At 37-years-old, Henrik and Daniel Sedin are well past their prime and steadily declining. We know it, the coach knows it, the GM knows it, they know it. Yet, it’s too early to let them go.
As the attempt to rebuild on the fly can officially be characterized as a massive failure — all while prospects like Elias Pettersson are representing light at the end of the tunnel — a full-on rebuild appears inevitable.
In many fans’ ideal scenarios, that rebuild includes the sale of multiple current NHL roster players who could fetch draft picks and prospects in return. Plus, it means the Canucks have to move on from ageing veterans like the Sedins and bring in prospects instead.
But does that really make sense?
By the numbers
Below is a chart outlining the Sedins’ point production per game throughout their careers. While both are moving closer and closer toward their rookie numbers from 17 years ago, they are still producing more than half a point per game, and are even seeing an uptick in this metric compared to last year.
With Henrik’s 36 and Daniel’s 33 points this season, they currently sit third and fourth, respectively, in team scoring.
Also outlined in the chart is the percentage of points the two recorded on the man advantage. Although it may seem like the twins are struggling with the speed of today’s game, therefore only being useful once set up in the offensive zone with some extra space, they are still scoring the majority of their points at even strength.
On average through their careers, Henrik and Daniel have scored 34.6 percent of their points on the power play. In 2017-18, that number is a little higher for Daniel, who currently sits at 42.4 percent, but it’s still reasonable. Henrik, meanwhile, is at 36.1 percent, close to career average.
So, while the decline – which is expected at 37 – is obvious, the Sedins are still serviceable players, even producing more than last season.
It’s not just about individual numbers either. Comparing the shot rates for all Canucks forwards – a group that plays a low-event style as a whole – the Sedins are the only duo that gets close to average in adjusted Corsi for per 60 in five-on-five situations.
Thanks to spending a lot of time in the offensive zone, their shot rates against are quite good as well. In the chart below, courtesy of Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey), the Sedins are the closest Canucks to the “Good” section, which is really all we can ask for at this stage.
One of the big reasons why the Sedins are still succeeding is that new head coach Travis Green is using them the right way. That is, as middle-six forwards and power-play specialists.
After 56 games this season, Henrik and Daniel rank seventh and eighth, respectively, in all-situation ice time among Canucks forwards.
Although the cycle game isn’t working quite as well as it used to anymore, the Sedins are still very capable once positioned deep in the offensive zone. As a result, Green does everything in his power to put them in that position as often as possible, resulting in ridiculous zone-start numbers.
So far in the 2017-18 season, the Sedins have started almost a quarter of their shifts in the offensive zone, and less than five percent in their own end.
Their job isn’t to face off against top opposition anymore. They are asked to produce offence, nothing more – this becomes even clearer when one looks at the situations in which they are used.
When Vancouver is trailing, the Sedins play their regular third-line and power-play role. They are put out to contribute, but they are far from being the first-line leaders they were up until last year.
And when they have a lead, Henrik and Daniel get to rest, logging fewer minutes than any other NHL regular on the roster.
Okay, so the Sedins are still serviceable players this year. But what about next season?
As Luke Solberg (@EvolvingWild) showed in his recent work at Hockey-Graphs, today’s NHLers peak around the age of 23, before entering a steady decline. The age curve stays relatively steady until dropping off more significantly between “Year II” ages 37 and 38.
The Sedins, currently 37 years old and turning 38 in late September, are now reaching that spot.
But does that mean they will completely useless next season? Of course not.
While we can’t expect them to get any better than they are now, it also wouldn’t make sense to write them off based on a statistical drop-off.
The logical step here would be to sign them to a short-term deal that is as cheap as possible (we’ll get to this in a bit) and see where it goes.
But does Vancouver want them to be good?
What remains, though, is a fundamental question: Do the Canucks even want to be good and do they want the Sedins to contribute to being good?
Again, the answer seems obvious.
While a rebuild on the fly might not have been the right call, selling everything of value and tanking for high draft picks would be a terrible solution, too.
We all wish the Canucks won the lottery the next three years, landing them potential generational talents in defenceman Rasmus Dahlin and forwards Jack Hughes and Alexis Lafreniere. But it’s not that easy and doesn’t guarantee success. Plus, is the worst team in the league really a good place to develop your prospects?
Here’s the thing: Over the past couple of years, the Canucks have been terrible, all while trying to stay competitive and have a word in the playoff race. Keeping the Sedins won’t lift them ten spots up the standings – it will merely contribute to keeping them competitive, keeping games close and winning some along the way.
Furthermore, if the Sedins are let go, Vancouver will need some kind of replacement.
Fans are hoping for prospects Pettersson and Jonathan Dahlen to jump in soon, but it’s impossible to know when they are ready until they’re actually there. And as of today, neither one seems likely to jump into the NHL next season, unless the Canucks decide to rush them in right away – which wouldn’t be the best idea.
As long as these prospects aren’t ready, and as long as players like Nic Dowd or Brendan Gaunce see regular ice time, there is no point in letting go of the Sedins, who are not only serviceable players but role models for the rest of the team as well.
They are helping the rebuild, not hurting it.
The Sedins made their intentions clear in a letter to the fans, shared at The Players’ Tribune before the 2017-18 season:
“If we’re going to win a Cup, we only want it to be with Vancouver – that will never change. And if the moment has come and passed already, then so be it. This is my home. This is our home. This is our family’s home. Vancouver has given us so much and we’ve tried to give everything we have in return. So we will do our best to teach this new generation of young guys.”
The two have accepted that winning the Stanley Cup in Vancouver has become extremely unlikely for them, yet they decided the Canucks will be the only NHL club for which they will ever play. At the very least, they want to use their experience to help develop the young players coming in.
This is the kind of player every team wants – and the Canucks have two of them. This is also the rare kind of player that would seriously consider signing a one-year contract with a ‘hometown discount.’
Of course, Henrik and Daniel, still producing at a solid rate, have some leverage. And after what they’ve done for this franchise, the Canucks wouldn’t say “sign at the league minimum or leave.” But they definitely won’t have $7-million cap hits anymore, so Vancouver is likely to save some money and make room for moves in the process.
Henrik and Daniel Sedin aren’t what they used to be. But you haven’t seen the last of them either.