Just How Valuable is Henrik Sedin?

To a certain degree, we all know that the Vancouver Canucks are a one-line team. Sure, the second line of Chris Higgins, Nick Bonino, and Alex Burrows has played some quality hockey to begin the year, but let’s face facts here: without Henrik Sedin, the Canucks are far worse than they are with him.

But how much worse are they? Is it possible that losing their captain turns the Canucks into Connor McDavid sweepstakes contenders? How does their depth compare to the rest of the teams in the NHL? Read past the jump to find out.

I originally brought this up on Twitter yesterday with this observation:

62.2% Corsi is 2013-2014 L.A. Kings-level good, while 45.9% Corsi is 2013-2014 Calgary Flames-level bad. The problem is that we should expect the Canucks to be significantly better with Henrik on the ice, just as we should expect any team to be better with their #1 centre – and presumably the rest of their top line – on the ice, so this doesn’t tell us much unless we have a reference point to compare to.

We could look at CorsiRel to tell us how much better the Canucks have performed with Henrik than without him and compare this to other #1 centres, but we know Henrik is good so we’re not really concerned about this. Instead, if we use a team’s top centre as a proxy for their top line, we can look at the “Without You” portion of a WOWY to gauge how well each team’s depth players have performed so far this season. Here are the results:

bottom9CF%

So far in 2014-2015, Vancouver’s bottom-9 group of forwards have been among the 10 worst teams in the NHL, with only Buffalo, Calgary, Ottawa, Philadelphia, and Colorado being significantly worse, and San Jose and Dallas hovering around the same level of ineptitude. It’s still too early to say whether or not this is going to be indicative of the rest of 2014-15 for the Canucks, as we can’t infer much about a team’s talent level until roughly the 20-game mark, but it’s enough to conclude that after Henrik Sedin it really hasn’t been pretty.

Adding zone starts into the equation doesn’t do much to make the Canucks look better, as the team sees a 48.4% offensive zone start rate without Henrik on the ice, which is just 0.7% lower than the NHL average for non-top-3 centres.

This raises two questions: can we expect to keep seeing a bottom-10 in the NHL performance from the Canucks non-first line forwards, and if so, which players need to be replaced?

The first question can be answered by looking at career-long trends and what we know about the talent level of particular players. We know, for example, that Derek Dorsett and Jannik Hansen have been possession neutral players through their careers. We also know that Chris Higgins and Alex Burrows are usually in the black when it comes to puck possession too. Burrows and Higgins should be at least average or better 2nd line wingers this season, while Dorsett and Hansen should be well above average 4th liners too. Zack Kassian also proved to be a useful player last season, and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be that player again this year too.

This leaves Nick Bonino, Linden Vey, Shawn Matthias, and Brad Richardson. Bonino was a possession black hole until last season, when he was given a shot and broke out with the Ducks. He’s probably better suited to a long-term 3rd line role, but he has played very well to start the year and has looked very good alongside Higgins and Burrows, scoring 7 points in 8 games. He won’t keep this scoring pace up, but if his two wingers are able to help mask some of the defensive deficiencies that have showed up in his game in the past, he could be a good middle-6 centre this year.

We don’t know much about Linden Vey, but his performance to date is along the lines of what you’d expect from a 4th liner at 5v5. He also looks to have significant PP upside though, so I’d rather have a PP specialist taking up a roster spot than a pure fighter.

The outlook isn’t as rosy for Shawn Matthias and Brad Richardson on the other hand. Richardson was a 5-on-5 liability last year, and Matthias has been a poor 200-foot player for some time now (he’s never carried a positive CF% or GF% at any time in his career). Neither have gotten off to a good start to the season, but Matthias in particular has been awful. His 37.5% Corsi is dead last on the Canucks, as is his 12.5% Goals For percentage. In terms of Corsi, he ranks 504th out of 523 players, ahead of only a handful of Flames and Sabres.

