Vancouver Canucks captain Henrik Sedin is coming off of his worst offensive season, and perhaps not coincidentally, the first injury plagued season of his career. A hallmark of durability and offensive consistency throughout his career, Sedin missed 12 games and the entire Olympics with a variety of rib and leg related ailments, and finished the season with his lowest point totals since the 2004-05 NHL lockout.
The 34-year-old playmaker is getting long in the tooth, so some decline is to be expected at this stage of his career (though I’ve always contended that his drop off would be less precipitous than your average player due to his style of play and level of fitness). Was Henrik’s 2013-14 season an outlier then, or was it something more troubling like the first major sign of his atrophying abilities as a top-end NHLer?
Read on past the jump for more.
Sedin is a former Art Ross and Hart Trophy winner, but his 2009-10 and 2010-11 productions levels were inflated by percentages that were out of this world even for a player like Henrik, who demonstrably drives the percentages in the offensive end of the rink. When people look at his 50 points last season and wonder how he got there after posting a 100 point season in recent memory, it’s worth keeping in mind that really a more reasonable expectation for Henrik is a point per game.
So where did Henrik lose production last season (in comparison with his usual levels of performance)? The first culprit won’t surprise you, but it’s the power play.
Since the lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season Henrik has averaged 29 power play points per season(*). Last year he managed just 18, a loss of 11 points.
(*) This includes the lockout abbreviated season in 2013, I rated his 13 power play points that season over an 82 game pace.
Some of Henrik’s loss in power play production was the result of Glen Gulutzan’s inane set up, and the club’s desperate lack of a right handed shot at the point. Particularly for Henrik, who is among the league’s best at finding lanes from the half wall in an overload set up, having a right-handed shooter to feed for the one-timer is critical. Vancouver didn’t have that last season, and hasn’t for a couple of years really. That’s part of the problem, but luck was also a major factor and the Canucks power play just couldn’t buy a bounce last season.
So far this preseason the Canucks have used Radim Vrbata as a defenseman on the power play (or at least they’ve installed him in the “Ovy spot” at the top of the left circle), while other right-handed shooters like Jannik Hansen, Yannick Weber, and Kevin Bieksa have similarly seen time there. If Willie Desjardins and company have figured this out, that’s good news for Henrik.
If Henrik had managed power play points at his post-lockout average and remained healthy for 82 games, he would’ve been a 70 point player last season. No one would be engaged in any “Sedin decline” hand wringing if he’d finished the season with those sorts of point totals.
The other area Henrik lost some offensive production was at even-strength of course, and that was largely the function of percentages. The Canucks scored on under 8 percent of all shots taken at evens with Henrik on the ice last year, a number that isn’t unsustainably low, but is significantly lower than Henrik’s on-ice shooting percentage in the four seasons previous (10.55 percent). There are reasons to believe that Henrik’s on-ice shooting percentage might bounce back to an elite level outside of John Tortorella’s meatwagon system, but there are also reasons to believe that this could be a new normal for the twins.
Let’s tackle a theory for the latter point briefly before we move on. If you subscribe to the belief that Daniel Sedin’s finishing ability has never recovered from the Duncan Keith elbow in the spring of 2012, then that could explain why the twins’ on-ice shooting percentage has been more pedestrian in the years since. I have a theory that centerman rarely drive shooting percentage (Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos do, but mostly it’s wingers who can sustain an elevated on-ice shooting percentage). Perhaps Daniel’s atrophying quality as a finisher will result in the twins shooting a persistent lower percentage than they have in the recent past going forward.
Even if that’s the case the twins will probably still be elite first liners for a few years yet. At least in terms of controlling play, the twins remained super elite last season and that’s generally a good sign. Usually elite players see their two-way game abandon them in their mid-thirties, even while their finishing ability remains strong (Jarome Iginla is a good example of this). The twins are still consistently dominating play, so even if the Canucks convert on a more modest percentage of their shots with Henrik on the ice going forward, Vancouver will very likely outscore opponents with the twins on the ice for a few years yet.
How Henrik and Daniel function with new line-mate Radim Vrbata will be a fascinating subplot of this upcoming season. Vrbata’s volume shooting ways and soft hands in traffic seem a good fit for the twins, and Vancouver’s new top-line trio have looked a natural fit in preseason so far. Vrbata generally hasn’t driven percentages though, so that part of the game will still fall on the twins (and most likely Daniel, who we’re not sure can do it anymore).
Henrik’s real-time neutral zone numbers (the @shutdownline numbers) don’t exactly paint a picture of an elite centerman. The aging Canucks captain posted decidedly sub-average zone exit numbers for a top-of-the-lineup center last season, though part of that could be the Tortorella effect (the usually crisp Canucks breakout seemed to particularly suffer under Tortorella’s watch). Henrik’s zone entry numbers were similarly underwhelming, as he didn’t handle as large of the carry-in burden as you’d have thought, and the team didn’t generate an above average number of shots when he carried the puck into the zone. His shots per total entries numbers are strong, but obviously Henrik’s impressive puck possession numbers aren’t being driven by his neutral zone performance.
More likely, based solely on the eye test, it’s his cycle game with Daniel that results in the Canucks dominating possession when he’s on the ice. That was still apparent last season, and there’s no reason to think it’ll fall off a cliff this upcoming year.
If Vancouver can iron out their power play, and the twins can continue to dominate the run of play at evens, a return to 65-70 points isn’t out of the question. More than that is unlikely though, unless the twins’ ability to drive the percentages returns in 2014-2015.