Point left Game 2 of the series against the Islanders early in the second period, apparently injured, and then missed Games 3 and 5. Hedman helped fill the void, chipping in four goals and two assists and playing solid defense against a disciplined team that pushed hard before being eliminated in six games.
George Gwozdecky, a former Lightning assistant coach, said he believed Rick Bowness, who stood behind the opposing bench in the Stanley Cup finals, might have had the most instrumental role in Hedman’s development into one of the N.H.L.’s elite defensive talents: a Norris Trophy winner in 2018, a finalist for the past four seasons and now the winner of a Conn Smythe Trophy and a Stanley Cup.
Before he joined the Stars as an assistant coach at the beginning of the 2018-19 season and then stepped up to become the team’s interim head coach last December, Bowness spent five seasons running the defense for the Lightning, working closely with Hedman.
“Prior to 2015, some questioned how good he could be, how much stronger he’d get, whether he was a flash in the pan, whether he can really be a leader,” Gwozdecky said. “Rick helped Victor put the finishing touches on his game and helped him get over the top and turn into the elite player he is now.”
He added: “With Stamkos out, he became a leader on and off the ice, without a doubt. But on the ice, he’d been asked to give a little more and contribute a little more, especially in the series against the Islanders, and the way he responded has been pretty impressive.”
Born just 10 months apart in 1990 and drafted a year apart in 2008 and 2009, Stamkos and Hedman grew together from teenagers into men. The supporting cast around them improved under the stewardship of Jeff Vinik, who purchased the team in 2010, and the steady hands of Coach Jon Cooper and General Manager Steve Yzerman and then his protégé, Julien BriseBois.