Lightning 'confident' Hedman will be back soon
Update: While there's no official diagnosis of Victor Hedman's injury, the Lightning seem encouraged by his progress and don't anticipate the top defenseman to be out a significant time.
Coach Jon Cooper said Hedman is "doubtful" for Saturday's game against Buffalo, it seems like he's expecting him back sooner rather than later.
"He's feeling much better," Cooper said. "It was positive news when he came in."
Hedman's head smashed hard into the boards late in the second period after a shoulder to chest hit by Jamie Benn. There's no confirmation that Hedman suffered a concussion, though he's had a couple in his career. Slater Koekkoek has been called up from AHL Syracuse.
"He's a really good defenseman in this league," Cooper said. "You don't want to lose any of your guys, especially him. As I said though, we're confident he'll be back soon, just not tomorrow."
The Lightning could be without Nikita Nesterov too. Nesterov has a hearing with the NHL Department of Player Safety at 4:30 pm to discuss whether he'll face discipline for his hit from behind on Curtis McKenzie. Nesterov received a five minute penalty and game misconduct. McKenzie went to the hospital and was on crutches today, per the Dallas Morning News.
Nesterov said he didn't intend to hurt McKenzie, but has not reached out to him yet. "Bad situation."
Cooper said Nestrov situation out of their hands.
"The league is good at these things, they usually don't screw them up," Cooper said. "They take a lot of time to get things right and they pretty much always do. So whatever they come up with will be fine."
Developing: There was genuine concern in the Lightning dressing room Thursday night about top defenseman Victor Hedman.
While there should be an update on Hedman's status today, it didn't look good when he banged his head into the boards on a shoulder-to-chest hit by Stars' Jamie Benn late in the second period. Hedman was slow to get up, skated off the ice and into the dressing room, where he went through the concussion protocol.
Coach Jon Cooper said Hedman told him he felt "okay" afterwards, but there's still uncertainty over his status. The fact Hedman has a history with concussions, one in 2011 and 2012, could play into this.
With those defensemen likely to get called up in case of injury - Slater Koekkoek and Luke Witkowski - both present at AHL Syracuse practice this morning is a promising sign. But either could still fly in this afternoon before Saturday's game against Buffalo.
Adding a wrench in this is that defenseman Nikita Nesterov is likely to face at least a supplemental discipline hearing over his check from behind on Curtis McKenzie, which came moments after Hedman's hit. Nesterov received a five-minute penalty and game misconduct on a hit Stars center Jason Spezza called "pretty dirty." No matter the intention, the league is trying to crack down on hits from behind, and McKenzie was in a vulnerable position when Nesterov pushed him in the back.
If Nesterov does receive a suspension, the Lightning could call up someone.
Missing Nesterov for one game or two is one thing. But any extended absence for Hedman would be a huge blow to Tampa Bay (3-2), which has lost two straight. Hedman plays monster minutes, in all situations, and the Norris Trophy caliber defenseman is one player Tampa Bay can ill afford to lose. Sure, Tampa Bay survived when Hedman missed six weeks last season with a fractured finger. But it won't be easy.
"You can't replace a guy like that," captain Steven Stamkos said.
The Lightning hopes it won't have to.