EDMONTON — Victor Hedman and Steven Stamkos have a special friendship. They’re not just teammates — they’re best friends.
When they embraced each other during the on-ice celebration you could see just what it meant for both Hedman and Stamkos.
They’ve been through so much with the Lightning for more than a decade, and they finally did it.
They are Stanley Cup champions — and Hedman became just the 10th defenseman and first since Duncan Keith in 2015 to win the Conn Smythe trophy.
“I think I told him I loved him 100 times,” smiled Stamkos about the on-ice embrace.
“What can you say? We’ve been together since Day 1, and to go through all the ups and downs ... this is what you play for. To watch Heddy win the Conn Smythe and be the best player in the world in the playoffs and watch our relationship grow to where it is today. It’s just love and admiration. This is one of the best feelings in the world, and I’m so thankful I get to share this moment with Heddy.”
The Lightning won their second Stanley Cup in franchise history and first since 2004, and what makes this win even more remarkable and special is the Lightning did it without Stamkos, who played just 2:47 in this playoff run.
It was clear the team rallied around the loss of their captain, but Hedman’s playoff run to win the Conn Smythe was very rare.
His 10 goals were the third-most by a defenseman all-time. Only Paul Coffey’s 12 in 1985 and Brian Leetch’s 11 in 1994 were more.
Hedman finished the playoffs with 10 goals and 12 assists in 25 games (including round robin). He becomes the third Swedish-born player to win the Conn Smythe, joining Nicklas Lidstrom and Henrik Zetterberg.
“Victor’s a special player. The reason we went as far as we did in 2015, Victor Hedman was a big reason for that,” said Lightning head coach Jon Cooper. "He and Stammer have been the two here the longest, and he’s watched players come in and out and he’s watched the team change over. They’ve missed playoffs, and to go through what Stammer’s gone through — they’re extremely close friends.
"They came in really close together. Heddy has grown as a leader, and when Stammer wasn’t able to be around, Heddy stepped to the forefront. Just to watch this guy grow, is remarkable. He was so deserving of the Conn Smyth,e and I know Stammer couldn’t be happier for him.”
Hedman took the pause as an opportunity to look and evaluate his game. You’d have to wonder what more the perennial Norris Trophy candidate could add to his game to be even more effective.
Stay updated on Tampa Bay’s sports scene
Subscribe to our free Sports Today newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
He’s always been known as one of the best two-way defensemen in the world, but this playoff run, he didn’t just shut down the opposition he made them pay with his shot. Offensively, he was on a completely different level during this playoff run.
“Someone’s got to replace those goals,” smiled Hedman. “I thought about it during the break about how I can improve my game and one of those ways was to shoot the puck more, and some of them found the back of the net.”
“At the end of the day, this isn’t my trophy, it could’ve gone to any of the guys. Without Stammer, you obviously lose one of the best players in the world, but I’m so proud of the way we came together as a group.”
Stamkos and Hedman have been through many playoff heartbreaks throughout their time in the Sunshine State.
They were selected No. 1 and No. 2 overall in 2008 and 2009, respectively, and have had all the pressure in the world placed on their shoulders to lead the Lightning to championship glory
Now they’ve done it.
“This is the best moment of our hockey lives. So many emotions, it’s going to take months maybe to sink in, but we’ll be champions forever,” said Hedman. “To do it together with this group. It’s been a grind. It’s not been easy, but it’s all worth it now. We’re Stanley Cup champs. We’re going to be Stanley Cup champs forever. It will be in history. Our kids and grandkids will look at the Stanley Cup and see our names.”