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Exit Interview: Victor Hedman, “You can’t fall too far behind”

Transcribed for accessibility. Victor Hedman talks about coming up short this season, the contributions of young players, and his belief in this team moving forward.

NHL: Florida Panthers at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

In the final days of the season, the Tampa Bay Lightning players reflect on the ups and downs of a very tumultuous season. Relevant quotes from the recent interviews are transcribed below. For the sake of clarity and fluency, I have omitted extraneous uses of the phrases “you know,” “obviously,” “and,” “so,” and “but.”

Pregame Press Conference - April 9, 2017

Victor Hedman : We played some real good hockey as of late. It’s real disappointing. Yeah, real disappointed it’s the last game of the season tonight. But we’re proud of the way we responded to adversity. Never folded, even though things didn’t look good - especially around the trade deadline and stuff like that. We gave it everything we had, but it’s still real disappointing not to make the playoffs.

Question: If you put your finger on one or two things, what would be in retrospect that put you in this position?

Hedman: Just inconsistency. Not good enough in the first half of the season. We put ourselves in this position. We were behind for most of the year. It’s a tough league to make the playoffs, especially when you put yourself in a position like that. That’s got to be a lesson learned for us. You’re going to see a hungry motivated team coming into next year.

Question: Victor, what was it kind of like watching that game unfold in Toronto [when the Maple Leafs defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins, eliminating the Lightning from the playoffs]?

Hedman: How do you know I watched it?

Question: Well, I’m guessing you did.

Hedman: I did. [reporters laugh] It’s a - you’re a little bit in limbo. Last ten minutes, after they first missed an open net and then get a fortunate bounce to go up 3-2. You had your hopes up all the way, but then they put on a really good effort in the last seven minutes. It’s just an empty feeling when they score that empty-netter and you knew the season is over.

Question: How do you balance the second half of the year with the disappointment in the grand scheme, big picture of expectations that you all had coming back with you and [Steven] Stamkos and everybody coming through?

Hedman: Yeah, it’s real disappointing. If you want to pick up something positive, everyone knows what we’ve done the last few months. The way we played. We played really the way we wanted to. Like I said earlier, we gave everything we got to get back in it. It came down to the last few games of the year.

Like I also said, it’s a lesson learned. You can’t fall too far behind. It’s really tough to climb back in. This is a disappointed group. We have a standard of making the playoffs. There’s 29 other teams that want to make the same thing. It’s a tough league.

Exit Interview - April 10, 2017

Victor Hedman: It’s not a feeling you want to have again. It’s going to be a long summer. We’re trying to be positive and hopefully our guys come back healthy and ready to go next year. We’ve got a great team here. A lot of good players have been missing a lot of time, so get those guys back.

With the way we played especially the the last few months is very encouraging. I guess we’ve got to know that it’s not going to be automatic that we’re going to play like this when we come back. It’s a new season, so we’ve got to start over again. A lot of positives coming out of the last few months.

Question: Was there a period during the season you can look back on and say, “That’s what cost us.”

Hedman: It’s easy to do. I think it was after Thanksgiving we went 2-7-1. Right after New Years we lost four straight. Losing three straight at home just a few weeks ago. If you look at those segments, those weren’t good enough. We’re only three points back of what our total was last year when we finished second in our division. I guess that’s how close it was. Missed out on 94 points, usually that’s enough to get you in.

Question: Is there one young guy in particular that stood out to you this season?

Hedman: I’ve got to give a lot of props to Brayden Point, the way he played. He was really the only guy I hadn’t seen. With the World Cup, I wasn’t here for training camp. To see the way that he played, the maturity in his game, his consistency. It’s tough for a rookie to have that. He’s been performing better and better as the season went on, play in all situations. He’s got a really bright future ahead of him.

Question: What can you say about the job that [head coach] Jon Cooper has done? TO be thrown in a situation where you lose a good quarter of your starters for most of the season and have all these young guys come in. He still was able to pull this group together and make a run at the end.

Hedman: Yeah, exactly. That’s what Coop does. He gets everyone together. Guys coming up from Syracuse, guys we got [from waivers] Greg McKegg, and guys that we acquired from other teams. They fit right in.

