Bigger, Stronger, Faster
As the Stanley Cup Final moved onto Chicago for games three and four, it should be clear to all who are witnessing this matchup between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Tampa Bay Lightning. We are watching one of the best defensemen in the game.
Fans in Chicago know that Duncan Keith is a two-time Stanley Cup Champion as well as a two-time Norris Trophy recipient. Both honors are well deserved. But in the current Stanley Cup Final, the best defenseman on the ice after the first three games is Tampa Bay Lightning’s Victor Hedman.
In an earlier piece I posted on this website, I wrote that Hedman is a bigger, stronger and faster version of Keith and I stand by that assertion. After Tampa’s victory in Game 3, we are witnessing the best defenseman in the NHL and that person isn’t Keith or Brent Seabrook, it’s Hedman.
Most NHL fans know that there was some drama last season in the Tampa Bay Lighting locker room when Olympic teams were announced for Sochi. Former captain, Marty St. Louis, angered by the snub from the Canadian Olympic team, led by his boss, Steve Yzerman, demanded and got a trade to the New York Rangers.
But there was another Olympic snub that didn’t register a fraction of the St. Louis fiasco. That was when Sweden announced its Olympic team and Hedman was not selected. In interviews, Hedman said all the right things that there are a lot of good players in his home country and how he can rest during the break for the playoff sprint his Lightning team was primed to make.
It had to hurt though. It had to be a blow to the then 23-year-old defenseman. Perhaps, for the Tampa Bay Lightning it was a blessing in disguise. How many stories do we hear about or read about where an athlete hits a stumbling block of some kind only to come back to prove everyone wrong.
Even Michael Jordan was cut from his high school team. Would he have been the Jordan that is regarded as the best that ever was, if he wasn’t cut by that coach? Would Hedman be the dominant defenseman in the NHL playoffs and in the Stanley Cup Final if the Swedish Hockey powers selected him to play in 2014?
Injuries Prevent Norris Consideration
Assuming the Swedish snub was the impetus for Hedman, his season started off with a bang. In Tampa’s first five games, Hedman had three goals, four assists for a total of seven points. To add to this phenomenal start, he also added six hits and seven blocked shots. To say he was a dominating presence would be an understatement.
There was no doubt that this incredible start would put Hedman into the serious conversation as a Norris Trophy contender. Just for giggles, extrapolating his five game start over an 82 game season, Hedman would have had 49 goals, 65 assists for a total of 114 total points. I realize it wouldn’t have ended that way but that gives you an idea of the blistering start he had to this season.
But in the blink of an eye it can all go away and it did for the young defenseman. During the fifth game of the season on the road in Vancouver, Hedman fractured a finger against the Vancouver Canucks. All in all, he missed 20 games. When he did come back, it took a good couple weeks before he looked like the player we saw in the first week of the season.
While it’s not exactly going out on a limb, barring injury next season, if Hedman were to continue playing as he has in these playoffs and he isn’t given serious Norris Trophy consideration there ought to be an investigation.
Victor Hedman making his name
Stating this assertion that Hedman is the best defensemen in the Stanley Cup Final, I can almost hear the exploding heads of the Blackhawk fans who know that their guy, Keith is no slouch.
It is true that in the entire playoffs, Keith has two goals to Hedman’s one. Keith also has 18 assists to Hedman’s 13 helpers. But in the Stanley Cup Final, the story is different. Neither defensive titan has scored a goal through three games. Hedman has four assists to Keith’s two. Hedman has eight shots to Keith’s four and five hits to Keith’s two. To put an exclamation point, Hedman has seven blocks to Keith’s six and is a plus -2 to Keith’s plus – 1.
Considering that Hedman is matched up primarily against the opponent’s top scoring line. In the Stanley Cup Final, it is the Jonathan Toews line. In the Eastern Conference Final, it was the Rick Nash line. Max Pacioretty against Montreal and Henrik Zetterberg against Detroit and this young Swede continues to produce in both zones.
Hedman had the game winning assist in the pivotal game three with a little over three minutes left in the loud Madhouse on Madison. Watch him glide into the offensive zone and make the perfect feed to Cedric Paquette.
Nerves of steel and the kicker is that Hedman is just 24 years old. Yes, that’s right, he has his best hockey in front of him. We are witnessing something special. Perhaps it was the Olympic snub. Maybe it was the broken thumb after getting off to a red-hot start. Maybe it is that he has never been given any serious consideration for the trophy that designates the top defensemen in the NHL
Whatever the reason, whatever is the impetus that makes Hedman play the way he plays, let it continue because we are fortunate to see this young man play big and play well, especially on the biggest stage in the NHL.