HERSHEY, Pa. – It’s a little hard to believe that the 2019-20 season was the fifth professional campaign for Tyler Lewington as a member of the Hershey Bears. Lewington made the jump from the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays in his first professional season and stuck with the Chocolate and White almost immediately. Playing 32 games for the Bears in 2015-16 (and all 21 games of Hershey’s run to the 2016 Calder Cup Finals), he rarely missed a game for the club in the four years that would follow.
After making his NHL debut in 2018-19 and ultimately suiting up for eight games with Washington (where he had a Gordie Howe Hat Trick in his second game), Lewington becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Free agency will look a bit different this summer. The NHL recently extended the expiration date for current contracts until the end of October, and it’s unclear how the 2020-21 AHL season will look. Lewington qualifies as an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career, and can explore options other than the Washington organization. Lewington will be signing a new contract for just the third time in his career, having been on a three-year entry-level deal and a two-year deal prior to this summer.
Lewington’s contract actually helped him become an extra defenseman for the Capitals in the past, as his $665,000 cap hit made him an ideal candidate for the role in the extra relief it provided. The hit is far less than other players, but Lewington is far from just an easy salary to consider.
Although he hasn’t been known for racking up points in the same way his frequent defensive partner Aaron Ness was during his time in Hershey, Lewington is one of the most reliable defenders to wear the Bears’ colors. This is best exemplified by his collective plus-46 rating in five seasons in Hershey (283 games total), showing that far more goes his team’s way when he’s on the ice than against it.
Not to mention that Lewington is one of the toughest to patrol the blue line for the Chocolate and White, stepping up to protect teammates by fighting the battles and doing anything to win hockey games. Lewington had a particularly memorable night for the Bears this past season on January 18, where he scored two goals including the overtime winner to help Hershey drop the Hartford Wolf Pack by a 5-4 count. It was just the second game winner for Lewington in his AHL career, as 2019-20 was Lewington’s best in plus/minus (plus-17). He seemed on the way to smashing his career point totals, just four points shy of his previous best at 17 while matching a career high for goals at four.
As an unrestricted free agent, it’s hard to say where Lewington will sign this summer. There’s much less certainty that a team will sign a player who wants to test the free agent market, but if Lewington was willing to retain his friendly salary, it wouldn’t be difficult to see Washington’s interest in retaining a flexible option to fill their blue line in a pinch.
Having Lewington in a Hershey uniform certainly benefits the Bears, as the defender has quickly grown into a fixture on the blue line and an important component to the team’s success in recent years. Although Lewington doesn’t always get the flashy plays or the focal point of attention, he’s a key contributor to Hershey’s success in his tenure, and the organization would do well to secure his services for 2020-21.
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