When you consider All-Star voting (in actual ballots and PHT ones) and midseason award picks, the Tampa Bay Lightning hold an almost unfair edge over the rest of the NHL halfway through 2017-18. Honestly, just the other day, I wondered if injuries might be their biggest hurdle right now.
Well, about that …
Star defenseman Victor Hedman left tonight’s game against the Calgary Flames with a lower-body injury and will not return.
It’s not surprising that Hedman won’t be back, as it looked like a pretty unfortunate tweak of the leg/knee. You can see it in action in the video above this post’s headline.
As strong as the Lightning look – Tyler Johnson‘s giving them a second line to supplement that deadly top trio – just about any team can be shaken by a big injury in this salary cap era, and Hedman is a foundational piece for the Bolts. He’s an All-Star this season, and has a legitimate shot at winning a Norris Trophy after being a finalist in 2016-17.
Hedman is crucial beyond his 33 points and outstanding skill. Aside from Andrei Vasilevskiy, he might be the most painful loss simply because of how important he is.
Consider this: he’s leading all Lightning skaters with an ice-time average of 25:57 per game, almost five minutes more than second-place Anton Stralman (21 per contest). There’s no denying that Mikhail Sergachev has been a splendid addition to a blueline that sorely needed some help, but Hedman logging those huge, Hedman-sized minutes allowed head coach Jon Cooper to put Sergachev and others in sheltered situations.
If Hedman misses serious time, it will make life more difficult for their other defensemen, and it will likely force more work from forwards in transition. This comes at a time of rare struggles for Vezina frontrunner Vasilevskiy, too.
(The Flames ended up adding one more goal to beat the Lightning 5-1.)
Now, the key thing is to remember that we only know that Hedman is out for the rest of this game. It could be a minor issue. One major plus for the Lightning is that they have a bye week coming up, so if this isn’t much, then the damage could end up being minimal.
We’ll have to wait and see, as some knee injuries come from moments that look innocuous while there are other times when a nasty-looking issue ends up being a minor hiccup.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.