Cale Makar vs. Victor Hedman: Who’s the best defenseman in the NHL?

The Stanley Cup Final is always filled with talent. Teams wouldn’t be there if they didn’t possess players with immense skill.

But this year, NHL fans are going to be treated with two of the league’s top defensemen going head-to-head when the Avalanche’s Cale Makar and the Lightning’s Victor Hedman hit the ice.

Makar has quickly climbed the ranks of best blue liners in the league and he’s only 23 years old. In just his third season in the NHL, this is already the second season Makar has been a finalist for the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman. Now, he has a chance to lead his team to a Stanley Cup win.

Opposing him is Hedman, who knows all too well what it takes to win a Stanley Cup. The veteran defenseman has two under his belt already and is going for a third straight with the Lightning. At 31 years old, Hedman already has one of the most impressive resumes for a defenseman with two Stanley Cup wins, a Conn Smythe and a Norris Trophy. He was named a finalist yet again for 2021-22, his sixth season in a row as a finalist.

These two are easily in the top-three conversation for defensemen, but who’s better between the two?

Makar vs. Hedman 2022 NHL playoff stats
GP G A PTS + / –
Cale Makar 15 9 21 30 14
Victor Hedman 13 10 7 17 11

Stats as of June 14.

STANLEY CUP FINAL PREVIEW: Avalanche vs. Lightning

Sporting News looked at five different categories to see who holds the edge:

Category 1: Scoring

This one is not close, especially after Makar’s sensational regular season.

The young Avalanche defenseman nearly became the first blue liner since Mike Green in 2008-09 to hit 30 goals in a season. He ended the season leading all defensemen with 28, a mark that is tied for 24th all-time for goals by a defenseman in a single season.

Makar is up to 48 goals in 178 career games, averaging 0.269 goals per game. It’s an insane pace for a defenseman. In fact, looking at the all-time list, among defensemen to score 100 career goals, only Bobby Orr, Denis Potvin and Paul Coffey had higher goals-per-game rates in their career.

Hedman is no slouch either when it comes to finding the back of the net. In 898 career games, he has 134 career goals, producing 1.49 goals per game. However, Makar is looking like he’ll take 300 less games in order to reach 130 career goals.

Advantage: Makar

Category 2: Passing

In terms of dishing out and handling the biscuits, Hedman and Makar are two of the best in the game.

Hedman enjoyed his best season this year in terms of assists, recording a new career-high with 65. He only trailed Roman Josi in total assists and primary assists (34) among blue liners and was third behind Josi and Devon Toews in secondary assists ( 31). He averaged 0.793 assists per game this season and has 12 in 17 games during these playoffs.

On the other side, Makar also set a new career-high in assists, but this was his first full season in the NHL. His 58 assists were fifth among defensemen, his 29 primary assists were seventh and his 29 secondary ones were eighth. However, he’s dished out 17 assists in 14 playoff games this spring

Looking at career numbers, Makar does own the higher assists per game rate at 0.742 while Hedman has a .522. It’s a coin-flip in this one, but I give the slight benefit to Hedman since he’s been producing consistently for a longer period of time.

Advantage: Hedman

MORE: Who is the favorite to win the 2022 Stanley Cup Final?

Category 3: Defense

These two are workhorses on defense. Both can eat up clock, with Makar averaging 25:40 time on ice in the regular season and 27:04 in the playoffs. Hedman averaged 25:04 during the regular season and 24:30 in the postseason.

Hedman totaled 129 blocked shots, 93 hits and 52 takeaways this season. Makar had him beat in hits with 95, while registering 110 blocked shots and 49 takeaways.

Looking towards the advanced analytics, the defensive pairing of Makar and Devon Toews have an expected goals against per 60 of 2.52 in the playoffs after registering a 2.14 in the regular season, according to MoneyPuck. That playoff rate is the highest among all Avs defensive pairings.

On the other side, Hedman hasn’t had a consistent partner. In the regular season, he and Jan Ruuta played the most minutes together, owning an expected goals against per 60 rating of 2.27. In the playoffs, while he’s started with Ruuta, he and Erik Cernak have totaled the most minutes of any Lightning duo. Those two own a mark of 2.23.

Makar certainly benefits from playing alongside an elite defenseman in Toews. Hedman hasn’t really had that luxury, playing with a variety of partners. It’s very close, but I give the edge to the elder.

Advantage: Hedman

Category 4: Skating

This one is also very easy. We haven’t seen someone that can skate quite like Makar in some time. The way he opens his hips to either find a new way around an attacker or to fake a pass/shot and create space is incredible. His ability to walk a blue line is silky smooth and that has helped him produce a lot of his offense.

So, I now present to you Makar using his skating to make people look foolish.

No knock against Hedman’s skating ability, but Makar’s is on another planet.

Advantage: Makar

Category 5: Clutch

Both of these players have come through in clutch time for their respective clubs. Hedman especially can lock it down defensively for Tampa Bay in the big moments.

However, when the Avs have needed a goal in a big moment, Makar has been there to answer the bell.

It’s hard to measure a player being “clutch”, but morehockeystats.com does just that. They have a points system that is based on OT goals, game-winning goals, late game-winning goals, game-tying goals and late game-tying goals.

This season, Hedman finished with a rating of 8.5 while Makar had a rating of 11.5. Only Shea Theodore had a higher “clutchness” among defensemen than Makar.

Advantage: Makar

SCF SCHEDULE: Dates, times, TV channels for Avalanche-Lightning

The final tally: Makar 3, Hedman 2

It’s an extremely close tally between the two. One has been performing at a high level so consistently for over 10 years now while the other has broken onto the scene at such a young age. There’s a reason why both have been Norris finalists the last two seasons.

We can expect to see both Makar and Hedman making a difference in the Stanley Cup Final. Hedman’s been here before and knows what it takes to win, while this is Makar’s first taste of a deep postseason run.

Will Makar continue to lit the hockey world on fire and lead the Avs to a championship win? Or will Hedman use his veteran experience to list the Stanley Cup for the third straight season?

The answer soon will come.

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