The Canucks’ 3rd line is definitely an issue, and while we can reasonably expect Matthias to be better, it might be time to scratch either Matthias, Richardson, or both in favour of Bo Horvat, Nicklas Jensen, Hunter Shinkaruk, or even Dustin Jeffrey (who’s currently tied for 3rd in the AHL in goals and has the 4th highest point total too). Regardless of what happens though, Vancouver’s depth is going to have to be better in order to make the playoffs.

  • andyg

    The thing I am most worried about is that Hank is done in 4 seasons and we don’t have any centers that are projected to be able to fill that 1st line role. That role is also historically filled by a player drafted in the top 20 picks which if the Canucks keep making the palyoffs reduce their odds at successfully replacing their 1st line center.

    • BuffaloBillsOfHockey

      You are worried if the Canucks make the playoffs four years in a row that we won’t get a replacement for Hank? I think your pessimism is misplaced.

      As good as the Sedin line has been to start the year, the home team did just come off a road trip in which they gave up 14 goals in three games (and in one of those games they only gave up 1 goal).

      I love that the sedins ae playing at an elite level right now. But it’s October. If they are doing this 20 games in to the year, then start worrying about poor draft positions.

    • BuffaloBillsOfHockey

      While this may be true, there are a number of teams that don’t have true #1 C’s and still seem to get by on strengths of other positions. For example, it is possible to have two solid 2nd line C’s on your team and be competitive, as long as you have a plethora of talented wingers, a solid goalie and/or a good blue line.

      • jung gun

        Really? Name a team that has won a cup without a clear number 1 center. I don’t follow the team for them to be competitive I want them to win a championship.

        • jung gun

          I don’t know what the fancystats said at the time.

          But maybe the Ducks with Andy McDonald?

          In any case, they had 2 hall of fame defenseman, 2 good centres in McDonald and pre-superstar Getzlaf and a hall of fame winger.

          If that qualifies, though, it’s a big exception and requires being ultra-elite in other areas.

          Teams generally don’t go very far without high end centres…

    • andyg

      the team has been dead in the water since the twinsies came. No cup nothing but an embarrassing finals and riot to show for in the last 10 years.

      All fluff, no substance when it counts. Show time is just showtime in Vancouver, no win time.

      Looking good losing is not a winning plan.

      #firemayorrobertson

      • jung gun

        So the same can be said for Ray Bourque? Jerome Iginla? What if Shea Weber stays with Nashville his whole career and never wins a cup? Is he a ‘No substance’ player?

        How about a Hart Trophy? Two presidents cups? Gold Medal? Just because there hasn’t been a cup, doesn’t mean they aren’t great players.

        There are going to be many great players who will come and go through the league without winning the cup. It’s a pretty hard trophy to win.

  • andyg

    Canucks are a 51% corsi team without Henrik or Matthias on the ice. If we could replace Matthias with a possession neutral player, we’d be in the top 10 teams for CF%.

    • Will Bo Horvat be a possession-neutral player? Fingers crossed. If he’s not quite NHL-ready, though, do the Canucks go out and get *another* bottom-six centre, or do they just wait a year until Horvat or Gaunce or McCann can fill the role?

  • The Canucks production has all been from the top two lines. Vets goals have been on the PP so they don’t count as bottom 6 goals.

    Something must be done and I believe for starters it will be Horvat being thrown into the mix. If we can just get descent face offs it will be an improvement. I wouldn’t mind seeing a Horvat Jensen Kassian line out there. Big bodies with some skill.

  • BuffaloBillsOfHockey

    First of all, great article Rhys. I’ve often looked at Henrik’s Corsi and always felt validated that Vancouver had a great player in him, but it hadn’t occurred to me to scratch the first line as a proxy for a WOWY. The results are surprising to say the least.

    Also, if anyone has Trev’s email address, now is the time to copy-paste the last two paragraphs of the article and send it to him.

  • Mantastic

    Great article Rhys.

    And, if I may add, not surprising.

    This team is probably somewhere in the 11-15 tier of teams which basically amounts to battling for a wildcard spot in this conference.

