TAMPA — Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman hoped he’d get named Wednesday to his second NHL All-Star Game, especially because it’s in Tampa on Jan. 27.
But with an unfavorable roster format, and three Lightning teammates already locks for the 10-member Atlantic Division team, Hedman knew he was on the bubble.
"I wasn’t really having high expectations," Hedman said. "There’s a lot of guys that are really deserving on our team."
That’s why Hedman was so excited that he’ll join his three teammates — Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Andrei Vasilevskiy — at the NHL All-Star weekend Jan. 27-28 at Amalie Arena. The skills competition is Jan. 27, with all four divisions competing in a 3-on-3 tournament Sunday.
This is the most all stars the Lightning has ever sent; the previous best was three in 2002-03 (Nikolai Khabibulin, Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis — in 2002-03).
It’s not surprising that the Lightning (31-9-3), which boasts the league’s best record, has the league’s most all-stars (the Kings were the next highest with three). Plus coach Jon Cooper behind the bench for the Atlantic.
Stamkos was the fan vote for captain of the Atlantic All-Star team, and will make his fifth appearance. Cooper clinched the gig as Atlantic coach last week with Tampa Bay boasting the best points-percentage through 41 games. Kucherov, tied for the league-lead with 27 goals, was long expected to make his second all-star appearance (also last season).
But for Vasilevskiy, who leads the league in all major goalie statistics, it his is first one. Vasilevskiy has said that making an all-star team is "one of my hockey dreams."
Vasilevskiy joins former league MVP Carey Price (Montreal) as the two Atlantic Division goaltenders. Hedman said he doesn’t know where the Lightning would be in the standings without Vasielvskiy bailing them out.
"He’s been arguably the top goaltender in the league this year," Hedman said. "There was no surprise in my eyes he got picked for his first one. Without a doubt, it won’t be his last one."
Hedman’s case was tricky, however. There’s only three defensemen chosen for each division. But Hedman, a Norris Trophy finalist last season, has played some of his best hockey in the last month. He has 33 points (six goals) and is a plus-24 while averaging a career-high 25 minutes 57 seconds.
Hedman joins good friend and fellow Swede Erik Karlsson and Red Wings’ Mike Green on the Atlantic Division team.
Hedman said last year’s all-star appearance, his first, was unforgettable. The NHL did a ceremony celebrating its top 100 players, so Hedman got to hang out with idols like Nicklas Lidstrom and Peter Forsberg.
"You’re like a kid again," Hedman said.
What will make this NHL All-Star Game more special to Hedman is that it’s in Tampa. "It’s going to be spectacular," he said.
Hedman planned to be part of the weekend festivities anyway, taking in a staycation if he didn’t make the team.
But now that Hedman is, it could make for a dream scenario where Cooper puts his four all-stars on the ice at the same time during 3-on-3. Think about it: Stamkos, Kucherov and Hedman, with Vasilevskiy in net.
"I hope so," Hedman said. "It’d be pretty cool. It could be a good lineup, and very special for us to have that opportunity."