To mark the midway point of the 2020-21 regular season, NHL.com is running its Trophy Tracker series. Today, we look at the race for the Norris Trophy, given annually to the top defenseman in the NHL as selected in a vote by the Professional Hockey Writers Association.
Victor Hedman is the best defenseman in the NHL this season, and there doesn't seem to be much of a debate.
The 30-year-old has picked up where he left off with the Tampa Bay Lightning during the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, when he scored 22 points (10 goals, 12 assists) in 25 games and won the Conn Smythe Trophy voted as the most valuable player of the postseason after helping them win their first championship since 2004.
Hedman leads NHL defensemen with 27 points (five goals, 22 assists) in 28 games this season and entering Tuesday was fourth in average time on ice per game (25:30). He has played a big role in the Lightning's success; they are 20-6-2 and are tied for first place in the Discover Central Division with the Florida Panthers.
"I would argue that he's playing the best of his career," Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said of Hedman last month. "There are times out there when he's going, he looks like a man among boys."
Video: TBL@CHI: Hedman ties game on PP
A panel of 17 NHL.com writers agrees with Cooper and unanimously expect Hedman to win the Norris Trophy as the top defenseman in the NHL for the second time. Hedman has been a finalist for the award in each of the past four seasons and won in 2017-18.
Hedman won the NHL.com vote with 85 points; Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty finished a distant second with 45 points, and Jeff Petry of the Montreal Canadiens was third with 35.
"I put that pressure on myself to go out there and try to do as good as I can every night to help my team win," Hedman said. " … It's obviously a good thing that you expect better out of yourself. I think I can be even better, so it's up to me to do that and prepare myself before every game and just be ready whenever called upon. Just got to keep it going, and hopefully there's better things to come."
The Lightning have a long way to go in their Stanley Cup defense, but a healthy Hedman leading the way on their blue line increases their chances exponentially. And it sounds as though he's hungry for another championship.
"We can't complain where we are points-wise," Hedman said. "We're finding different ways to win, and it's a tough league. Obviously [it's] a different season playing pretty much the same opponents over and over again, but we put a high standard on ourselves and we still have things we can improve on as a group. We obviously like winning hockey games and we've done a lot of that to start the season. There's not a whole lot of complaint in that regard.
"There's no panic in our room, but we still have stuff that we can improve on and get better at, so that's a good thing. … We set a high standard [and] we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be as good as we know we can be."
Voting totals (points awarded on a 5-4-3-2-1 basis): Victor Hedman, Lightning, 85 points (17 first-place votes); Drew Doughty, Kings, 45 points; Jeff Petry, Canadiens, 35 points; Charlie McAvoy, Boston Bruins, 30 points; Aaron Ekblad, Florida Panthers, 20 points; John Carlson, Washington Capitals, 8 points; Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche, 6 points; Quinn Hughes, Vancouver Canucks, 6 points; Alex Pietrangelo, Vegas Golden Knights, 5 points; Morgan Rielly, Toronto Maple Leafs, 5 points; Darnell Nurse, Edmonton Oilers, 4 points; Roman Josi, Nashville Predators, 3 points; Neal Pionk, Winnipeg Jets, 2 points; Ivan Provorov, Philadelphia Flyers, 1 point.