    Replacing Matthias with a good 4th liner is only going to do so much.

    The goal should be to find a centre that can compliment Henrik now and has some realistic potential to fill the #1 role in the near future.

    Actually, that should have been the goal for the last couple of years while the Canucks tried to patch organizational bullet holes with bandaids…

    Using Kesler as the Stars used Erikkson to pilfer Seguin sure would have helped.

    Or using Hodgson and/or Schneider to acquire Jeff Carter when the Flyers were desperate to fu*k*p their team and find a goalie would have helped as well.

    Alas, to quote Mr Bertuzzi, it is what it is.

    Henrik Sedin is the difference between Vancouver and Toronto.

    Actually, that ignores that the Leafs have better snipers and goaltending.

    Let that sink in for awhile…

    • BuffaloBillsOfHockey

      Contenders prep to win the cup. pretenders battle it out for a play off wild card spot.

      Why have a young hot chick when you can have an old cougar?

      I think alot of ppl in BC love cougars.

      Reverse Darwinisn at its finest.

      AKA the Canucks.

      LOL

    • BuffaloBillsOfHockey

      I’m not sure it’s quite so possible to plan to replace an elite player or players short of fleecing someone (i.e. when the Bruins decide their young superstar C needs to get shipped out as with Thornton or Seguin). Who were the Canucks’ first line c’s prior to Henrik? An aging Messier and either of Morrison or Cassels who were more like a Bonino than a true 1C. We happened to be terrible and Burke made the genius trades to get the twins — but so much of that is unplanned.

      All that said you are certainly right about the squandering of what resources we had on diminished returns or very poor picks (Gaunce over Pearson, though that hindsight draft judgement is always tricky)

      • BuffaloBillsOfHockey

        Of course it’s difficult without a top 5 pick.

        It will either require a ripoff trade (such as Seguin or Thornton that you mention).

        Or hitting on someone like Horvat like the Sharks have done with Couture but the Canucks failed to do with Hodgson/Kassian.

        Or hitting on a Kesler, O’Reilly or Giroux later in the first round (Canucks failed with White, Schroeder and Gaunce doesn’t look like the answer either).

        Or finding a Bergeron or Pavelski after the first round.

        And if you can’t draft it, pilfer it from an organization in a giving mood and hope for the best such as my Strome delusion.

        Otherwise when Henrik retires/leaves, the Canucks may very well be the Leafs after Sundin left…

        • jung gun

          Yeah, I just don’t think there are any teams willing to make that kind of sacrifice right now with their top prospects. One of the possibilities I see is getting one of Huberdeau or Barkov from the Panthers. I doubt they’ll want to hang onto both when they have the option of paying one of their other prospects slightly less to perform similarly.

          I could be wrong about the motives of that team, but I don’t think they’ll want to take a route that promotes choking themselves financially.

          In any case, I don’t see us ripping off any teams for their top-tier centre prospect. Just won’t happen unless we fool them somehow, like you mentioned with the Strome fantasy.

          I think we all should consider accepting that the future of this team looks more like the current St. Louis Blues than it does the 2009 Penguins. Personally, I like the St. Louis and Boston model of not having a truly dominant 1C.

          I think it distributes the game across the bench, building responsibility for the game in each member, which hopefully has the consequent of bringing out the best of the team as a whole.

          That said, a superstar can take over a game by themselves, sometimes win whole series because of their effort and skill. Be that as it may, teams can survive without them, and even flourish sometimes.

          Also, I think that McCann, from what I saw of his play, could be a 1C if he continues to develop his offensive instincts. His speed is great, he’s agile even when he nears top gear, his hands are soft but the release on his shot is hard (though not quite as accurate as you’d like), all of which is promising because he has lots of room to grow. Hockey’s Future has him rated at 7.0 with a potential of C, which means they think he’ll pan out as an O.K. second line centre more likely than not. He might drop to third centre if he doesn’t quite make it. I think that’s a weird suggestion, seeing as Horvat is ranked at 7.5. Meaning he’s somewhere between a first liner and a second liner. He seems to me to be more of a second liner in the vein of Kesler, which is what I expect he’ll be. McCann, for whatever he says about his role models, looks more like Toews to me. I’m not saying he’ll get to that level. Trust me, I don’t think he will. But he seems to be a character cut from that cloth.

