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The case for... Victor Hedman

Bryan Burns lays out why he thinks Victor Hedman should win the Norris Trophy for the second consecutive year

by Bryan Burns / TampaBayLightning.com

Four Tampa Bay Lightning players and coaches are up for honors at the 2019 NHL Awards in Las Vegas on June 19, tied with St. Louis for most in the League.

Victor Hedman tries to repeat as Norris Trophy winner after becoming the first Bolt to claim the award last season.

Nikita Kucherov makes a strong case for the Hart Trophy and the Ted Lindsay Award, given annually to the League's regular season MVP as voted by the Professional Hockey Writers Association and the NHL Players Association, respectively.

Andrei Vasilevskiy is in Las Vegas for the second-straight season with hopes to bring home the Vezina Trophy after finishing third in voting a year ago.

And Jon Cooper will be hard to pass up for the Jack Adams Award as the NHL's top coach considering he led the Lightning to 62 regular season wins, tied with the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings for the most all-time in League history.

In the coming days, we'll make the case why each is worthy of his respective award.

Up next…Victor Hedman

Victor Hedman is attempting to become the first defenseman to win the Norris Trophy in back-to-back seasons since fellow Swede and his role model Nicklas Lidstrom won three straight from 2006-08.

He hopes to become one of 14 players all-time to capture the award multiple times.

He'll have his work cut out for him though.

Hedman's competitors, San Jose's Brent Burns and Calgary's Mark Giordano, both put up higher point totals in 2018-19. Burns led all NHL defensemen with 83 points. Giordano was second with 74. Hedman recorded a more pedestrian 54 points, 11th highest among League blueliners.

But scoring totals aren't the only determining component for the Norris, and Hedman's case is as strong as any.

Video: TBL@WSH: Hedman nets slick backhander for OT winner

Inarguable impact
A lot of factors went into the Lightning's first round Stanley Cup Playoffs exit.

Victor Hedman's absence, however, might have been the largest.

Hedman was injured in Tampa Bay's regular season home finale against Washington, the blueliner delivering a hit to Carl Hagelin at the end of the first period that ended up damaging the giver more than the receiver. Hedman didn't come out for the second and was later announced to have sustained an upper-body injury.

Hedman sat out the final four games of the regular season, the Lightning going 3-1 over that stretch to get to 62 wins and tie the NHL record for most victories in a season, but wasn't expected to miss the start of the playoffs.

Hedman was back on the ice for Game 1 of the first round series against Columbus yet didn't play to his usual effectiveness in the first two games and was forced back to the bench for Games 3 and 4, the injury he sustained during the regular season clearly still affecting his play.

Without Hedman, a historic team suddenly looked out of sorts and was shockingly sent packing by the upstart Blue Jackets.

Head coach Jon Cooper has often stated the hulking blueliner is the one that drives the boat for the Lightning.

Without Hedman against Columbus, the Bolts looked rudderless.

Video: TBL@NYR: Hedman wires home game-winner in overtime

Most important player?
The Tampa Bay Lightning set numerous NHL records in 2018-19.

The Bolts' regular season will go down as one of the best in League history, the team winning 62 games, tied for the most all-time. The Lightning needed just 63 games to reach 100 points, joining 1976-77 Montreal (62 GP), 1977-78 Montreal (62 GP) and 1971-72 Boston (63 GP) as the teams requiring the fewest games to reach the milestone.

And one could argue Victor Hedman was the most important piece of that success.

Okay, so Andrei Vasilevskiy likely takes that title as goaltenders, especially an elite goalie like Vasy, are pivotal in determining wins and losses.

But as far as skaters, Hedman had the greatest impact on the Lightning.

He led the team for time on ice at 22:46 per game, although that number dropped significantly from his career-high 25:51 in 2017-18. That's because the Lightning traded for Ryan McDonagh before the 2018 trade deadline, giving the Bolts two bonafide No. 1 defensemen going into 2018-19 and spreading some of the defensive responsibilities between the two throughout the season, responsibilities that had been solely Hedman's previously.

Hedman's lowered ice time also explains why his point totals were less than Burns or Giordano. Burns averaged over two minutes more than Hedman at 25:06 average time on ice, seventh highest in the League. Giordano was on the ice nearly a minute-and-a-half more than Hedman at 24:14.

Ask yourself: Who, besides Vasilevskiy, is the most indispensable member of the Lightning?
Nikita Kucherov blew past the rest of the NHL by recording 128 points, the most of any player during the salary cap era. But if Kucherov went down due to injury and was forced to miss a significant amount of time, the Lightning had other threats who could draw into the lineup and keep the offense going, certainly not at the level of Kucherov but enough that the dropoff wouldn't be severe.

If the Lightning lost Hedman for an extended period, however, the negative impact would be felt throughout the lineup. He's irreplaceable. McDonagh could do an adequate job filling in for Hedman as the top defender, but would the rest of the D-corps be able to pick up the slack?

Take Hedman off of the 2018-19 Lightning and you're no longer looking at a team breezing its way to a Presidents' Trophy. You're likely looking at a team scrambling just to try to get into the postseason.

If you're the most indispensable skater on a team that was historic in its ability to win during the regular season, certainly that's worthy of taking home an award like the Norris.

Video: SJS@TBL: Hedman snipes home PPG to pad lead

Special teams demon
In power-play scoring, Victor Hedman ranked tied for fifth among NHL defensemen with 25 points, between Burns' 28 and Giordano's 21.

All but two of Hedman's power-play points came on assists. In fact, as the quarterback of the Tampa Bay Lightning power play, Hedman ranked second among all Bolts for power-play assists trailing only Nikita Kucherov and his 33 power-play helpers.

Brayden Point recorded a career-high 20 power-play goals, most in the NHL for 2018-19 and second most all-time in Lightning history.

Steven Stamkos finished second in the League for power-play goals with 19, a total that ranked third all-time for Tampa Bay.

Kucherov scored 15 power-play goals, the second-highest total for his career.

The Lightning scored a NHL-best 74 power-play goals as a team, Hedman setting up a large portion of those tallies with his ability to slide passes into the wheelhouse of Stamkos in the left circle or Kucherov in the right circle to hammer home.

Tampa Bay's 28.2 percent power-play success rate ranked 10th all-time in NHL history with Hedman a major component to that historic total.

He was a key contributor on a Lightning penalty kill - Hedman ranked sixth on the Bolts for average shorthanded time on ice at 2:07 -- that ranked first in the NHL too.

Tampa Bay was one of just two teams all-time in the NHL to own the League's top power play and penalty kill in the same season, joining the 2015-16 Anaheim Ducks.

The Lightning put up historic special teams numbers in this season.

It's unlikely that happens without Hedman at the point directing traffic.

Video: TBL@SJS: Hedman snaps home quick wrister from slot

Conclusion
Victor Hedman's offensive numbers don't quite match the other finalists for the Norris Trophy.

But as far as impact on a historic team - remember, voting for the Norris is held at the end of the regular season, meaning playoff performance isn't taken into consideration - Burns and Giordano don't measure up to Hedman.

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