November 05 2012 01:19PM
For a Stanley Cup starved fanbase that roots for an aging team, a team has come oh so painfully close without raising the ultimate mug, the "championship window" is a constant source of argument and scrutiny. I'd argue that not since the Hussites of the 14-hundreds, or more recently Bill Gates, has a single person or group of people ever been so preoccupied with "windows" in the history of human kind.
The most often cited reason for the Canucks' finite championship window is the age of the Sedin twins. The Sedins turned thirty-two in September (on the same day, if you can believe it!) and the list of players who've produced 100 point seasons after the age of 32 is very short indeed.
Some folks, even some folks who write at this blog, have looked at the twins' decline in production last season and have become convinced that the Sedin twins have begun to submit to the power of father time. But looking over the data from the past five seasons, I see little evidence that the Sedin twins have "lost a step" or that last season's slip in production represents the beginning of a downward trend in their NHL careers.
I'll explain myself at length after the jump.
Preamble and the Numbers
The following tables which I'll use to make my argument are extremely data heavy. But stay with me and I'll try to make the numbers as accessible as I can.
The tables start off with "Ozone Start%" a number that measures the frequency with which a player is deployed in the offensive end of the rink to begin his shift, against the frequency which that same player starts in the defensive end of the rink. This is an important metric for our purposes because the twins benefit more than any other players in the NHL from their club's strategic deployments.
From there we move onto Goals For (GF/60), Goals Against (GA/60) and Goal Differential (Diff) all expressed at a sixty minute rate (of even-strength ice-time). Think of these numbers as basically the Twins' "plus/minus" numbers for the past five seasons, except rated by the number of minutes they spend on the ice. The table also includes Shots For (SF/60), which is also rated by sixty even-strength minutes. I've included "Shots For" as a more "luck independent" measurement of the offensive efficacy of the Sedins over the past five seasons.
The table also includes "on-ice shooting percentage" (On-Ice Sh%), a wonderfully useful number that accounts for every shot the Canucks take with either Henrik or Daniel Sedin on the ice, and the percentage of those shots which result in goals. What's remarkable about On-Ice Sh% is that it's a very stable number, and the vast majority of NHL players will fall between 7% and 8.5% on-ice shooting over a large enough sample. The "outliers" on the top-end tend to be the players we'd all agree are the most talented offensive players in the world (Sidney Crosby leads the league in on-ice sh% over the past five seasons), while the outliers on the low-end are similarly the guys that you'd expect to find there (Rod Pelley, Daniel Winnick).
Finally the tables include the counting stats (goals+assists=points) for both twins at even-strength (ES points), on the power-play (PP points) and total points. Of course the tables also include the "Corsi" rate (expressed as a percentage) for both twins. Corsi is a metric that takes into account every shot, and also every "chance for a shot" that either team takes (so all goals for and against, all shots for and against, all missed shots for and against and all blocked shots for and against). These chances for shots, or "on-ice events" as hockey math nerds call them, correlate closely with zone-time. So we're including Corsi% this case as a proxy for puck possession. The higher a player's Corsi%, the more time that player spent in the opponents end of the rink generating chances (or chances at chances).
Still reading? God bless you. Here's the table for Henrik Sedin:
|Henrik Sedin||Ozone Start%||SF/60||GF/60||GA/60||Diff||On-Ice Sh%||ES Points||PP Points||Totals||Corsi%|
And here's the table for Daniel:
|Daniel Sedin||Ozone Start%||SF/60||GF/60||GA/60||Diff||On-Ice Sh%||ES Points||PP Points||Total||Corsi%|
Our tables start in the 2007-08 season, the last time the Canucks missed the playoffs. That was a down year offensively for the twins, in fact, it was arguably their worst offensive season post-lockout.
While the twins' even-strength production was down from the season previous, their power-play production was solid. I'd also urge you to notice that at this point in his tenure as Canucks headcoach, Alain Vigneault hadn't begun to really specialize his deployment schemes yet.
In 2008-2009, the Sedin twins returned to being point-per-game players. Henrik Sedin also started more shifts in the defensive end of the rink than the offensive end, presumably for the last time ever. This was the first season of the "Mike Gillis era" and the team began to play a more uptempo game so it's not surprising that the twins increased their shot-rate. The Canucks' on-ice shooting percentage with the twins on the ice was also super-elite. As a result, the Sedins increased their point totals dramatically despite the fact that the team's power-play efficiency took a modest step backwards.
In 2009-10 the data begins to get really interesting. This is the first year that Alain Vigneault appears to have seriously massaged the Sedins' zone-starts in order to maximize their offensive-zone opportunities. As a direct result, their puck possession game improved significantly and they were able to generate shots at a higher rate than in the two seasons previous. In addition to their increasingly favorable deployment and their higher shots rates, the Sedins saw their On-Ice Sh% spike to an outrageous 13+%. Basically the Canucks were scoring a goal every 7.7 shots they took with the twins on the ice.