          I think there’s a set level that player can reach. Their ceiling, right? You know what I mean. That level can manifest in lots of different ways, and it depends on what role the player will fill, and their specific make-up (genetic, social factors).

          Anyway, I think that athletes are people who’re good at controlling their bodies without thinking too hard about it. That requires having good genes in the first place, and then the right kind of environment for their raw abilities to be drawn out and flourish. Watching the different styles of players like Kesler and Crosby for instance, who’re from the same generation of hockey players, is that Crosby seems to have been ahead of the curve. Kesler has always played a more physical game, while Crosby is more oriented around using his stick skills creatively, and generally being more intelligent about the game. I’m sure there are some serious distinctions between the two, but a lot of it boils down to work ethic. Crosby was likely the more talented of the two at a very young age, but his meteoric rise is also probably due to insane diligence to the craft. Kesler probably worked at everything as well, but probably not as much, and so didn’t progress as quickly, and so limited his ceiling. That said, even at a later age Kesler proved he could improve his skills through sheer will and determination. He went past the limits he constructed for himself, and the ones constructed by those around him. But anyway, I mean, there are a lot of factors that go into this, so I won’t try to enumerate them all.

          My point is that the skill level isn’t set in stone, and that some people are quicker at learning how to control their abilities. Lots of people can shoot the puck hard, few can direct it. McCann has all the right tools to be that kind of player, and I think what’s setting him apart is that element of control is his game. Once that comes, I think more people will see him as a potential game-breaker.

          To be honest, I also see the same in Horvat. Sure, he may not have the greatest upside, especially when you consider what the numbers suggest, but when you watch him handle the puck, he’s pretty smooth out there, and looks like he could be more than a third line plug. If I had to suggest anything from looking at his play, it’s that he doesn’t take enough risks. He’s timid out there, and seems unwilling to relax and try to make things happen offensively. I mean, that’s great when you want to win every game and have a good supporting cast. So, maybe that’s what we should expect from Horvat. But, I don’t think that’s the right way to look at things. People function best when they’re relaxed within a mode of competition (at least, that’s how it works in our society), and Horvat never looks relaxed. His movements are tense, there’s little of the fluidity that I thought made him much better. That fluidity shows up in his skating, which dwindles, and his stick movements, which slowed. I’m comparing between this year’s training camp and the last one. The latter is where I think he performed well, and I think it’s because there wasn’t any pressure to seriously compete for a spot, whereas this year he almost assured a spot in advance. Now, you can say whatever you want about the stalwart nature of hockey players, but I just don’t buy it anymore. Look at the most talented players, and they seem to be filled with the most self doubt. Luongo is a close to home and easy example. Sbisa seems to be another, though his problem is likely a lack of intelligence, though I can also imagine it being a complicated sense of confidence that fluctuates and causes him to make bad decisions when he’s riding either the high or low. I suspect that’s the case with Horvat. I mean, sh*t, that was the case with the Sedins if I’m to believe the stories. So, I’m not prepared to say that Horvat will be either a second line centre or a third line one, I think he’ll one of those, but there are too many variables to predict with confidence in either direction. As an afterthought, it does seem like the Canucks organization is prepared to develop its ability to assist all those young players right now, seeing as they’re hiring lots of specialists and trying to cover all the bases at the same time.

          tl;dr – I think people are too pessimistic and forget about reality. Horvat will be O.K. McCann might be great. Still, there are better options out there. We probably won’t get them. Maybe we should settle for a middling playoff team that might get lucky one year and win it all.

  • BuffaloBillsOfHockey

    I should also add that using Schneider and/or Hodgson to acquire Johanssen prior to his breakout would have helped as well.

