VANCOUVER — Two years ago, when Bo Horvat was getting crushed by a 27-game goalless drought early in his second season with the Vancouver Canucks, he was gliding alone and joyless around the ice in Philadelphia before a morning skate when Henrik Sedin skated alongside.
Over the course of a couple of laps, Sedin convinced Horvat that the second-year centre had not, in fact, forgotten how to play hockey, that all players, including Hank and his brother Daniel, struggle and that Horvat just needed to stay positive and everything would be OK.
Apparently it was, because Horvat, after surpassing the Sedins as the Canucks’ best player last season, just signed a six-year, $33-million contract and will likely succeed Henrik as captain when the twins retire.
“Over these last three years,” Horvat said Tuesday, “just watching them every day and how they conduct themselves… on the ice and off the ice, they’re pros. For me to be a young guy coming in and just watching them every single day, and taking it all in like that has definitely grown my game.”
Horvat will be part of the Sedins’ legacy.
So will be winger Sven Baertschi.
“You don’t have to do a whole lot; just watch them and learn,” Baertschi said as the Canucks prepared to open training camp ahead of historic pre-season games next week in China against the Los Angeles Kings. “We’re lucky to have them in our locker-room. It’s a great time for us to step up as younger players and follow their lead and learn from them.
“They’re two phenomenal people, not just hockey players but as guys. The way they care about our team is pretty amazing.”
And this is why, despite the diminishing number of goals they generate, the Sedins are still invaluable to the Canucks.
Former Canucks coach Alain Vigneault elevated the Sedins to first-liners in 2006 and since then not one player has walked through the dressing room doors at Rogers Arena and not felt their presence, noticed the standard they set.
“That presence in the dressing room is there not because of their accomplishments, but because of the way they approach the game every day,” Canucks director of player development Ryan Johnson, who arrived in Vancouver as a player in 2008, explained when asked about the twins’ impact. “The way they approach the game is what you hope young players learn and understand.”
Johnson played on five NHL teams and said the player nearest the Sedins in leadership was Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews — not for what he said or accomplished on the ice, but for how he prepared and competed every day, practice or game.
“If the best players on your team approach a Monday practice — and you don’t play until Friday — the way Danny and Hank do, everybody else on the team can surely do that,” Johnson said. “It forces guys to get on board with them when they conduct themselves that way on a daily basis.
“Knowing them, it’s not a surprise to me that they are concerned about what will happen to this team after they are gone. These (final) years for them are just as important to them as any other years in their career because they see the young group we have, know the influence they can have on them, and affect the culture on this team for a very long time.”
The Sedins said Tuesday that they’ll conduct self-assessments at the end of this season, when their identical four-year, $28-million contracts expire, and decide if they’d like to play another year.
“We’re only 36,” Henrik said. “We’re not 42. This is not a farewell tour.”
Still, there is no guarantee of another season for the Sedins after this one. The twins turn 37 in two weeks and the Canucks, out of necessity following a prolonged run of excellent play and appalling player development, have gathered a pile of prospects who will be pushing for NHL jobs over the next few years.
“I’m excited to get a chance to learn from them,” experienced forward Sam Gagner, signed as a free agent on July 1, said. “They definitely have an aura about them. I saw first-hand coming in here with Edmonton a bunch of times, and those were never fun nights playing against them. They’re guys who have the respect of, really, everyone in the league the way they’re able to prepare and the condition they’re in.”
“Anytime you have a question on something or are trying to figure something out, we go through Hank and Danny for stuff,” centre Brandon Sutter said. “They took a lot of heat last year for not having their normal point totals. But in terms of the dressing room and their leadership on and off the ice, nothing has changed there.”
It hasn’t changed since before Manny Malhotra, now a Canucks assistant coach, turned up in Vancouver as a player in 2010.
“There’s a level of accountability,” Malhotra said. “You have to remember there was a process to their career as well. They didn’t come in and instantly become 80-point guys in the NHL. They had to find their way and develop their professionalism. And when you look at their process, how they came in and where they got to, that’s a great example to our younger players.
“It’s about trying to attain their level of professionalism, their level of consistency. Those guys exude it, they live it. And it’s incumbent upon everyone else on the team to follow that positive lead.”
As long as possible.