This is the first in a series this month looking at each player on the Lightning’s roster.
TAMPA — Even when he was on the ice, he was missing. The Lightning’s first-round sweep loss to the Blue Jackets in the playoffs demonstrated Victor Hedman’s importance.
Tampa Bay wasn’t the same without him.
The defending Norris Trophy winner got hurt with four games left in the regular season. When Hedman returned for Game 1 against Columbus, he didn’t look like himself and was forced back out of the lineup for Games 3 and 4.
Who can say what would have happened if Hedman had been healthy for the postseason. The Lightning went 5-2 without the defenseman when he injured a shoulder early in the regular season. But there’s no denying it was a better team with him.
“He can make up for a ton of mistakes that happen,” coach Jon Cooper said after Hedman got hurt against the Capitals when he took an accidental helmet to the head while trying to check Carl Hagelin into the boards.
“You throw every cliche in the book of ‘next guy up’ or spread the minutes around, but it’s a big loss for us.”
Hedman consistently has been among the league’s top defenseman. Even with a couple of injuries and a less-flashy season than usual — Hedman was still one of the league’s top-scoring defensemen, thought he didn’t rack up as many points while the Lightning’s forwards exploded — he again is a finalist for defenseman of the year.
The power play is the best statistical example of the weight Hedman’s absence carried, going back to the regular season. He plays the point, essentially quarterbacking what was the best unit in the league for 82 games.
In 12 games without him, the Lightning scored on 19 percent of its power plays. In the 70 games with him, it scored on 30 percent.
The Lightning, and Hedman, never specified what injury he suffered against Hagelin. It was reported only as upper body.
The kind of hit he took points to a concussion.
When Hedman previously collided with an official, also taking a helmet to the face, Cooper, when asked, said Hedman didn’t suffer a concussion. After the Hagelin collision, he said Hedman had “an upper-body injury. That’s all I can say.”
Hedman has a history of concussions. He missed 13 games in the 2011-12 season and before that, one game in 2009.
Will that impact his future? After a concussion, an athlete is more susceptible to suffering another one, and it’s easier for them to get one on hits carrying less force. Also, each future concussion can take longer to come back from.
The most notable recent example is Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford, who missed most of last season and the start of this one because of a concussion. Then he suffered another one in December and missed more than two months.
When Hedman looked off in the first two games of the playoffs — he got beat, turned the puck over and seemed almost lost — some wondered if he had come back too soon. Then he missed the final two games. Cooper wouldn’t say if the absences were connected.
“I wouldn’t say it’s related,” Hedman said after the season was over. “I was cleared to play in the first two games, but I just wasn’t good enough to keep going.”
Hedman has set a high standard of play. When he’s not at his best, it shows on him and the Lightning.
Hedman’s season in review
High: Had the winning goal in back-to-back games. Scored the decisive shootout goal against the Kings on Feb. 25, then in overtime against the Rangers two days later.
Low: Went 20 games without a goal from Nov. 21-Jan. 5. He laughed about it at the time but also said it was grating on him.
Hedman by the numbers
19 Lightning power-play percentage without Hedman
30 Lightning power-play percentage with Hedman
4 Shootout goals in five attempts by Hedman
182 Shots on goal by Hedman, fourth most on the team
22:46 Average ice time for Hedman, his lowest of the past four seasons but still a team best
Contact Diana C. Nearhos at email@example.com. Follow @dianacnearhos