In one of the most touching moments in Vancouver hockey history, on the night of Henrik and Daniel Sedin’s final home game of their careers, John Shorthouse and John Garrett did away the usual Three Stars format. Instead, only one star was awarded, to be shared by the two brothers. It was a fitting tribute to two brothers who have shared just about every significant moment of their careers with one another.
In previous years, when rolling out our year in review series, Henrik and Daniel would each be given their own entry. At this point, that seems disingenuous. They played over 90% of their minutes together this season and were deployed almost exclusively as a unit. Any discussion about either player will inevitably involve looking at the other, so it only seems fitting that they should exit our year in review series in the same way they entered the league: together.
It was fellow Swede Victor Hedman who summed up their achievements best: “They’re one of a kind. But obviously, two guys”. Henrik and Daniel were two of the league’s most unique players, except for the fact that they’re identical to one another. They also finish their careers with nearly identical stat lines. While Henrik was obviously known primarily as the playmaker and Daniel as the goal-scorer, the difference in their career points-per-game is a mere .003. Their back-to-back Art Ross Trophies, designations as league MVP (the Hart for Henrik and Ted Lindsay for Daniel), and their combined 12 seasons as team scoring leader will certainly land them a place in league history as the game’s most prolific set of brothers.
The Sedins had something of a renaissance season to cap off their careers. Daniel in particular looked much more like himself under Travis Green, seeing an 11-point improvement over his previous campaign. Interestingly, their even-strength point production per hour didn’t see a significant spike under Travis Green, but anyone who watched the Canucks throughout the season could see things were different. With the addition of Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat solidifying himself as a competent first-line centre, Henrik and Daniel were finally able to step into the secondary scoring role many fans had wished to see them in for the past few seasons.
|Player||GP||G||A||P||S||PPP||P/60 (5v5)||P/60 (PP)||CF% (5v5)|
|Henrik Sedin||82||3||47 (1st)||50||67||17||1.71||3.48||51.36%|
|Daniel Sedin||81||23||32||55 (T-1st)||189 (1st)||23 (T-1st)||1.71||4.9||52.25% (1st)|
With reduced minutes, the twins looked fresher and more dangerous. When the injury bug reared its ugly head, the brothers stepped up and played some of their best hockey of the season; something they’d struggled to do in past seasons that saw their play decline significantly in the spring. Daniel’s play especially stood out; his 189 shots led the team and he had a stretch from mid-February to early March where he had eight goals in as many games.
Travis Green’s first year as head coach in Vancouver was a mixed bag, but he deserves praise for how he handled the Sedins, who thrived under Vigneault-like deployment.
While zone starts can often be misleading in a myriad of ways, it’s important to note that the more extreme the deployment, the more useful they are in providing context. In Henrik and Daniel’s case, they saw the most extreme offensive faceoff deployment in the league. Their deployment hadn’t been so skewed towards the offensive zone since their 2010-2012 heyday, taking over 70% of their faceoffs in the offensive or neutral zone. The effect of Green’s deployment strategy was twofold; it helped keep the twins where they could be most successful and mitigated the effect of their deteriorating foot speed.
This isn’t to say the Sedins don’t deserve full credit for the season they had. While the favourable deployment certainly helped, both brothers stepped up in the absence of Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat and played some of their best hockey down the stretch under circumstances that were less than ideal. They were also far and away the team’s best players by underlying shot metrics, which can’t be sufficiently explained by simply looking at zone starts.
As good as Henrik and Daniel were this season on the ice, they will be missed even more sorely as leaders and ambassadors, something I touched on at season’s end:
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…
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.
When they announced their retirement, the outpouring of love and kind words for the two best players in franchise was so instantaneous and overwhelming that all previous discussions about where they fit in to the team’s future were quickly forgotten. It got lost in the shuffle of the celebrations, the tributes, and the strolls down memory lane, but there were a lot of people in this market who legitimately believed the Sedins had been holding back the team’s management from fully implementing their vision. That’s already laughable enough from an on-ice perspective, but when it comes to navigating the complex media landscape that is Vancouver, you can expect some bumps along the road without Henrik and Daniel to smooth things over. We’re about to see what a post-Sedin Canucks team looks like and it could get ugly.
In the euphoria of their final home game, chants of “one more year!” echoed in the rafters of Rogers Arena. It was an understandable sentiment. The twins had proved they could still play, and it was disappointing that the team could never put together one last playoff run to send them off.
On the other hand, we’ve seen what happens when players wait too long to call it quits. You only have to look over the other side of the Rockies to see how time catches up with even the most elite and seemingly ageless players in league history.
There’s such a thing as asking for too much. Players rarely go out on their own terms, and they never go out like this. They were always ours, and never really anyone else’s. There’s something truly special about that.