), Columbus (41) and Vegas (40) have more.

Sergachev proved he was ready for the NHL with his play early in the season and he continues to prove he's a valuable component to the Bolts blue line with each outing.

What is the biggest surprise so far this season? (via @WaywardBlade24)
The natural choice is the success of Sergachev. Before the season, we wondered if he'd make it in Tampa Bay past nine games. Now he's leading Lightning defensemen for scoring and ranks tied for eighth among all NHL blueliners. That's extremely impressive.

However, I'm going to go with Steven Stamkos leading the NHL for scoring through 15 games as my biggest surprise of the season so far. Stamkos putting up points is no shock. The Lightning captain ranks 11th in the League for scoring since his rookie season and is averaging over a point a game for his career.

Video: CBJ@TBL: Stamkos goes top shelf for a power-play goal

But Stamkos is coming off a major knee injury that robbed him of 65 games in 2016-17. For the third time in five seasons, he had to rehab a significant injury/ailment.

For him to start the season with points in 11-consecutive games and to record 25 points through 15 games (the second most for his career, trailing only the 26 he put up in 2010-11), is remarkable.

The fact he still doesn't consider himself fully recovered - he told Sportsnet 590s Prime Time Sports on Nov. 1, "I don't know if I'll ever feel 100 percent again," -- is mind-boggling.

A Stamkos who continues to feel more comfortable on his surgically-repaired knee with each outing should be a massive concern for the rest of the NHL.

On a lighter note, how do Bolts fans and AMALIE Arena compare to other fans and arenas? (via @carolsbridge)
I've yet to visit Winnipeg, St. Louis or Vegas for a game and I didn't make it to Little Caesars Arena when the Lightning played in Detroit earlier this season. Having said that, I would put AMALIE Arena in the conversation for top five rink in the NHL. My favorite arenas in order would be:

1. Minnesota's Xcel Energy Center (I love how the arena has the feel of a ski chalet with spruce trees and wood paneling throughout.)

2. Edmonton's Rogers Place (We got a tour of this new building last season, and the place is immaculate. The number of options for premium seating/viewing experiences is unmatched).

3. Montreal's Bell Centre (Probably the loudest building in the League and the press box rings the ice directly above, allowing for an unparalleled viewing experience.)

4. New York's Madison Square Garden (Just looking at that roof and scoreboard gives me goosebumps.)

I would put AMALIE Arena in consideration for the fifth spot along with Pittsburgh's PPG Paints Arena, Colorado's Pepsi Center and Los Angeles' STAPLES Center.

As far as game presentation, I know I might be biased, but there's not a better experience in the League than what the Lightning give their fans night in and night out. It's one of the main reasons the Tampa Bay Lightning were named the No. 1 sports franchise in North America in ESPN The Magazine's 2016 Ultimate Standings.

Will the first line continue this success throughout the season? (via @fatems_19)
Currently, Steven Stamkos is on pace to record 137 points.

Nikita Kucherov is on pace for 77 goals.

Do I expect them to keep that up?

I'm going to go out on a limb and say no.

But certainly will be a lot of fun to watch them try.

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