Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman is on his fifth consecutive Norris Trophy nomination. Last season, he was his team’s main driver for the championship. He lifted the Stanley Cup in the boat parade months before Tom Brady handed the Lombardi Trophy to Rob Gronkowski from his boat on the Hillsborough River near downtown Tampa, Florida. At a time when elite NHL attackers are chosen for their defensive weaknesses, Hedman is one of the most complete players in hockey.

So is it possible that Victor Hedman is now the best hockey player in the world?

No way, Hedman said, laughing. I would say that nobody in the world would say that I am the best player in the world.

Despite averaging over 25 productive minutes per game, controlling conditions in his own area and inserting himself aggressively into the offensive flow? According to Evolving Hockey, Hedman ranks second in terms of average points per game (0.83) among defensemen who have played more than 100 games in the past three seasons and first in terms of goals against (35.3) among defensemen in that span.

Still no luck?

No. At least not for me. If someone had told me that, I would have said: Thanks, but I don’t think so, Hedman said. I mean, I wouldn’t argue with that guy. But I don’t think I’m the best player in the world. Not a chance.

His coach, John Cooper, doesn’t let Hedman’s modesty get in the way when he talks about the star defender. Cooper Hedman, now in his ninth season with the Lightning, has been coaching since the impressive Swede was 22 years old.

Is he in his 30s? You know, it’s crazy: I’d say he’s playing the best part of his career. There are times when you feel like a man among boys, Cooper says. The baby’s getting better. I don’t know when he’s going to hit the ceiling.

Hedman was picked second in 2009, behind John Tavares, who was picked by the New York Islanders. No other player in the draft class has a better record (plus-118) than Hedman, and he is the fourth-best player in his career (488 points). He played professionally before joining the Lightning in 2009-10 at the age of 19. This is the usual way for the Swedish elite. Nicklas Lidstrom, who was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, played three seasons in the Elisery before joining the Detroit Red Wings as a 21-year-old rookie in 1991-92.

A defender coming into the league at a young age has a harder time than a striker. They’re much more vulnerable. Their mistakes are piling up, Lidstrom told ESPN recently. Hedman came in young. He had a longer career than other young players…. But damn, he never got off the ground, in any aspect of his game.

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It took a while for Hedman to get the wheels completely off the ground. In his first four seasons in the NHL, Hedman proved himself as a defensive player, effectively using his 6-foot-4 body and 225-pound weight, but not as a human wrecking ball that size can promise. But it wasn’t until his fifth season that the offense came to this kind of defense – he averaged 0.73 points per game in his first full season behind the bench at Tampa Bay.

There’s something in the stats that says it takes 150-200 games to become a defender in this league. I think it’s true. Players get away with their abilities and physical attributes. Heddy had the size, strength and speed. But just by playing in the league and understanding the players, I think the hockey sense can develop as a defenseman, said Cooper, who added that it was that hockey sense that set Hedman apart from his peers during his time in the NHL.

He knows what’s happening on the ice right now. I think when he was younger, he just knew what was happening to him on the ice. That’s what makes you a world-class lawyer: the ability to see what’s going on. And Vic has really grown up.

Hedman said his hockey skills have always been one of his best qualities. But the older you get and the more experience you gain, and the more you play in the league, the better you anticipate the games that are going to happen. You can get there a little faster. It’s just an experience to pay a lot of attention to the different actors and know their tendencies, he said.

Knowing your opponent’s tendencies works both ways. Hedman said all the offensive players he deals with also know what he likes to do.

Some of these players have so many skills that they can do anything they see. They have an idea of what they are going to do. That’s the problem: If you’re a little too aggressive and you’re facing Nate McKinnon or Connor McDavid – who, thank God, I don’t see very often – they’re going to cross the blue line and they can go right, left, between you. You just have to be a little more patient. If you’re too aggressive, it can quickly turn into [Sportscenter], he laughs.

