EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) — When the Tampa Bay Lightning were still in Toronto, they enjoyed some fresh air outside at the football stadium inside the bubble.
Victor Hedman kicked and made a 50-yard field goal, soccer style, perfectly splitting the uprights.
Is there anything this guy can’t do?
Hedman did it all on and off the ice for the Lightning on the way to winning the Stanley Cup, and the big Swedish defenseman was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP after the Lightning won the Stanley Cup on Monday night, eliminating Dallas in six games.
“I’m obviously super proud to get the award, but the big silver thing was the one we were after,” Hedman said. “I tried to bring my ‘A game’ every night. I don’t know. This is not my trophy. This is everyone’s trophy.”
Even with Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point filling the scoresheet, it was impossible to overstate Hedman’s value to Tampa Bay offensively, defensively and in the leadership department in the absence of injured captain Steven Stamkos. Hedman edged Point 70 points to 66 in voting by members of the media.
“To watch Heddy win that Conn Smythe, to be the best player in the world in the playoffs and to just watch a relationship grow to where it is today, it’s just love and admiration,” Stamkos said.
Five years after Tampa Bay’s run to the final when coach Jon Cooper said Hedman “put us on his back,” he scored 10 goals, saved many others and helped carry his team to a championship.
“Over the years you can kind of see his confidence grow, his ability to make plays just at the next level,” longtime teammate Tyler Johnson said. “He’s really just grown into the beast he is now.”
Hedman spent the 4.5-month pandemic pause thinking about how to improve his game and figured he needed to shoot more. He put 82 on net, by far the most of any postseason in his career since being the No. 2 pick in the 2009 draft.
“Some of them found the net,” Hedman deadpanned.
Hedman averaged 26 minutes and put up 22 points during the Lightning’s 25-game ride from round-robin play through to the final. The 29-year-old skated almost a full hour during the Lightning’s five-overtime victory against Columbus in the first round and he was a horse again in the double OT loss to Dallas in Game 5.
A Norris Trophy finalist as the NHL’s top defenseman four years in a row and the 2018 winner, Hedman controlled the play and made the playoffs a personal showcase.
“I’ve never seen anyone 6-6 skate like him,” said Rick Bowness, who coached Hedman as a Tampa Bay assistant for five years and whose Dallas Stars were eliminated in the final by the Lightning. “He’s just a special athlete. He is. He’s a special person. He’s a wonderful down to earth humble kid with just tons of ability.”
Hedman has had huge moments in the playoffs: three game-winning goals, including the series clincher in overtime against Boston and Game 3 of the final to put the Lightning up on the Stars. In Game 4, he saved a goal by clearing the puck out before it slid into the net.
“He’s unbelievable,” said Nashville captain Roman Josi, this season’s Norris winner. “I love watching him play. I remember playing against him when I was like 16 and I already knew how good he was going to be. He’s such a complete defenseman.”
Cooper, asked about the presence of former New York Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh in filling the leadership void with Stamkos out, unprompted brought up Hedman. Stamkos also singled out Hedman for what he has done in the locker room, which includes making his teammates better.
“My first year I came into the league, Heddy won the Norris that year,” young defenseman Mikhail Sergachev said. “It was unbelievable to watch him play in every situation and how professional he is off the ice and how nice of a guy he is. ... On the ice, he’s a beast. It’s just fun to watch him play and learn from him.”