Photo Credit: Brad Rempel/USA TODAY Sports
Daniel and Henrik Sedin have forged a unique path through their pro hockey careers.
For the past month, the twins have been the single biggest reason why the Canucks are hanging in the Pacific Division playoff hunt. Here’s why they look so good this season.
From the moment that they announced they wanted to be drafted together and play for the same team, the pair have never wavered in their loyalty to each other. Siblings fight, but Daniel and Henrik have lived their entire public lives as if they’re two bodies that function with one common brain.
After a slow ascent in the NHL, the twins broke through to become elite players. For several years, Canucks fans feasted on dazzling displays of Sedinery that left opposing defenders and goaltenders helpless to stop them.
Slowly, the highlight-reel moment became scarcer and even last season, when both twins finished in the top 10 in the scoring race, the dazzle had diminished. Not a lot, but a little.
Who would have thought the Sedins would find their sparkle again at age 35? After a thrilling 2-1 win over the New York Rangers on December 9, in which both twins recorded a pair of points, Daniel sits fourth in NHL scoring with 33 points and Henrik is ninth with 29. Perhaps even more importantly, they’re scoring filthy-pretty goals that capture fans’ imagination. They’re almost singlehandedly bringing the good times back to Rogers Arena.
1. Daniel’s Health is Back to 100 Percent
Its been nearly four years since Duncan Keith felled Daniel with an elbow to the head in the first period of a 2-1 overtime loss to the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on March 21, 2012. At the time, Daniel was the reigning Art Ross Trophy holder as the NHL’s top scorer from 2010-11 and was leading the Canucks with 30 goals and 67 points in 72 games.
Without Daniel, the team went on to win its second straight Presidents’ Trophy, but quickly fell into a hole in its first-round playoff series against the Los Angeles Kings. Daniel returned for the last two games of the series but it was a desperation move that proved to be too little, too late.
In subsequent seasons, Daniel kept shooting the puck, but it was only going in the net half as often. His shooting accuracy peaked at 15.4 per cent during his Art Ross season and dropped as low as 7.1 percent in 2013-14.
This year, Daniel has blown up the theory that his decline was related to age. He’s on track for 35 goals and 89 points, the kind of year he was having before his skull met Keith’s elbow. If he keeps up his current shooting pace, Daniel will finish with 289 shots on goal—four more than his career high of 285 from 2008-09 – and over 25 percent more shots than he delivered in either of the last two seasons. His shooting percentage has also rebounded back to a solid 12.3 percent, better than his career average of 11.7.
Daniel’s shooting the puck more, shooting it more confidently and finding the openings he needs to score.
2. Henrik’s Sharpshooting is Creating a New Wrinkle
Speaking of shooting, when Henrik Sedin won his Art Ross Trophy in 2009-10, his 112 points included a career-high 29 goals, scored on a career-high 166 shots.
This year, Henrik’s on pace for 112 shots, which would be his highest total since 2011-12. Even more impressively, he has improved upon his already-good shooting accuracy—13.5 percent over his career and an impressive 17.8 percent last season.
This year, Henrik’s nine goals have come on just 41 shots. His shooting accuracy of 22.0 percent ranks 10th in the league among players with at least five goals and has him on pace for 24 goals, the second-best total of his career.
The twins open up a lot more options for themselves when opposing defensemen have to cover the pass and the shot when Henrik has the puck.
3. Their Unique Playing Style Is Slowing Typical Age-Related Decline
How special is the Sedins’ play this season? They’re nestled in among a bunch of twentysomethings in the league’s list of top scorers.
With 30 points at age 33, Mike Cammalleri of the New Jersey Devils is the only other player over 31 who currently sits among the NHL’s top 30 scorers. We have to scroll all the way down to the 22-point mark to find the Sedins’ next-best contemporaries—Patrick Marleau (36), Joel Ward (35) and Henrik Zetterberg (35).
In 2014, Daniel Schwartz of CBC News published details of a UBC study which showed that NHL forwards typically reach their peaks at age 28. The Sedins were a little behind the curve—Henrik’s best season came in 2009-10, when he was 29 and Daniel’s followed one year later, when they were 30.
At this point in their careers, the twins benefit from the fact that their game is based on hockey sense rather than blazing speed, which is often the first skill that drops off for star scorers due to age. The twins are also notorious for keeping themselves in excellent shape, which allows them to remain durable and keep pace with their younger counterparts.
It’s too early to assess whether Daniel and Henrik will be able to work their magic to into their 40s like Jaromir Jagr. At this point, though, there’s no reason to worry that the twins won’t continue to provide full value for the Canucks for the two and a half years remaining on their current contracts.
4. Coach Willie Desjardins is Deploying Them Effectively
During the Presidents’ Trophy years, then-coach Alain Vigneault hit on the formula for maximizing the Sedins’ effectiveness: keep their ice time under 20 minutes a night, play the heck out them with the man advantage and at 4-on-4, and forget about the penalty kill.
After AV left, we saw John Tortorella overuse the twins in 2013-14, effectively breaking them by February due to all their extra responsibilities. Last season, Willie Desjardins went to the other extreme. Willie was so committed to rolling four lines that he underused the Sedins, cutting their ice time to the lowest levels since 2006-07 and refusing to lean hard on them during the playoffs.
This year, the twins are getting back to normal. Daniel’s averaging 18:59 of ice time per game and Henrik’s at 19:30—both numbers almost spot-on with how Vigneault deployed the twins during their best seasons at the turn of the decade.
Five years later, it’s impressive that the twins can still handle a workload that puts them in their sweet spot. One challenge remains—figuring out how solve the new riddle of 3-on-3 overtime.
5. Strong Support From Their “Other Brothers”
The Sedins have played with and boosted the careers of plenty of linemates during their time in the NHL. Let’s call their current power-play mates Alex Burrows and Radim Vrbata their “stepbrothers” so far this season. Right now, the twins’ best chemistry is with two 29-year-olds who look like they’re hitting their career peaks: the Great Dane Jannik Hansen and their fellow Swede on the blue line, Alex Edler.
Hansen has taken plenty of heat over the years for his inability to finish on the many scoring chances he can generate through his blazing speed. This season, Hansen’s shooting accuracy has spiked to 15.4 percent, well above his career average of 10.7 percent and putting him on pace for his first-ever 20 goal season.
Also a team-high plus-9, Hansen provides a defensive conscience to the first line, giving the Sedins more freedom to go about their business without worrying that a mistake could lead to a goal against at the other end of the ice.
As for Alex Edler, he’s proving to be a solid offensive option this season, both at even strength and on the power play.
Edler’s up to six goals and 17 points now, which puts him on pace for career highs in both categories. He’s ranked 13th in scoring by defensemen, alongside names like Shea Weber, Dustin Byfuglien and Drew Doughty. And Edler’s accuracy is also much improved this season. His shooting percentage of 10.2 is the best of his career and ranks him 15th overall among defensemen with three goals or more.
Like most top blueliners around the league, Edler leads his team in ice time, averaging 24:26 a game, and plays in all situations. He makes skull-crushing gaffes from time to time but that’s a side effect that comes, in part, from his heavy minutes.
Edler and Hansen both look like they’ve put their confidence-crushing 2013-14 seasons under John Tortorella behind them. Working closely with the Sedins, these two members of the core group that Torts called “stale” are now playing the best hockey of their careers.