To mark the beginning of the 2019-20 regular season, NHL.com is running its first installment of the Trophy Tracker series this week. Today, we look at the race for the Norris Trophy, the annual award given to the top defenseman in the NHL as selected in a Professional Hockey Writers Association poll.
Victor Hedman has been voted a Norris Trophy finalist for the top defenseman in the NHL in each of the past three seasons, winning the award in 2017-18, and finishing third last season and in 2016-17.
But defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk didn't realize just how good Hedman was until he became his teammate on the Tampa Bay Lightning this offseason.
"I knew he was a great skater and had a good shot from playing against him … But seeing his smarts with the puck, seeing him play with guys like [Nikita] Kucherov and [Steven] Stamkos," Shattenkirk said, "those guys, they do some crazy things, but Victor is easily as skilled. I think that's one thing that's kind of wowed me about him, the way he can handle to puck and some of the passes he makes."
It all adds up to Hedman being considered one of the most consistent at his position and the overwhelming favorite to win the Norris Trophy this season for the second time, according to a panel of 20 NHL.com writers.
Hedman received 11 first-place votes from the panel. Seth Jones (Columbus Blue Jackets), who finished second in Norris voting, received three first-place votes. Brent Burns (San Jose Sharks), who won the Norris in 2016-17 and has been a finalist in three of the past four seasons, finished third and received one first-place vote. Erik Karlsson (Sharks) got three first-place votes, and Roman Josi (Nashville Predators) and Keith Yandle (Florida Panthers) each got one.
"When you can skate like that at his size (6-foot-6, 229 pounds) and have that much range, it makes almost next to impossible to get around him and beat him one on one," said Shattenkirk, who played against Hedman the past nine seasons before signing as an unrestricted free agent with the Lightning on Aug. 5. "Really, he's one guy that can affect five on the ice and there's not many guys in the League that can do it."
Video: Hedman earns the No. 10 spot on the Top 50 list
Hedman had 54 points (12 goals, 42 assists) and was plus-24 while averaging 22:46 of ice time per game in 70 games last season. He's been consistent offensively, exceeding 50 points in four of the past six seasons.
"He plays at a high pace and, especially as a defenseman to make plays at a high pace," Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. "He's playing alongside (Steven) Stamkos and (Nikita) Kucherov and these guys that are playing at a high pace. He's a defenseman that's able to have that skill and ability to join rushes and create and see the ice like those guys do."
Although Hedman is often lauded for his offensive ability, he focuses on defense first, something his teammates notice even if others don't.
"He never puts himself in trouble and that's because he's such a good skater and he just gets up and down the ice," McDonagh said. "It makes him an impact player on offense and defense for sure."
Video: Seth Jones checks in at No. 5 on the list
Hedman also plays in all situations, making him more valuable. He led Lightning defensemen in power-play ice time per game (3:19), more than double of Mikhail Sergachev (1:31), and finished second in total shorthanded ice time (148:11) behind McDonagh (257:36).
"He just covers so much ground," McDonagh said. "He makes some things look effortless, like it's a nothing play, and it's actually a very difficult play."
Voting totals (points awarded on a 5-4-3-2-1- basis): Victor Hedman, Lightning, 77 points (11 first-place votes); Seth Jones, Blue Jackets, 36 (3); Brent Burns, Sharks, 35 (1); Erik Karlsson, Sharks, 34 (3); Roman Josi, Predators, 28 (1); Morgan Rielly, Toronto Maple Leafs, 15; P.K. Subban, New Jersey Devils, 14; Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames, 14; Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins, 13; John Carlson, Washington Capitals, 7; Miro Heiskanen, Dallas Stars, 6; Charlie McAvoy, Boston Bruins, 5; Keith Yandle, Panthers, 5 (1); Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues, 4; Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings, 2; John Klingberg, Stars, 2; Shea Weber, Montreal Canadiens, 1; Rasmus Dahlin, Buffalo Sabres, 1; Colton Parayko, Blues, 1.
NHL.com independent correspondent Corey Long contributed to this story