Like most of the world, Victor Hedman is home right now. The towering Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman is back in Sweden, keeping in shape thanks to his home gym and waiting for further instructions. Once NHL hockey returns however, there is no mistaking the marching orders for Hedman and his Bolts.
“When we start playing hockey again, our mission is to win, that’s the bottom line,” he said. “When that is, we don’t know. But once we’re back on the ice, we’re going to get that feeling back very quickly. Nothing has changed in that regard.”
Though the Lightning fell to Columbus in one of the most shocking playoff upsets ever last season (getting swept as the Presidents’ Trophy winners will do that), it was hard not to pick Tampa Bay to get revenge on the league in 2019-20. After all, the team had skill and game-breakers at every position, from goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy to forwards Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point. On defense, Hedman led a patrol that also included veterans such as Ryan McDonagh and Kevin Shattenkirk, not to mention young gun Mikhail Sergachev.
At the time of the quarantine stoppage, Tampa Bay sat second in the Atlantic Division. The Bolts had ceded first place to the Boston Bruins due to a 3-6-1 Lightning slide, but with all the talent available on that roster, it’s not out of place to wonder if that adversity was a good lesson for Tampa Bay, a team that had cruised to the Presidents’ Trophy last year before the stunning upset against the Blue Jackets.
For Hedman, it has been business as usual this year, with 55 points through 66 games. That’s actually a slightly better points pace than he ended up with in 2017-18, the year he won the Norris Trophy. While no one currently knows how voting will go in 2019-20, Hedman would at least be in the mix once again with peers such as Nashville’s Roman Josi and Washington’s John Carlson. Needless to say, getting that first nod was quite the affirmation for the big Swede.
“It was a very cool feeling, something you dream about,” Hedman said. “There aren’t a whole lot of individual trophies for defensemen to win. I’ve been a finalist three times now and it’s a lot more fun when you go there and win. I focus the most on my team winning games, but to do that I expect myself to try to be the best player on the ice every night.”
Even before the Norris, Hedman had been putting up big numbers from the blueline and it’s funny how his best offensive season yet – 72 points in 79 games back in 2016-17 – didn’t net him the trophy. Unfortunately, San Jose’s Brent Burns had 76 points that year and voters have tended to reward gross points when it comes to the Norris.
Like the rest of the NHL, Hedman would love to be on the ice right now, but at the same time he knows the restart must be done in a safe manner.
“It’s tough, but I’m staying in shape,” he said. “I want to be ready if the season resumes. Staying close to family and friends in these tough times has been very important – but obviously being smart about it. I’m just waiting to see what the NHL and the players come up with.”
Whatever the format is, Hedman and the Bolts will get a chance to exorcise those playoff demons of the past. This group will never be outgunned in a series, but the Bolts will have to find a way to put it all together at the right time, something that has eluded them so far. But with Hedman leading the blueline, they’ve got a very good chance of making it happen very soon.