Hedman is rarely a source of enthusiasm for anyone. He’s the one who can now control the games, Lidstrom said. Look at the playoffs last year and how he performed. The team played well and he played a big part in their success last year.

Victor Hedman received the Conn Smythe Award for his dominance in the playoffs when the Lightning won the Cup. Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images

Hedman won the Conn Smythe Trophy with 22 points in 25 games, including three winning goals in ten appearances. He scored seven points alone against Dallas in the Stanley Cup Final. He averaged 26 minutes and 28 seconds per game on the ice, including several marathons: Hedman skated more than 30 minutes five times in a playoff game. Remember the five-round classic between the Blue Jackets Lightning and Columbus in the first round? Seth Jones got all the attention as he skated 65 minutes, but Hedman was right behind him at 57:38.

I’m very impressed with the progression of his career. Especially with the few ice minutes he has, said Lidstrom, who averaged 29:20 per game with the Red Wings during the regular season. For some players, the game has narrowed as their ice time approaches 20. They are prone to error. It’s all about fatigue. But he’s just a workhorse. It doesn’t bother him at all. He seems to get better and better when he plays.

Hedman says it’s all in the air conditioning.

It’s about how I prepare for each season. Prepare for a long overtime and playoff season. That’s how I train. I pay a lot of attention to recovery. He said this game needs a quick recovery. If you need five times, you need five times. You have to be ready.

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Although he’s at the top of his game as an NHL player, Hedman said he’s still working on parts of his skill set.

I still want to get better. I always want to be as good as I can be, he said. I am fortunate to be part of a very successful team. I expect to be as good as I can be every night. My weaknesses? I know what they are. I feel like I’m better on the net when I’m boxing with guys. Maybe a little meanness. These are things I’m working on, but I don’t want to give up my game either.

It’s all for the better, but it doesn’t have to be perfect. After all, there is only one Perfect Man, as Nicklas Lidstrom was called when he was a monkey in Detroit.

Hedman admits it’s exciting to have a fan in a legendary defender.

I just turned 30, so I don’t consider myself a young man anymore. But when you hear his name… He’s one of the best to ever play the game, Hedman said. Always so cool. It’s still cool that you shared the ice cream with him. One of the biggest upheavals when I came into the league was playing against and with Detroit, Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall.

There was certainly a time when Nicklas Lidstrom could be talked about as the best player in the world. Elsa/Getty Images

Does Lidstrom think Hedman can become the best player in the world?

I would classify him as a top player. He’s good at every aspect of the game, whether he’s playing in the minority or as a quarterback. He’d do anything for her, he said.

There may have been a time when Lidstrom himself was considered the best all-around hockey player in the world, but the fact is that defensemen and goalies – and Dominik Hasek certainly considered himself the best in the world – cannot compete with the best strikers in the world in this debate.

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That’s what Cooper said when asked if Hedman was the best player in the world.

I have no problem throwing him into a fight for the best defender in the world. But it’s like the fight between Bobby Orr and Wayne Gretzky. It’s hard to say which one because they play different positions. But if you look at the defendant, he certainly said

Modesty aside, that’s the main reason Hedman doesn’t think he can be considered the best player in the world: the apple versus orange debate.

It’s hard to compare positions. It’s like comparing a quarterback to a cornerback. You can’t compare it, he said. There are so many good players in this league. I try to do my best every night. It is for others to judge.

frequently asked questions

Who is the best ice hockey player in the world?

1. Connor McDavid, F, Edmonton Oilers. McDavid is so good that he took the title of best player in the world from Sidney Crosby by a narrow margin. He was the NHL’s top scorer the past two seasons and was voted the NHL’s top player by his teammates.

As Victor Hedman?


What happened to Victor Hedman?

Lightning fans and fantasy players held their breath when Hedman was sent out of the Round of 16 on Saturday after a painful fall due to a leg injury, but it appears his exit from the game was more preventative than necessary.

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