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Hedman, Savard have much in common

Lightning defenseman's style, achievements reminiscent of Canadiens' Hall of Famer

by Stan Fischler / Special to NHL.com

Legendary hockey reporter Stan Fischler writes a weekly scrapbook for NHL.com. Fischler, known as "The Hockey Maven," shares his humor and insight with readers every Wednesday.

This week, Stan compares two defensemen who've won the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Hockey Hall of Famer Serge Savard and this year's winner, Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

 

Serge Savard played on seven Stanley Cup-winning teams during his 14 full seasons on the blue line with the Montreal Canadiens (1967-68 through 1980-81). He was voted winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 1969, when the Canadiens won their fourth championship in five seasons.

At age 29, Victor Hedman has one Stanley Cup ring, one Norris Trophy as the NHL's top defenseman -- and, most recently, one Conn Smythe Trophy -- giving the Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman an increasing resemblance to the Montreal Hall of Famer in style and class.

Scotty Bowman, the winningest coach in NHL history, mentored Savard in Montreal and has scouted Hedman from his Florida home. He's impressed with the similarities. "There's a very good comparison in in their styles," Bowman said. "The biggest difference is that when Serge was at his best in the 1970s, defensemen didn't carry the puck as often as they do now. Granted that Bobby Orr, Brad Park and Larry Robinson were exceptions. Savard could rush too, but he rushed only when needed; similar to (Canadiens Hall of Fame defenseman) Doug Harvey in his prime."

Jim Devellano agrees. Devellano, now an executive vice president with the Detroit Red Wings, was a scout for the St. Louis Blues in the late 1960s, when Savard began his NHL career. He now frequents Lightning home games from his Florida home.

"There's a close similarity between Serge and Victor," Devellano said. "I watched Serge when I worked for the Blues. At the time, the Canadiens had Savard with Jacques Laperriere and Larry Robinson. Then he played with Robinson and Guy Lapointe when [they] won four straight Cups in the late 1970s. Savard played on one of the best defensive teams of all time.

"Now I watch Victor a lot. I see a lot of Savard in Hedman's game."

The late John Ferguson, Savard's former Montreal teammate, admired Savard's versatility.

"Serge could play any kind of game," Ferguson once said. "Positionally, he was as good as they come. He scored big goals and if necessary, he could play a tough game."

Sounds a lot like Hedman, doesn't it?

Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper is among those who insist that the Lightning wouldn't have won the Cup this year without Hedman. Listening to Cooper analyze the cornerstone of the Tampa Bay defense, there are echoes of Savard in his prime.

"Victor is a determined, big-game player," Cooper said. "His timing is impeccable, and he has a knack of lifting us when we need a boost. On one hand, he makes great defensive plays; on the other, he scores overtime goals."

When it comes to overtime goals, Savard can lay claim to the night of May 19, 1979, when he scored one of the most unusual OT goals in NHL history.

It came in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Canadiens and New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, Montreal led the series 2-1, and the score was tied 3-3 after regulation. A win would have tilted momentum in New York's favor.

"The Rangers had it going good into the overtime," recalled Allan Kreda, a hockey writer for The New York Times. "Then Larry Robinson fired a long one and beat (Rangers goalie) John Davidson but, curiously, the red light didn't go on and play continued.

"This was a tremendous boost for New York, and they could have turned the series around if the Rangers could score the next goal. But Savard anticipated an opening and quieted the entire arena."

As teammate Guy Lafleur carried the puck into the Rangers' zone, Savard charged to the net from his position on the blue line. Lafleur's attempt failed, but Savard controlled the loose puck and beat Davidson with a backhand shot. This time, there was no question -- the goal gave Montreal a 4-3 win. The Canadiens followed with a 4-1 win in Game 5 to wrap up their fourth consecutive championship.

"It was Savard who turned the series around," remembered Bob Stampleman, then publisher of Action Sports Hockey magazine. "Call it a typical clutch move by Savard."

Hedman proved during the playoffs this summer that he was a deserving Smythe winner.

"I've never seen anyone who stands 6-foot-6 skate as well as Hedman does," said Dallas Stars coach Rick Bowness, whose team lost to Hedman and the Lightning in the Stanley Cup Final. "He's not only a special athlete but a special person. I see him as a down-to-earth humble kid with tons of ability."

Video: TBL@DAL, Gm6: Hedman receives Conn Smythe Trophy

To a man, the Lightning toast their star defenseman.

"Over the years I've seen his confidence grow," center Tyler Johnson said. "He's really grown into the beast he is now."

Mikhail Sergachev, a 23-year-old defenseman who came to the Lightning from Montreal in 2017, has found Hedman's total game an eye-opener.

"It's unbelievable how well he adjusts to every situation, how professional he is off the ice and how nice a guy he is," Sergachev said. "It's just fun to watch him play and learn from him."

Robinson, part of Montreal's "Big Three" on defense with fellow Hall of Famers Savard and Lapointe during the dynasty years in the late 1970s, is also impressed with Hedman.

"Victor epitomizes the way a defenseman should play," said Robinson, now a senior consultant of hockey operations for the St. Louis Blues. "He's a tower of strength in the D-zone. He uses his long stick really well and he jumps into the play when the time is right, scoring important goals."

The New York Islanders can attest to that. During the 2020 Eastern Conference Final, Hedman seemed to be everywhere -- finding open ice for scoring chances, clearing the front of his net or breaking up an Islanders forecheck. He did just about everything but play goal.

One play against the Islanders epitomized Hedman's effect on the game. After losing the series opener, the Islanders dominated the first period in Game 2, taking a 1-0 lead and outshooting Tampa Bay 12-3. But late in the period, Hedman's shot beat goalie Semyon Varlamov to tie the game 1-1. As one reporter noted, "It didn't seem like a game-changer at the time but it kept Tampa in the game long enough to steal a win."

Tampa Bay's 2-1 win could be Exhibit A as to why Hedman was voted winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy.

"The timing of a lot of things Victor has done has been remarkable," Cooper said. "Then again, if he's doing great things, his timing always is going to be good!"

In other words, he could be the second coming of Serge Savard.

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