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Scotty Bowman has coached Doug Harvey and Nick Lidstrom, Paul Coffey, Larry Robinson and Serge Savard, and happened to be on the bench in St. Louis when Bobby Orr flew through the air after his famous 1970 Stanley Cup-winning overtime goal.
Which makes Bowman something of an encyclopedia of NHL defenceman. He’s seen them all, knows them all, and coached just about the best of them.
And he loves what he sees in Victor Hedman, the best defenceman in hockey who on Monday was not voted winner of the Norris Trophy. That doesen’t matter a whole lot to Bowman. He was the greatest coach ever and was named coach of the year just twice in his remarkable career.
“Hedman is in his own place right now,” Bowman said during a telephone interview. “He’s a big guy that does just about everything right. He’s so mobile for his size. He plays, what, 26 minutes a game? And you get the impression he could play a lot more. He reminds me of Larry (Robinson) that way. For a big man, he can really skate.
“And he’s really picked up his offensive game of late. I don’t know him well personally but people tell me he’s got the perfect kind of temperament that you want on your team. He’s big, he’s got a got a long reach, he skates so well, he moves up the ice so well and he’s much more comfortable doing it than he used to be.
“And his shot has really improved. He can walk the line like Lidstrom did — and nobody did it better than Lidstrom. He was so good moving left to right, changing the angle on the shot, finding a way to get it through all the time. You see Hedman doing that now. Getting his shot through, finding the right place to put it. And he’s scoring doing that. Scoring a lot.”
Hedman has nine goals in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the Tampa Bay Lightning. The record for a defenceman in a playoff season is 12, held by Paul Coffey from the 1985 Edmonton Oilers. Coffey scored eight even-strength goals that year, the most ever. Hedman had seven heading into Monday night’s Game 2 of the Cup Final.
The top goal-scoring defencemen before this playoff year were Coffey, Brian Leetch, Orr, Brad Park, Raymond Bourque, Denis Potvin — all of them Hall of Famers. Now Hedman, with one Norris Trophy, deserving of more, is right there on that remakable playoff list among those all-time greats.
And Coffey, for one, would be thrilled to see Hedman break his record for most goals.
“If Hedman breaks my record, that’s fantastic,” said Coffey, now a multi-dimensional business man in the Toronto area. “I’m not one of those guys who gets protective about these things. I hope he does it.
“I’m a hockey fan now. I like to be entertained. When I watch Victor Hedman play, I know I’m seeing something good. He’s smart, he moves the puck well, he understands who he’s on the ice with and who he’s against. You have to know that. You can’t just go up the ice and create something. It’s not just get the puck and go. You have to know where you are in the game, when to go, where to go, and he’s got a great sense of that.”
Coffey agreed with one point Bowman made, comparing of Hedman to the Big Bird Robinson.
“Maybe it’s the first time I’ve ever agreed with Scotty on anything,” Coffey said. “But that’s a great comparison. I don’t know Victor’s game as well as Robinson’s but one difference: Larry was effing mean out there. I mean, he was mean when he needed to be. You felt that. I don’t know if Hedman is mean at all.”
Hedman is 6-foot-5 or 6-foot-6, depending on who you ask, and just under 230 pounds. Robinson was 6-foot-4 and just about the same weight. When Orr couldn’t play anymore after winning eight straight Norris awards, Denis Potvin and Robinson rotated winning them for the next five seasons. The most playoff goals Potvin scored with the dynastic New York Islanders was eight. The most Robinson scored with the legendary Montreal Canadiens teams was six.
“If Victor played our first power play, he’d win the Norris every year,” said Julien BriseBois, the Tampa Bay general manager. “But we keep him off that, so he gets a little more rest and doesn’t get as many points. I think that works for us that way during the season.”
With Steven Stamkos missing from Tampa’s lineup in the post-season, Hedman has altered his offensive game. He’s been more aggressive with the puck. His nine goals is tied for the team lead in the playoffs with Brayden Point, ahead of former Hart Trophy winner Nikita Kucherov.
“It’s really a new game they’re playing,” said Bowman of the current NHL. “A lot of teams are playing a new style. The defencemen are more free to get into the rush and into the play. And they stay down low longer and because of that they’re scoring more goals than ever before. And when you’re as big as Hedman and as a strong as him, with that shot, he scores.
“The great ones, like (Chris) Pronger always seem like they could play forever in games, as much ice as you gave them. I think Hedman’s like that.”
“I love the young defencemen in the NHL right now,” said Coffey. “(Miro) Heiskanen, (Cale) Makar, (Quinn) Hughes. There’s an element of risk in their game but so much upside. I’m sure the forwards love playing with them, and playing with Hedman, too.”
He’s not a kid anymore at 29, in his 11th season, but his game seems to be is growing every season.
“And he’s getting better, watch” said Bowman. “It’s impressive.”
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