Down in Tampa Bay, there's an elite level hockey player who won't be representing his country in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, and nobody is talking about it.
A lot of fuss was made about Martin St. Louis not being taken by Team Canada, but he's not the biggest Olympic snub from the NHL this year. He's not even the biggest snub on the Lightning. That dubious honor belongs to Victor Hedman.
Remember that guy taken second overall between John Tavares and Matt Duchene in 2009? He hasn't made the big splash offensively that many thought he would — though he's working his way up to it — but Hedman has quietly developed into one of the most dominant two-way defensemen in the game.
Last season, Hedman ranked 38th among all defensemen in relative Corsi, but this year he's way up to ninth. But league ranks aren't even the issue here since we're talking about a snub from an Olympic team. Let's look at how Hedman compares to his countrymen.
|Player||Time on ice||Offensive zone start%||Defensive zone start%||Teammate FF%||Opponent FF%|
Hedman doesn't play the toughest defensive minutes, but he does routinely play against solid competition, and he doesn't start in the offensive zone very often either. Hedman starts in the neutral zone more often than his peers from Sweden, so I would put his usage somewhere smack dab in the middle of them. He does play with fairly good teammates — the main one, Sami Salo, has had a great season.
|Player||Shots for%||Rel SF%||Fenwick for %||Rel FF%||Corsi for %||Rel CF%|
Here is where Hedman really begins to stand out. The main thing that draws my eye is that Hedman plays tougher minutes than Erik Karlsson, yet stands out above him fairly significantly from a possession perspective. Hedman has better teammates helping him out than Karlsson does, but then you can look at Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who has the same level of support, and he's getting absolutely shredded.
Anton Stralman puts up a similar possession performance, but even though he's playing with really bad linemates, he's also playing closer to third-pairing minutes. You can make a serious argument for Stralman, who was left off the Swedish Olympic team, especially over players like Johnny Oduya, who seems to be the biggest red flag here. Oduya plays mid-level minutes with absolutely fantastic teammates, yet performs below team average possession-wise. That's not very impressive.
|Player||ES Goals/60||ES Assists/60||ES Points/60||PP Points/60|
Not only does Hedman outdo the venerable Karlsson in even strength scoring, but among defensemen who've played 400 or more minutes this season, he's first in the entire NHL. On the powerplay he is by no means the best in the league, but he's easily a top-four guy for Sweden.
Hedman is a more than capable puck mover who can skate, play physical, and owns the ice defensively. There are very few, if any, weaknesses in his game. He's likely right below the caliber of defenseman that get talked up for the Norris Trophy, yet no one talks about him because he plays in Tampa Bay under the shadows of Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis.
An argument could be made, very easily, that Hedman isn't just deserving of being named to Sweden's national team, but that he's the best defenseman they have available. This is a serious blunder in a tournament where a single mistake can have you going home at the hands of Belarus. OK ... well not this year, but we can sub in Latvia.