September 18 2013 03:52PM
Who would you rather have in the dot late? Henrik Sedin or Michal Handzus?
I'd always thought that Henrik and Daniel Sedin would make fairly decent penalty killers. There's not a lot of evidence to suggest that they would, because the two haven't exactly spent a lot of time killing penalties, well, ever.
Only one campaign in existence the twins were counted on to do more than kill the occasional spot. That was in 2005-2006, the ill-fated season where the Canucks' came into the year with high expectations with new general manager able to keep together the core from the team's previous three playoff runs. That team absolutely fell flat, but the Sedins broke out into franchise players, the players that Nonis was comfortable using as primary offensive threats in lieu of Todd Bertuzzi, who was shuttled out of town for some guy named Bob.
Since the Sedins have been promoted to franchise player status, Henrik Sedin has averaged about 23 seconds of penalty killing time per game, and Daniel has averaged about 12 seconds. Henrik is better on the margins because he's the one that takes faceoffs and is stronger on the puck, plus is the more durable twin.
I like making charts, so here's a chart:
When you listen to the twins talk, they make it sound like back in the good ole days of Marc Crawford, they were able to play in all situations, but it was only the one year that they were key PK guys. That's also the year that every team in the NHL averaged about 800 minutes killing penalties (for reference, in 2012, the average team spent about 440 minutes on the PK, and in 2004, it was about 590. The NHL called an inordinate amount of penalties in the 2006 and 2007 seasons but have deviated from that standard).
That year, the Canucks were a mid-pack team in PK rate—17th with an 81.8% success rate. They were 16th in giving up shots per 60 minutes on the penalty kill. Shots against per 60 at 4-on-5 is a good way to rate penalty kills in the modern day, and you can break it up by unit or player on ice, but that's not possible with the limited data available from 2006.
This has become a bit of a story lately. At his introductory press conference, John Tortorella talked about how he was going to increase the responsibilities of the Sedin twins. Yesterday, Jason Botchford got some great quotes from Henrik Sedin about his role:
“We’ve never thought of ourselves as one-dimensional players,” Henrik Sedin explained. “Growing up in Sweden, we played all situations. We played 5-on-5 on the game’s last shift. (We played) PK.
“We were counted on in all those situations.
“With the team we had, the way AV coached, he liked to put us out there for offensive zone faceoffs, because we were the guys he needed to produce.
“That’s the kind of team we had. But we always asked, you can ask him and he’ll tell you, we always asked to play PK.”
It's certainly a great help.
One of the reasons the Canucks were able to use Henrik and Daniel in exclusively offensive situations was that they had the horses to back them up on defence. Ryan Kesler could have won a Selke Trophy for his work in 2010, and Manny Malhotra came along in 2011 and put up a great season both offensively and defensively while taking in the majority of the defensive zone draws. With an injured, or less than 100% Malhotra in 2012 and 2013, Max Lapierre was around to fill in, but you could tell the Canucks were undermanned down the middle last season. They're still undermanned in the middle, but it's a lot easier to find a centre that will be a plus player playing sheltered minutes than one that will be a plus player playing non-sheltered minutes.
“I didn’t pay attention to our offensive zone starts, but I started reading papers and it was all they talked about, why we put up the points we did. It was because we were in the offensive zone,”
In 2011, the first year the Canucks began using radical zone deployment methods, nobody really noticed what was happening until the end of the season. Kent Wilson is the first person I can find that made then-coach Alain Vigneault's use of Malhotra and Sedin a focal point of a post, ahead of the Stanley Cup Final series:
The Sedin's league leading zone start ratio of 70%+ was paid for by Malhotra, whose 25% ratio was the lowest amongst regular skaters in the league this season. Only two other guys were below the 30% mark: The Flyers Blair Betts (26.9%) and Malhotra's regular line mate Raffi Torres (29.6%). In raw numbers, that means Malhotra saw 311 more defensive zone versus offensive zone draws during the regular season.
Just to showcase how Henrik's role changed in 2011, compare the percentage of the team's offensive zone faceoffs he took from 2008 to 2010 to the 2011 numbers:
Or another way of looking at it:
|% Offensive||% Defensive|
You could look at "normal usage" from 2008 to 2010 for any offensive centreman. It shouldn't be hard to convince regular readers of this blog exactly what happened in 2011 and 2012 with Sedin's deployment (I can't pull up the 2012 numbers the same way as the other ones, so I'll leave it blank—I used the timeonice.com script).
The team is sans Malhotra. Kesler isn't enough to cover all the defensive shifts. The team failed to pick up a third line centre in the summer (and in a cap crunch year, is $3-million spent on Boyd Gordon really the prudent move?) so the role will naturally be bestowed on Henrik.
Even if John Tortorella was a notorious zone matcher last season in New York, I think it's pretty clear the Canucks no longer have the horses for a strict matching regimen. It will be interesting to see if the forward lines are deployed for player-on-player matchups at even strength, but I don't think that Torts is going to tip his hand on that. We'll have to check the data after 15 or 20 games.
There's a debate as to how many points a team comes out ahead when it uses its best centreman in purely offensive situations. Perhaps the couple of extra goals per season is negated by giving up three or four at the other end when you have to play a weaker player like Max Lapierre taking defensive zone draws. Obviously this stated role under Torts doesn't mean that Henrik will be the defensive zone horse, but he'll play closer to the balanced role he had between 2008 and 2010.