Victor Hedman, a relentless part of the Lightning's push to the Eastern Conference final last season, was honored Wednesday night with the Norris Trophy, given to the NHL's top defenseman.
"To the Lightning organization, Mr. Jeff Vinik, Steve Yzerman and the coaching staff, thank you for believing in me and putting me in a position to succeed," Hedman said in accepting the award at the NHL awards ceremony in Las Vegas.
"To my teammates, obviously I love you guys and I wouldn't be here without you. To the Tampa Bay community and Lightning fans, you guys are the best and thanks for all your support throughout nine years."
The Lightning had finalists for two other major awards. Andrei Vasilevskiy was up for the Vezina Trophy as the league's top goalie; the award went to the Predators' Pekka Rinne. Steve Yzerman was a finalist for general manger of the year; that award went to the Golden Knights' George McPhee, who guided Vegas to the Stanley Cup final in their first season. Yzerman won the GM honor after the 2014-15 season.
Hedman, 27, is the first Lightning player to win the Norris Trophy, giving him one of the top league-wide regular-season player honors in team history. Perhaps the only larger hardware would be Marty St. Louis winning the Hart Trophy in 2003-04 as the league's MVP during the Lightning's Stanley Cup championship season.
Talking to reporters after he received the award, Hedman said his priority will always be helping the Lightning achieve the greatest team goal above anything else.
"I'm very happy to win this award, but I think there's one trophy everybody wants to win, and that's the Stanley Cup," he said. "I haven't accomplished that yet. This is going to be with me the rest of my life, there's no question about that. There's one trophy we want to win, and that's the one you win as a team. That's our goal moving forward. I'll enjoy this tonight and go home tomorrow and get ready for next season."
Hedman earned 94 of a possible 164 first-place votes in voting done by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association, besting the Kings' Drew Doughty with 1,385 points to Doughty's 1,164. The Predators' P.K. Subban finished third.
Hedman's Norris victory not even that close. https://t.co/YYhAK2IOYO— Tom Jones (@TomWJones) June 21, 2018
Reliable on defense and dangerous as an offensive threat, Hedman reset his career high with 17 goals last season, matching the most for any NHL defenseman. His plus-32 reset his career best, having entered 2017-18 a combined plus-33 in his first eight seasons.
Hedman, who signed an eight-year, $63 million extension in 2016, was a finalist for the Norris last season and finished third. San Jose's Brent Burns won.
"I still haven't really processed it in my head," Hedman said of his win. "Unbelievable feeling, and I'm very proud, being the third Swede (joining Nicklas Lidstrom and Erik Karlsson) and first Lightning to win this award. It's very special."
Tampa Bay's Nikita Kucherov finished sixth in voting for the Hart Trophy, given to the league MVP, and Yanni Gourde finished sixth in the voting for the Calder Trophy, which goes to the top rookie.