It’s a good group of guys too. Very open to new guys, new faces. We allow them to take room in the locker room and play their way. It starts with the coaching staff putting everything together and getting line combinations right. Guys have been working their tails off from the trade deadline up to now. A lot of good things, like I said earlier.

Question: What stood out to you about him [Cooper] and what he was able to accomplish with this group?

Hedman: I think just the way we came back. Being last in the [Altantic] Division - or last in the [Eastern] Conference in February, we were able to turn it around and come this close. It came down to the last game of the year. I think a lot of people counted us out already at that time. We believed in ourselves. Coop believed in the group, that we could make a good run. We sure did. We came up short, which is really disappointing. Like I said earlier, it was a lot of positives in the last few months.

Question: Victor, for you personally, statistically your play has gone up another level. Have you felt it improve this year? Have your games just gone a little bit smoother?

Hedman: Yeah. It’s just the consistency and being able to produce more, especially in power play situations. I’m being put in positions to be able to produce. That’s what I had to do. It’s going to be something I will keep working on this summer is trying to improve as a player, keep working on my game, and trying to become even better.

For me personally, it’s easy when you play with so many good players. Just try to be yourself and play your game hard every night. When you’re put in a position to produce, you have to produce. That’s what I have to do, keep it going forward.

Question: Victor, after Ben Bishop was traded and Vasy [Andrei Vasilevskiy] was the number one guy, did you see a shift in his game, in his focus, anything like that?

Hedman: Yeah, I think it’s - I can’t speak for him, but if I was a goalie, knowing that you’re the number one guy, you’re going to start on a regular basis. It probably calms you down a little bit. The way he played down the stretch was just phenomenal. He’s got a really bright future ahead of him. He’s going to be one of the top goaltenders in this league for many years.

We’re very fortunate to have a guy that competes the way he does, always trying to get better. He’s probably the most pissed off guy when we lose hockey games. He’s a workhorse, always trying to get better and improve. That’s what we want out of a goalie. I think he learned a lot from Bish - I think he was a great mentor for him.

Question: Last year going into the off-season, you didn’t know so much about maybe the make-up. You didn’t know if Stammer was going to be back, you didn’t know if Bishop was going to be back. To have this core group, with the young guys stepping up and what you have coming back, how good does it feel with this group going forward?

Hedman: It feels great. Like I said, I really like the group that we have in here. Some tough times with the trades. You leave going into the summer with all this speculation, but that’s out of the way now. Our only focus is coming prepared and ready to work next year. We’ve got to be a hungry group, desperate group coming back.

You can’t take anything for granted in this league. You never know what’s going to happen. We know there’s 30 other teams next year that’s going to be just as motivated as we [are]. We’ve just got to make sure that we come prepared and ready to work right away.

Question: What can you say about the play of Jake Dotchin? You got to know him real well as a pairing partner.

Hedman: Yeah, he was phenomenal. Probably one of those guys that we needed. He plays a hard game, he plays physical. He’s not afraid to go in the corners. He’s been tremendous. He’s going to get even better. It’s a tough position to play and come in and be successful right away, but he’s been very consistent in his game, the way he’s played. I’m really looking forward to seeing him come training camp next year.

Question: How competitive is training camp going to be? With these guys coming in - these young guys that have got now all that extra confidence because they’ve been here and they’ve gotten a taste of the NHL. I would think it’s going to create a great atmosphere.

Hedman: It sure will. That’s what we want. You want training camp to be a battle, be a competition - without it getting out of hand. We know what kind of group we have. We know all the young guys. The Syracuse [Crunch] guys have been up this year and have done a tremendous job.

I’m pretty sure they’re going to come well-prepared. They know what to expect to play in the NHL now. I think they just raised our game to another level. It will be fun to see how they perform - the guys going back to Syracuse for the playoffs. I’m pretty sure they’re going to go on a big run.

Question: You’re summer’s going to be twice as long as I think you’ve ever had. What are you going to do with these extra two months?

Hedman: I don’t know. I haven’t really decided if I’m going to go up to the World Championships or not. We’ll see. This is not the kind of ending you want, but I haven’t made up my mind yet, haven’t talked to the people in Sweden. We’ll see what comes out of that. Other than that, rest the body a little bit and get back to work.