The Tampa Bay Lightning are not exactly bereft of star power. With Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Andrei Vasilevskiy, and Brayden Point, the Bolts have plenty of headliners on the marquee. Victor Hedman, the best player on the team, doesn’t seem to garner quite the same amount of attention. This is of course understandable. Kucherov is the point-getter, Stamkos is the goal-scorer, Point is the flashy, up and comer, and Vasilevskiy makes the highlight reel saves.
This all goes on with the NHL’s best all-around defenseman steadily and quietly playing the best hockey of any blueliner in the league. If someone asked 100 Lightning fans who was last season’s Conn Smythe winner for the NHL Playoff MVP, my guess would be maybe 70-75 of them would name someone other than Hedman. This is not a knock on Tampa hockey fans, it just points to the talent level the Bolts currently have on the roster.
This week, Hedman was named the Lightning Player of the Week. Hedman led the team with three points on a goal and two assists. He had the primary assist on the game-winner in OT against the Columbus Blue Jackets, scored by none other than Brayden Point. The 3-2 victory last Thursday pushed the Bolts to 3-0 on the season after having numerous games either canceled or postponed due to the ongoing COVID pandemic.
The next game against Columbus didn’t go so well for Tampa, as the Jackets stormed to a 5-2 victory. Hedman was one of the lone bright spots, finishing with a goal and an assist on the day. Big No. 77 has started this year as he has pretty much every year since becoming a Bolt, sublime and steady.
Stats Don’t Tell the Story When it Comes to Hedman
A look at the early stats of NHL defensemen this season has Quinn Hughes of the Vancouver Canucks leading the NHL in points with nine. Shea Theodore of the Vegas Golden Knights leads the league in goals with three, and Cale Makar of the Colorado Avalanche has the most assists so far with eight.
Well then, surely Hedman leads in time on ice (TOI) per game, he just played 26:47 in the last game against Columbus after all. Nope, Kris Letang, defenseman for the Pittsburgh Penguins tops that list with 27:34 TOI per game this season. Last season in 66 games played, Hedman didn’t lead a single defenseman stat category at the end of the year. So how is it that Hedman is considered the undisputed best defenseman in the NHL?
At the end of last season, Hedman was voted by the NHLPA as the league’s best defenseman, and it wasn’t even close. The next closest in the poll was John Carlson of the Washington Capitals. Hedman got 37.88% of the vote from the players, while Carlson was a distant second with just 21.35%. In fact, the only player that had a higher percentage of votes from the players for the entire NHL was Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers.
Of all the stats mentioned so far, these are really the only ones that matter. This was the second year in a row that Hedman was voted best defenseman by his peers. Hedman was also a Norris Trophy candidate for the fourth year in a row. He was the first defenceman to be nominated that many years in a row since countryman and former Detroit Red Wings great Nicklas Lidstrom did it from 2005-06 to 2008-09.
A Selfless Leader Who Doesn’t Need Notoriety
The fact that Hedman has only won the Norris Trophy once in his career is laughable. When you factor in how much his opponents think of him, not winning another Norris since the 2017-18 season becomes downright criminal. The players know above all who is the real deal in the league and for two seasons in a row, they’ve voted for Victor Hedman.
This year so far, the minutes per game have climbed steadily for Hedman in the early part of the season. His TOI is now sure to keep climbing as fellow defenseman Erik Cernak is out with an upper-body injury sustained in the second game against Columbus. This is, of course, fine with Hedman, to be sure.
He is and has been whatever the team needs whenever it’s needed. All the while never seeking out the attention or the limelight that others on the team get. Make no mistake, they get it for good reason. Nonetheless, not being the most publicized player on the team certainly doesn’t mean he’s not the best player on the team. The other players in the NHL say he is, and that’s good enough for me.