TAMPA — If Victor Hedman decided to hang up his skates tomorrow or in a decade, it wouldn’t have much impact on the legacy he’s already forged in his 12-year-career as one of the best defensemen in the NHL.
Hedman has set the standard for what it takes to be elite.
After being named a finalist for the Norris Trophy for the fifth straight season, the Lightning defenseman will find out Tuesday night at the NHL Awards Show if he’s taking home some extra hardware this season.
The trophy is awarded to the league’s top “defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-around ability in the position.” Members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association vote yearly on the award at the end of the regular season.
Hedman won the Norris in 2017-18, becoming the first player in franchise history to win the honor after scoring a career-high 17 goals — tied for first among NHL defensemen — and handing out 46 assists. He placed third in his other three previous seasons as a finalist (2016-17, 2018-19, 2019-20).
Swedish countryman Nicklas Lidstrom was the last player to be named a Norris finalist five or more consecutive seasons, doing it six times from 1997-98 through 2002-03. Altogether, Lidstrom won the Norris seven times during his 20-year career with Detroit before he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
It shouldn’t be surprising that Hedman’s name comes up in a conversation involving Lidstrom, arguably the greatest defenseman of all time. Hedman, 30, has proven season after season what it takes to be the best, which has earned him the respect of his teammates and others throughout the league.
“Knowing year after year that (your peers and the voters) consider you one of the best and top guys in the game, that’s really saying a lot,” Lightning color analyst and former Canadiens defenseman Brian Engblom said of Hedman. “That’s really something to be up there (in the same conversation as Lidstrom).”
Tuesday, Hedman’s career could reach another level.
Among active players, only two have won the Norris twice — the Blackhawks’ Duncan Keith (2009-10 and 2013-14) and former Senator Erik Karlsson (2011-12 and 2014-15), now with the Sharks.
Hedman didn’t score at the rate he did in 2017-18, but his 45 points ranked third among defensemen, his 36 assists fifth and his nine goals seventh.
With voting taking place before the playoffs, Hedman’s quieter postseason wasn’t taken into account. He has one goal and 15 assists through 18 games entering the Stanley Cup final.
Still, it’s not always the elevated production that keeps a player in the Norris conversation, Engblom said. It’s the consistency of play and knowing that a player has to have enough of an offensive game through all three zones on the ice.
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When coach Jon Cooper considers what makes a good Norris Trophy candidate, he thinks about players who make “an impact on the outcome of the game in a positive way” and play in all situations.
Cooper said he doesn’t believe the defenseman who scores the most points in the regular season should be a shoo-in for the honor. It’s about how that player performs in different situations and how much he’s on the ice in various scenarios.
“When a team is pre-scouting you, there’s a couple of guys they circle,” Cooper said, “and if they’re circling a defenseman, that means he’s probably a Norris caliber-type player.”
Hedman makes the big things look easy, and his desire to improve is hard to match. Since joining the league in 2010-11, he’s the sixth most-productive defenseman, scoring 498 points (110 goals and 388 assists) in 742 regular-season games.
His 86 career postseason points (18 goals and 68 assists through 127 games) dating to 2010-11 are most in the league, 22 more than Washington’s John Carlson — a Norris finalist last season, along with Hedman and Nashville’s Roman Josi, the eventual winner.
Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois called Hedman, an “elite-level player,” saying he knows how to elevate his game from one year to the next, which is why he’s been in the Norris conversation so regularly.
Hedman’s postseason run last year (10-12—22 in 25 games) en route to the Stanley Cup allowed the world to see his playmaking abilities on a larger stage.
His play was so impressive he was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy, given to the most valuable player of the postseason. Eleven defensemen have won the award in the trophy’s 56-year history, but only two are still active (Keith in 2015 and Hedman).
“To be mentioned with Ray Bourque and Nick Lidstrom, I think it just goes to show that Victor is a generational talent, and in my opinion, the best defenseman of his generation,” BriseBois said. “And I think he’s still getting better.”
7:30 p.m. Tuesday, NBCSN
• Calder Trophy (finalists: Kirill Kaprizov, Alex Nedeljkovic, Jason Robertson)
• Hart Trophy (finalists: Nathan MacKinnon, Auston Matthews, Connor McDavid)
• Norris Trophy (finalists: Adam Fox, Victor Hedman, Cale Makar)
• Ted Lindsay Award (finalists: Sidney Crosby, Auston Matthews, Connor McDavid)
• Vezina Trophy (finalists: Marc-Andre Fleury, Philipp Grubauer, Andrei Vasilevskiy)
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