I think at some point we all knew the Sedins would eventually decline to the point where they would no longer be first-line forwards, but that hasn’t made watching it happen any easier. Up until recently, the Sedins had aged rather gracefully, declining at a slow rate while still putting up fringe-first line point totals even into their mid-thirties.
Then, this season, the wheels finally fell off the wagon. Never the most fleet of foot to begin with, the twins’ lack of speed really began to show, especially on the backcheck. Offensively, they lost a step as well, often failing to convert even after over a minute of zone time.
You could very well argue that Daniel Sedin has felt this decline worse than his brother, as he finished the season with just 44-points and failed to eclipse Henrik’s goal total for the first time since 2010.
Daniel really hasn’t been the same since his concussion in 2012, so it’s hard to believe he’s just one season removed from a 28-goal campaign. It was obvious that he and his brother ran out of gas towards the tail end of the 2015-16 season, but up until that point Daniel was producing like a first-line goal-scorer. On the one hand, that had been his highest goal total in years, but on the other, he had eclipsed 75 points in the previous year, so his decline wasn’t expected to be quite this steep.
If you’re left wondering what the hell happened, you’re not alone.
Aging is the most obvious culprit, but there are other factors to consider as well. There’s the psychological toll of playing on a bottom-feeder for three of the last four seasons. There’s coaching, too. While the twins should take some share of the blame for the team’s abysmal power play, the Canucks’ coaching staff never seemed to make any adjustments, even when it was clear things weren’t working. There’s also the fact that, due to poor roster management under Jim Benning and poor drafting under Mike Gillis, the twins are still expected to not only lead the team’s offense, but draw the toughest matchups as well. Jason Botchford discussed this in what was the definitive take on Daniel and Henrik’s lost season:
The Sedins have been incredible players, still probably underrated for their consistency and longevity. Consider Henrik went seven straight seasons with at least 75 points.
But at 36 and climbing, there are difficult questions to be asked. Should the twins still be expected to play 19 minutes a game? Is it fair to them to demand they still be the focal point of this team this late in their careers?
Even Desjardins, who played them a ton this year, concedes it’s time to move them out of that role, but only if the next line in waiting can handle the immense pressure that comes with being the go-to group.
“It depends on what’s around them,” Desjardins said. “I think you’ve seen lately, Horvat’s line start a lot more games lately than he did earlier in the year.
“I think there is a movement where other guys are getting in that spot. But for those guys, they look forward to that opportunity when they are that line, but it’s a lot tougher when you’re that line.
“It changes their mindset when they come into a game. It’s just like being the starting goalie or the backup, it’s a big difference. It’s totally different.
“We’re asking them to be a line where they have to come in and know we probably don’t win if they don’t score. I think that has to start occurring. I’m not saying Hank and Danny can’t do that.
“But somewhere along the line, someone has to take on that feel where they’re a line that has to produce.”
The central theme of Botch’s piece was simple and depressing: the team’s veterans were the ones that failed Willie Desjardins, and the Sedins would have to bear some of that responsibility. While that’s not an unreasonable viewpoint, I think there’s a legitimate case to be made that Willie Desjardins failed the Sedins far more than they failed him.
Despite being in their age-36 seasons, the Sedin twins played with their lowest quality of linemates in years, and were still counted on to lead the team as much as ever. Obviously this hurt both twins, but it hit Daniel the hardest. Henrik’s role has generally always been that of a distributor, save for a brief period in his Art Ross season when Daniel was out of the lineup. Daniel, on the other hand, has taken a more chameleonic approach, molding his game to suit whomever lined up along their right side. In some instances, this meant acting as a second playmaker. In others, it meant being the triggerman. This season was different. Daniel’s (and Henrik’s) most common linemates included an ill-suited Brandon Sutter, an offensively inept Jayson Megna, and a struggling Loui Eriksson. As a result, Daniel was torn in a number of different directions and suffered for it.
The twins’, and by extension Daniel’s level of success next season will likely be determined by how Travis Green handles his deployment. It’s impossible to say for sure how Green is going to approach the Sedins, but it’s difficult to imagine a scenario that plays out worse than it did this season under Willie Desjardins.
Green will have a number of attractive options that could bear fruit over a full season. Markus Granlund and Nikolay Goldobin both looked good in their auditions with Henrik and Daniel, as did Brock Boeser during his brief stint on the man advantage. If all else fails, they could try Loui Eriksson again in the hopes that that line finally produces at a level consistent with their dominant possession game.
Even after such an abysmal season, there’s still reasons to be optimistic about Daniel Sedin in 2017-18. If Green can keep his minutes down and keep him as far away from Jayson Megna and Brandon Sutter as possible, then a bounce-back season isn’t out of the question.