It was pretty obvious a Lightning player was going to win the 2020 Conn Smythe Trophy when members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association submitted their ballots, but there were multiple choices.
Would the playoffs MVP be Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay’s top defenseman and SN’s pre-series choice for the award? Or would it be Bolts center Brayden Point, who shook off an injury earlier in the postseason to lead all playoff scorers with 14 goals, including the marker that gave his team an early lead Monday night in a Stanley Cup Final-clinching Game 6 victory? Hedman led all playoff D-men with 10 goals, making him just the third defenseman with 10 or more in a postseason (Paul Coffey and Brian Leetch are the others)..
In the end, Hedman received the narrow decision over his teammate.
How slim was the margin? PHWA president Frank Seravalli had the numbers:
Ballots show that this was among the closest Conn Smythe Trophy votes ever by @ThePHWA.
Victor Hedman (9-8-1) edged Brayden Point (8-8-2) by just four points, 9 first-place votes to 8.
Complete transparency with ballots being posted on Tuesday.
— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) September 29, 2020
“This is not my trophy, this is everyone’s trophy,” Hedman, who has played all 11 of his NHL seasons with the Lightning, said after the team skated with the Cup in Edmonton. “You could make the case for every single guy on this team. I’m obviously super proud to get the award, but that big silver thing is the one we’re after. We’re going to take this to our grave.”
Hedman’s offense was crucial to the Lightning’s success as the team played all but one game of the postseason without injured center Steven Stamkos. Lightning head coach Jon Cooper was asked about the way Hedman stepped up with Stamkos out.
“Hedie has grown as a leader, and then when Stammer wasn’t able to be around Hedie stepped to the forefront,” Cooper said. “And just to watch this guy grow, it’s remarkable. He’s so deserving of the Conn Smythe and I know Stammer couldn’t be happier for him.”
Five years ago, Hedman watched from the losing side as Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith received the trophy from commissioner Gary Bettman. Over the next four seasons, he and his team suffered two conference finals losses and an embarrassing first-round sweep in a year the Lightning earned the Presidents’ Trophy. Tampa Bay missed the playoffs the other season.
All of that can be pushed aside with the triumph in 2020, and especially with how the team did it. The champs had to grind through two months of isolation inside a protective bubble because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re so happy and for me, just the demeanor of this team, just the dedication, the resiliency that we showed throughout these playoffs,” Hedman said. “The amount of one-goal games that we won, overtime wins, overtime losses, the way we rebounded from losses — I don’t think we lost a game after coming off a loss. I don’t think we lost a game wearing the white jerseys, either. So playing on the road really suited us. We’re obviously very happy with the way things ended.”