    That’s what the Canucks need to do.

    Find a high ceiling young centre that an organization isn’t fully utilizing and/or does not appreciate and hope for the best.

    Perhaps Garth Snow thinks Ryan Strome is the next Nino Niederreiter and that Zack Kassian is the next Cal Clutterbuck…

  • BuffaloBillsOfHockey

    Seriously, I liked the twins better when they were that pop duo The Proclaimers.

    And Damn it, I’m going to keep saying that until someone agrees with me!

    – now I would walk five hundred miles and I would walk five hundred more –

  • BuffaloBillsOfHockey

    Just how valuable is Henrik Sedin?

    As valuable as the only bike in a bike shop and all the cars have disappeared and there’s a bike race to see who the champion is.

  • Mantastic

    Please explain how Richardson was an even strength black hole last year? The Canucks Army analysis of his “WOWY” was completely flawed, in my opinion, in that it ignored that he was on the ice for a far more defensively skewed zone start % than his two most frequent linemates (Booth and Kassian), so of course it looked like he was “bringing them down”, when really he was being trusted with defensive zone draws and they weren’t.

  • jung gun

    We may be not getting the production we need thus far from our bottom 6, but the sample size is much too small.
    Currently the team is averaging 3.375 goals per game over 8 games. Averaged out over 10 would puts us at 34 goals, (and unless I am mistaken) that would be good for 3rd in the league in goals for.
    Our problem isnt scoring, our problem is keeping the puck out of the net.

  • jung gun

    What was Matthias corsi in his games last season while with the Canucks?

    He seemed like one of our best players when he arrived, late in the season, he could be a notorious slow starter.

  • jung gun

    Best we could realistically do via trade for a potential 1C is Kadri. Seems like they want to be sure of what they have which is why they’re giving him a chance with Kessel and if it doesn’t work out they’ll try to move him.

    Only other out of favour guy I can think of is Grigorenko. Doesn’t have a great relationship with the Sabres but I doubt they’d give up on him so soon.

    • jung gun

      What to offer for Kadri, though?

      For all of Nonis’ faults, he has zero track record of selling low on good young players.

      There’s O’Reilly who may be gone at some point it would seem.

      But, again, what assets do the Canucks have to offer?

      I wouldn’t bank on the Avs being delusional enough to accept Edler – if he were even willing to waive his NTC.

      I find it hard to believe that other teams couldn’t beat a Canuck offer.

      If he’s on the outs, Grigorenko would seem more attainable because he is still a prospect and his shine appears to be dimming.

      And Tim Murray didn’t draft him for what it’s worth…

      • jung gun

        Tanev, Bonino and Kassian or picks/prospects. But we don’t have the D depth to trade Tanev, we’d be selling low on Kassian and Willie loves Bonino.

        Looking to the future, Henrik’s contract ends in 4 years and, if he wants to be, that’s when Ryan Johansen could become a UFA.

  • Mantastic

    Good blog.
    I would like to make a suggestion for a future blog.
    If you want to measure how ‘evenly’ distributed the corsi is amongst the forwards on a team, you can do this easily using a diversity index, like the Shannon-wiener diversity index. It measures both the number of elements in a system (richness, in this case number of players) and the evenness of the distribution of those elements (you could use each player’s corsi value for the year).
    Since each team has the same number of players (richness), the index would measure only differences in evenness.

    So you could input the corsi for every player on every team, and calculate a value showing the evenness of corsi on that team – teams with lower diversity measures would have more skewed corsi distributions, and would therefore be more dependent on their best players for production. Teams like LA may have more evenness (reflected in higher diversity), which would show more of an ‘offense by committee approach’. This could make for a fascinating blog, because you could directly look for a relationship between success in the standings and a single value showing the amount to which a team depends on its star players.

    You could do the same analysis using ice time (maybe teams with more even distributions of ice time do better later in the season?), points (teams that score by committee do better?), or any other statistic you want to analyze.