While most of the hockey world's attentions are tuned into what Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman announced earlier this morning with Canada's roster for the Sochi Olympic Games finally coming to light, Team Sweden also made their announcement today.
Perhaps more interesting than any of the players selected was the marquee player left off the team by the Tre Konor: 23-year old Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman.
Alexander Edler, Vancouver Canucks (NHL)
Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Phoenix Coyotes (NHL)
Jonathan Ericsson , Detroit Red Wings (NHL)
Niklas Hjalmarsson, Chicago Blackhawks (NHL)
Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators (NHL)
Niklas Kronwall, Detroit Red Wings (NHL)
Johnny Oduya, Chicago Blackhawks (NHL)
Henrik Tallinder , Buffalo Sabres (NHL)
But no Hedman.
It's more than curious, and puzzling, and odd. It's ludicrous, and ridiculous, and dumbfounding.
Victor Hedman is currently 2nd in the entire NHL among defensemen with at least 500 minutes played in terms of points scored/60 minutes at 5v5. He's an elite 5v5 scorer that has only recently started getting enough man-advantage minutes to make a dent in the overall point totals.
Let's put all of Team Sweden's blueliners together and sort them by points/60 (with at least 500 minutes played).
He's not just better than his countrymen at 5v5 scoring; he's significantly better. It's not close. 1.57 points per game is a good even strength scoring rate for a forward, and in fact, Hedman is scoring at a better clip than forwards like Alex Ovechkin, Derek Stepan, Zach Parise, and Evander Kane, most of whom will be Olympians for their respective countries.
In simple terms of point totals, only Erik Karlsson (39) and Niklas Kronwall (28) have more points than Hedman (22), and that's with a good chunk more power play time than Hedman is getting. Earlier this year, Hedman was actually averaging just barely 0:01 of time on ice per game at 5v4, a total non factor on either man advantage unit. Recently, though, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper has started to use him more at 5v4. That has brought Hedman's season PP TOI average up to 1:48 per game. But compared to Karlsson (4:37 PP TOI/game) and Ekman-Larsson (3:49 PP TOI/game) it's still relatively low, and certainly makes a better case for Hedman as an elite scoring defenseman that simply isn't getting the requisite power play time to have a gaudy point total as a blueliner.
Here's another table showing the percentage of points scored at 5v4:
Hjalmarsson, Tallinder, Oduya, and Ericsson all have zero (0) power play points this year, but other than them, Hedman has scored the lowest percentage of his total points at 5v4. So we've established that Hedman is one of the best 5v5 scoring defenseman in the league, and the best among Swedish defensemen. How does he compare to his countrymen by other metrics that indicate different skills besides scoring?
Let's try puck possession, for example. Here are the top Swedish defensemen ranked by Corsi For%, which approximates puck possession as a percentage of all shot attempts while a given player is on the ice (all data pulled from Extra Skater). Tobias Enstrom is included but he wasn't selected in part because he asked not to be named to the roster.
So two players left off the team -- Stralman and Hedman -- are the best in terms of overall puck possession, and Ekman-Larsson and Tallinder are both getting killed territorially and still made it. To be fair, your team plays a big role in your Corsi %, so let's look at the same players ranked by Corsi Rel%, which shows their impact on the team by looking at the difference in Corsi % between when that player is on the ice and when they are not. A positive number means the player in question is helping his team control the puck when he is on the ice, and a negative number means that player is a drag on possession:
By this measure, Ekman-Larsson and Oduya come out looking even worse and Henrik Tallinder, playing for the uniquely bad Buffalo Sabres, doesn't look so bad at all. But Victor Hedman (along with Anton Stralman, again) shines. When Hedman is on the ice, the puck is moving in the right direction for the Lightning, something anyone who has watched them this season would attest to. His closest competition that made Team Sweden in terms of raw Corsi% is Niklas Hjalmarsson, but Hjalmarsson has clearly benefitted from the play of the forwards in front of him and is actually a negative Corsi Rel% player on a very good Chicago Blackhawks squad. The same can be said of Johnny Oduya, who is an even bigger negative possession player than his teammate.
And, on top of all of his good possession numbers and high scoring rates, Hedman is keeping it up behind some of the most suspect forward lines, regularly playing behind the Lightning's bottom-6 at even strength.
Hedman is a smart decision-maker in the defensive zone with the puck skills to carry the puck out of the zone and start a rush or protect it along the wall or behind the net until help arrives. His shot, while not a booming slapper, is underrated in terms of setting up tip plays and deflections in the high slot and in the goalmouth. The last time he played on international-sized ice in Russia was with Astana Barys of the KHL during the 2012-2013 NHL lockout, when he scored 21 points in 26 games before returning to North America for the shortened NHL season. By any metric and by any eye-test you can imagine, Hedman is certainly one of the top-6 Swedish defensemen in the world, and when you argue the best Swedish defender in the world, he ought to be in the conversation.
It makes this snub all the more confusing and begs the question, just what was Sweden thinking?