“Victor Hedman is the best defenceman in the NHL” might be one of the most uncontroversial statements in hockey right now. In a fan poll I ran last weekend ranking blueliners, he finished first by far and got 55% of the first place votes.
This attitude has extended to the Norris trophy this season, where the former Conn Smythe winner seems poised to finish in first place by a landslide. Hedman has 44 points, plays over 25 minutes a night, and the Lightning are one of the top teams in the league; given his pedigree and proven two-way ability, there isn’t anybody who poses a serious threat to his candidacy.
But I’m not so sure. Victor Hedman is an excellent defenceman - maybe the best in the sport - but I think this season is his least-convincing Norris bid in years. By far.
In this piece I could lay out a bunch of fancy models like Wins Above Replacement and RAPM and argue that complicated calculations of isolated impact are proof that Adam Fox, Charlie McAvoy, Cale Makar, or even Adam Pelech deserve the award more than him. But I don’t think I have to. I’m going to lay out some factual statements, back them up with stats and video, and try to make this undeniably unpopular case as convincing as possible.
1. This Season, the Lightning Have Been a Better Team With Him on the Bench at 5v5
This is the main inconvenient truth of Victor Hedman’s campaign.
The Lightning have been one of the best teams in the league in the shortened season - 2nd in the Central Division and 6th in the NHL in points percentage, 4th in goal differential, 8th in 5v5 goals for percentage, and 9th in 5v5 expected goals for percentage. You might be tempted to attribute much of this success to Hedman, but the simple fact of the matter is that the Lightning have been a better team without him on the ice at 5v5.
When Hedman has been on the ice at 5v5, the Lightning have barely outscored their competition, 39 to 38. When he’s been off the ice, they have outscored their opponents 63 to 43.
Let’s put that another way. When Hedman is on the ice, the Lightning outscore their opponents a little bit less than the Winnipeg Jets. When he’s off the ice, they outscore their opponents by a higher margin than the Colorado Avalanche.
It isn’t common that an elite #1 defenceman underperforms the rest of the team by that kind of margin, to say the least. Compare Hedman to a collection of the other players who are considered candidates for the Norris this season: