It is frustrating how often words fail us when we need them the most.
There are no words that can express what the Sedins have meant to the city of Vancouver over the past 18 years. Language alone cannot do justice to the sense of gratitude Canucks fans feel towards their actions both on and off the ice. What can a person say that hasn’t already been said? The Sedins are the greatest players in the team’s nearly fifty-year history, and they have the hardware to prove it.
And yes, they’re even better people than they are players. Ask almost any fan who’s interacted with them, and they’ll tell you a story encapsulating just how down-to-earth they are. They play pass with little kids. They fly coach. They wait for their table at White Spot, and they’re good tippers.
But these are not the only reasons the Sedins are so beloved in the community. To an outsider, hockey culture can be exhausting. The sport still has a long way to go before it can shed its violent, hyper-masculine, xenophobic past; but it was much worse 20 years ago when the Sedins’ careers were beginning. Everywhere you turned, there was a talking head ready to espouse the virtues of hitting or dropping the gloves. A willingness to get dirty was indicative of character, of hard work. The inferiority of European players was considered self-evident because they didn’t do these things.
Then the lockout came, and the rule changes that followed. The Sedins emerged as elite players, and the Canucks hired a forward-thinking general manager who made a point of pushing the boundaries of a hockey culture I found stuffy and exceedingly dull. It didn’t always work, to say the least, but these new Canucks were creative on the ice and in the front office. The sleep doctors, “capologist,” “mind room,” and goalie captain announced to the hockey world that this team was in no way interested in doing things the old-fashioned way.
So it’s fitting that the faces of this franchise would also be two of the most unique players in history. Players who excelled not because of physical prowess, but by consistently being the smartest guys on the ice. Players who were unique not only in playing style but also in disposition. Who paved the way for a new way of thinking about player toughness, based on an ability to take punishment in the corners rather than dole it out.
Vancouver has such an unbelievably vibrant and creative online community. It’s spawned comics, impressions, podcasts, and parody music videos, and unlike what passes for creative content in other markets, a lot of it is actually good. It’s far from outlandish to suggest this is a reflection of a team that’s been led for the better part of two decades by a pair of players that are frankly, a little weird; but whose weirdness is part of what makes them special players.
The team’s management has come under fire for a number of decisions they’ve made towards the end of the Sedins’ career, but give them full credit for the way they handled the send-off. They absolutely nailed it. The choice to let the twins announce their decision ahead of the their last home game was the right one. The in-arena tributes were touching. And of course, Henrik and Daniel held up their end of the bargain as well, combining for what will go down as one of the most memorable goals in team history.
As somebody who’s watched them for 18 years, I’m not ready for life without the Sedins.
But neither are the Canucks. As I said before, words often fail us; so it only feels appropriate to turn to the numbers, which do an effective job of measuring the Sedins on-ice contributions. Looking back at the decade of shot metrics available, it’s almost comical to see how often the two brothers appear when looking at the best individual seasons by shot shares:
While their play certainly declined in recent years, their shot metrics were still the best among Canucks’ regulars this season. Even in their 37th year, they’ve kept their heads above water by shot attempts on a team that’s otherwise struggled to do so. On the power play, an area in which they’d struggled in prior seasons, they were two of the teams best producers, behind only Brock Boeser.
It’s not absurd to suggest they were the team’s best, most consistent players this season. Now, obviously that has a lot to do with the fact that their other best players missed a significant chunk of the season; but the Sedins have been a massive part of why the team never wholly bottomed out this year. Their defensive play has definitely deteriorated over time, but they’ve still kept the puck mostly at the other end of the ice and been a net positive for the team. When Boeser and Horvat were injured, both Henrik and Daniel stepped up and were far and away the team’s best, most consistent players down the stretch. It’s debatable whether the wins Daniel and Henrik have provided the team will be advantageous in the long run, but they’ve certainly helped a management group that’s emphasized being competitive and doing things “the right way” save face this season.
These are more than just practical concerns that come from the Sedins’ decision to retire. In addition to being on-ice leaders, the twins have also been effective public relations representatives for a team that’s floundered for the last three seasons, absorbing or deflecting criticism away from others. The team’s front office has often used their respect for the Sedins as a get-out-of-jail-free card when the topic of rebuilding is broached.
Perhaps more importantly, they’ve shielded the team’s young players from the unenviable task of explaining losses and poor performances to the media 82 times a year; something they picked up from former captain Markus Naslund, as Michael Blundell of The Players’ Tribune explained:
Whether the Canucks can replace their production remains to be seen, but there’s absolutely no way they’ll be able to replace them as ambassadors immediately. If the team continues to struggle, expect a hangover.
After the love-in of the last two games of the season, most of the focus in the market has been on looking back, as it should be. Because looking ahead, things could get ugly. Though unfairly maligned at times, Vancouver is still a tough market to play in, and the Sedins have shielded others from the intense scrutiny and criticism for over a decade.
Going into next season without the twins, the Canucks find themselves in a lose-lose situation. Unless they can land John Tavares in free agency and get the first overall pick in the draft, they’re likely to be even worse next season. If they chase a couple of big free agents this summer, the idea that the team’s management was putting off a rebuild until Henrik and Daniel had retired will lose all credibility. If they don’t, the team will somehow have to try and replace 100 points from within, which is looking like a long shot at this juncture. Either way, the task of fielding questions from the media will be left either to the team’s future leaders like Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser, or veterans that lack a longstanding relationship with the community.
I don’t think it’s a maliciousness on the media’s part to ask these negative questions—it’s a natural product of where the team is at. But I think the numbing effect of answering the same glum questions over & over for years on end gets glossed over to easily as “part of the job”
— Justin Morissette (@JustinMoris) April 5, 2018
As sad as the next few days are going to be, we’re only scratching the surface of what life without the Sedins is going to look like. I’m not sure we’re ready for it.