As a result of this correlation of factors, the twins' even-strength production spiked. Henrik Sedin managed 83 points at even-strength that season (and won the Hart Trophy and the Art Ross), while Daniel managed 64 points despite missing nearly twenty games. Sounds sustainable.
In 2010-11, the Canucks were a juggernaut. They won the President's Trophy and nearly won the Stanley Cup, falling sixty minutes and five goals short against the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final. During this season, a Sedin again led the NHL in scoring - though this time it was Daniel Sedin, rather than his brother Henrik.
As you can see from the Ozone Start% column, the twins' deployment radicalized further this season though their possession game didn't see much of a boost from their increasingly specialized usage. Their shot-rate was consistent enough with their shot-rate in 2009-10, and their even-strength percentages normalized to a large degree.
While the Twins' even-strength production plateaued in 2010-11, their power-play production increased considerably. During the 2010 offseason, the Canucks recruited Newell Brown to manage the club's special teams. On the power-play, he installed a modified Umbrella formation that features a lot of movement and pioneered the drop-pass zone-entry. The experiment was a massive success, and benefitted the twins' production enormously. Post-lockout the twins average roughly 30 power-play points each per season, but in 2010-11 Daniel exceeded that average by 12 points on his way to leading the NHL in scoring. Henrik Sedin exceeded his post-lockout average by 5 points.
This brings us to last season, 2011-12, where the Sedins saw their production dip to its lowest point since the Dave Nonis era. The twins' deployment continued to be specialized to an unprecedented degree, and they actually managed a sky-high shot-rate and were perpetually cycling their puck in their opponent's end of the rink. Their power-play production, however, took an expected step back (helped along by the league-wide trend of fewer power-play opportunities per game) and their percentages dipped back to mortal levels. Henrik Sedin remained a point-per-game player, while Daniel missed the last ten games of the season with a concussion but was on pace for 76 points.
Looking over the numbers I've compiled, I see minimal evidence that the Sedin twins began to show their age last season. In particular, their shot rate remained steady and their underlying numbers were as good as they had been at any point in the past five seasons (though their possession numbers are indisputably inflated by their usage).
If there is a trend in the above numbers, it's that the Sedins are very consistent with normalized percentages. Generally speaking they can be counted on to finish in the mid-to-high fifties/low sixties in even-strength points, while adding roughly twenty-eight power-play points per season. That makes them point-per-game players or thereabouts, which I'd argue is what they've always been.
The issue here, as it so often is, isn't that the Sedins took "a step back" last season. Rather it's that the expectations fans have for the twins' production were inflated by two straight outlier seasons. Henrik Sedin won the Art Ross in the 2009-10 season on the back of an unsustainably inflated on-ice shooting percentage, an outlier season from a consistent point-per-game player. The next season, however, his brother and linemate Daniel Sedin won the Art Ross on the back of an unsustainable spike in his power-play production.
In sports, we love the narrative. But the Sedins didn't suddenly "figure it out at thirty" and become super elite offensive talents. Rather, since the resumption of NHL hockey following the 2004-05 lockout, the Sedin twins have consistenty been what they continue to be: elite offensive talents, who produce at a point-per-game rate.
The Sedin twins aren't speedsters, and they aren't freak physical specimens (beyond their fitness level, and ability to communicate telepathically). The twins rely on their chemistry, and superior cerebral grasp of the game to beguile opposing defenses and produce offense.
Their skills aren't going anywhere, and their physical tools aren't all that impressive anyway. Add in their commitment to fitness and the fact that a better understanding of nutrition and sports medicine is extending the careers of players across the board; and I tend to think that the twins may have a longer shelf life than conventional wisdom dictates.
Looking over my tables, however, I have a nagging feeling that Daniel Sedin may be in for a more precipitous drop in production than his brother over the coming seasons. In other words, I think there's basically no evidence in the above table that supports the hypothesis that Henrik Sedin is getting to the downswing of his career. Daniel, on the other hand, was on pace for well under 50 even-strength points last season...
Henrik has been more durable than his brother over the past five seasons, and unlike Daniel has no history of head injuries. Also, generally speaking, a playmaking centre tends to have a longer shelf-life in the NHL than a sniper who plays on the wing.
Again, I don't really see anything conclusive in the data, but we'll obviously have to watch this closely and reevaluate whenever NHL hockey is played again. At the moment, however, the notion that the effectiveness of the Sedin twins began to take a step backwards last season is misguided in my view and couched in a misunderstanding of their production spikes in 2009-10 and 2010-11.