Lightning Struggle when Hedman Is Out of the Lineup

The fact that the Tampa Bay Lightning have played so well for so long, it is easy to take that success for granted. Every season they are expected to make the playoffs and the team has met—and exceeded—those expectations.

One of the players who makes everything he does on the ice look easy is Victor Hedman. The 6-foot-7, 244-pound Swede is the team’s best defenseman and also a potent offensive weapon. When he missed a recent game (his wife was ready to deliver their second child), the Lightning played a sloppy, penalty-filled game against the Winnipeg Jets. Although that was the first game he missed this season, his absence was felt by his teammates.

Hedman’s Development in the NHL

It’s hard to imagine the Lightning without Hedman. He was the second-overall pick in the 2009 NHL Draft, joining Steven Stamkos, who was the first NHL player drafted the previous year. (from ‘John Tavares. Victor Hedman. The 2009 NHL draft was a win-win, but did they get the order right?,’ Toronto Star, 09/29/2020) With these two young players, the struggling team built the foundation that led to its future success and stability. However, it took hard work, commitment, and a positive attitude to turn the team around.

When Hedman first arrived in Tampa, the team had just come off a disappointing 24-win season. In 2008-09, his first season in the NHL, the Lightning won 10 more games than in the previous season. The following season, they earned 103 points and marched their way to the third round of the playoffs. After a few losing seasons, current Lightning coach Jon Cooper took over the team in 2013-14 and they have only missed the postseason once during that time. Hedman’s development as one of the best offensive-defenseman in the league was key to the team’s steady improvement.

A Look at Hedman’s Numbers

In Hedman’s first NHL season, he played 74 games and had 95 blocks, 57 hits, and 14 takeaways. While his offensive play wasn’t indicative of his future production, he still added four goals and 16 assists. He was nominated for the Calder Memorial Trophy for his impressive rookie season. Although he lost to Tyler Myers of the Buffalo Sabres, he has garnered many accolades throughout his career.

Gary Bettman Conn Smythe Trophy Victor Hedman Tampa Bay Lightning
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman presents the Conn Smythe Trophy to Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning. (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

Playing in his 14th season, Hedman’s dominance on the ice continues to astound. He has played in 933 games and has 628 points, of which 222 were scored on the power play. The 2021-22 season was one of his best, as he scored 85 points, which was a career-high and franchise record for a Lightning defenseman.

Beyond Hedman’s offensive talents, the Lightning miss his contributions on special teams when he is out of the lineup. In the Lightning’s Jan. 6, 2023 loss to the Jets, a game Hedman did not play in, the team was 0-4 on the power play while giving up two goals on six penalty kills. In the team’s previous five games, he helped them score five power-play goals and allowed only two goals while on the penalty kill. This exceptional play is the reason why Hedman has been nominated in six consecutive seasons for the Norris Trophy, which is given to the league’s best defenseman, winning the award in 2017-18. He also took home the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2020 for the most valuable player in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Who Will Eventually Replace Hedman

At 32 years old, Hedman is still a top-five defenseman in the league. But it is general manager Julien BriseBois’ job to keep the team competitive and also to secure its future talent. So, when he extended the contract for Mikhail Sergachev for eight years, it was assumed that he would be the defensive future for the Lightning.

RELATED: Lightning Defense Pair Predictions for 2022-23

While there is no doubt that Sergachev is a talented two-way player and deserving of his salary, he is not quite ready to take over as the Lightning’s number-one defenseman. When the 24-year-old played on the top power-play unit earlier in the season, the team struggled to score on the man advantage. In addition, he has made some uncharacteristic mistakes this season and has mishandled the puck in the defensive zone, which has led to easy goals for their opponents.

Talented Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev could take over for Victor Hedman when the time comes.
Talented Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev could take over for Victor Hedman when the time comes. (Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images)

When Eugene Helfrick of The Hockey Writers ranked the 32 NHL team defenses before the 2022-23 season, the Lightning landed in fifth place. He stated that they remain an elite defensive unit because of Hedman’s dominance. In analyzing the team, he wrote: “Behind him, there is still a ton of talent, with young players like Mikhail Sergachev and Cal Foote being asked to take on bigger roles with the franchise. Plus, when you add in Ian Cole as a shot-blocking grinder along with Zack Bogosian for toughness, you see a complete unit that still should dominate the league.”

Hedman’s Leadership

It’s a good thing that Hedman is durable, as he has played 87% of the Lightning’s games during his career. When he does miss a game, the Lightning don’t seem to play as well. His ability to anchor the power play and make passes to open teammates, such as Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point, creates a potent power play that isn’t as effective in his absence.

Beyond his two-way play on the ice, Hedman is a beloved teammate. His even temper and positive attitude make him a favorite in the locker room. Although the Lightning have plenty of young talent who can learn from Hedman’s experience, he should continue his exceptional play for the foreseeable future. Let’s just hope he can remain durable because the team needs him.