For once, Daniel and Henrik Sedin have failed. Their heartfelt love letter to Vancouver and the Canucks in The Players’ Tribune won’t fully extinguish questions about their National Hockey League future.
At least as long ago as the 2012 lockout, the Sedins have been telling me and others who asked that they intended to finish their careers as Canucks. They understood the life-cycle of a team and knew what was coming: losses, criticism and a difficult phase of rebuilding that they are only now experiencing as players after entering the NHL in 2000.
They were comfortable with themselves and their team. They were — and are — eager to mentor and set the example for players coming into the organization. They have even said, repeatedly, that they don’t fear the time they are no longer front-line players on the Canucks because when they are usurped it will mean younger players have developed well enough under their watch to inherit the Sedins’ coveted duties.
Canucks hockey-operations president Trevor Linden, who along with Markus Naslund, mentored and encouraged the Sedins early in their careers when a permanent return to Sweden was a definite possibility after the twins’ rocky transition to the NHL was met not only with criticism but unvarnished disparagement.
Few star players in NHL history — remember, the Sedins each won a scoring title, Henrik won the Hart Trophy in 2010, Daniel the Ted Lindsay Award in 2011 — have been belittled on a personal level as much as the Sedins were and, occasionally, still are.
These guys are among the most honest, dedicated and genuine players that have ever cashed million-dollar paycheques. And despite the worst, low-brow, Euro-phobic disparagement of their character and nature, they are also among the toughest Canucks in history. Because for more than a decade they have willingly led their team night after night by going to the net undeterred by opponents’ whose top priority is to batter and try to intimidate them.
If you stopped the Sedins, you stopped the Canucks. And for a 12-season span that ended in 2015, the Canucks won as much as any team in hockey, but not, as the Sedins readily admit and own, the Stanley Cup. They will live with that failure, and 2011 will haunt them forever.
Linden has been emphatic since replacing Mike Gillis in 2014 that the Sedins will not be traded.
So within the organization, there has never been much doubt about the Sedins finishing their NHL careers as Canucks.
The question has been only about timing and when the end will come for them as players.
The Sedins turn 37 on Sept. 26 and are in the final year of contracts paying them each $7 million. Bo Horvat, the 22-year-old who just signed his own $33-million, six-year contract, has surpassed the Sedins as the Canucks’ best player.
This kind of natural attrition should continue this season. It’s the nature of things.
Wingers Sven Baertschi and Markus Granlund continue to evolve, and whether they, too, pass the Sedins this season, the twins are likely to see less ice time and lesser roles.
But there is little argument that the Sedins remain, even after 17 years in the best hockey league in the world, NHL-calibre scorers. Their aggregate sum of 30 goals and 94 points last season — fewer points combined than each had when he won his Art Ross Trophy a few years ago — may have alarmed some, but still represents more single-season production individually than the majority of NHL players will ever generate.
News flash: the Sedins are declining with age. Aren’t we all? But they can still play.
The tricky question is at what cost — both financially and in terms of diminished opportunity for younger players that the Sedins’ presence in the lineup creates.
The Sedins’ presence in the dressing room, the example in professionalism and character they’ve set for every player who has walked through the sliding front doors since the 2005 lockout, continues to be invaluable. That’s what many who aren’t around the team fail to understand.
But the hockey people, whether it’s Linden and general manager Jim Benning or former GMs Gillis and Dave Nonis, get it. Managers and coaches cling to the Sedins because these players embody everything a professional hockey player should be.
So is this their final season? The Sedins’ play will determine that. If they put up another 40-50 points apiece and re-sign for another year at, say, $3 million each, they’ll be bargain second-line scorers. And they’ll still help the Canucks.
As they re-iterated in The Players’ Tribune, they love the Canucks and Vancouver.
The place should just love them back as long as they are here, because there will never be others like them when they Sedins are gone.