When you have a team as successful as the Tampa Bay Lightning throughout the 2018-19 regular season, it is easy to overlook the contributions of individual players. With Nikita Kucherov leading the NHL in points, Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point both scoring more than 40 goals, and Andrei Vasilevskiy turning in a Vezina-caliber season, there’s little room for others on the team to get their time in the spotlight.
Once the Lightning hit the playoffs, however, things took a rapid turn. As their historic season went down in glorious flames, Tampa Bay
It’s Victor Hedman.
Hedman Is the Lightning’s MVP
Hedman is more than just the Lightning’s best defenseman. He’s more than a Norris-winning defender who is routinely considered to be among the best in the world at his position.
No, what Hedman is is the lynchpin that holds together every aspect of the Lightning’s defensive corps while being their top-line power play quarterback and one of their best skating penalty killers as well. He is the team’s Swiss-army knife, dominating all aspects of the game even when he is unable to hit the scoresheet.
This ability to control the game is irreplaceable for the Lightning, at least during the playoffs. While Ryan McDonagh did a great job filling in for Hedman during his absence in the regular season, postseason hockey quickly exposed just how thin the team truly was without their Norris-winning defenseman.
Hedman’s absence shuffled the lineup in ways that pushed both aging veterans and young talent into positions well above what where they should have been expected to play. This alone contributed to the team bleeding high-chance scoring opportunities throughout the series.
Hedman Is the Catalyst of the Lightning’s Special Teams
Without a healthy Hedman in the lineup in the Round 1 of the playoffs, not only did the Lightning’s defense meltdown, but their special teams fell apart as well. The team that led the league on the power play and on the penalty kill suddenly became unable to score a goal or stop their opponent.
While there are a number of reasons why this happened, the lack of Hedman was a key contributor. Without his presence on the ice, the Lightning were suddenly needing a replacement for their point man on both sides of their special teams.
Even if the Lightning have some solid depth defenders, the likes of McDonagh, Mikhail Sergachev, Erik Cernak and Jan Ruuta simply weren’t enough to fill in for someone as uniquely talented as Hedman.
This just further cements his importance to the Lightning. As a team, they can find other scoring options behind the Kucherov, Stamkos, and Point. They can’t simply replace Hedman with depth, however, as he is equal parts scoring and shutdown defender.
Lightning Need Healthy Hedman to Succeed
To put it simply, no player is more tied to the future success of the Lightning than Hedman. In order for them to even attempt to win a Stanley Cup, he needs to be both healthy and productive.
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It can be easy to forget just how special of a player Hedman truly is when he is playing. When healthy and skating at full speed, he makes the ice look small unlike any other player in the league.
After missing meaningful time in the playoffs, though, Lightning fans were reminded of life without Hedman. There’s a reason why he is a perennial Norris contender: he simply is one of the best at what he does.