VANCOUVER – For the last decade, the Vancouver Canucks did not navigate by compass or map or even the stars. They navigated by the Sedins.
No matter how tumultuous the National Hockey League storm, no matter how lost or uncertain the Canucks seemed, Daniel and Henrik Sedin were a comforting beacon, an orientation point that allowed the team to sail safely.
You had Danny and Hank at the top of the Canucks – in every sense – and the rest of the team flowed from there.
The Canucks, whose 6-1-2 surge at the end of a season allowed them to finish 26th and narrowly avoid a third straight bottom-three finish, will struggle to replace the 105 points lost from their lineup due to the retirement Saturday of the 37-year-old Sedins.
But the void more dangerous and uncertain than the hole in the power play is in the Canucks’ dressing room, where the culture of the organization was built around the brothers.
Forced to rebuild almost from scratch, the Canucks have never had as many talented, offensive prospects pushing their way towards the NHL as they do now. And, ironically, there’s never been a bigger question about leadership and mentorship now that the Sedins are leaving.
It doesn’t matter whether Bo Horvat, who turned 23 on Thursday, is named captain next year or the season after. (Henrik won the Hart Trophy before he was named captain in 2010 soon after his 30th birthday).
As Hank said on Monday, during year-end press conferences at Rogers Arena: “The ‘C’ is big to fans and media, but in (the dressing room) it shouldn’t be a big deal.”
Leadership is a lot more than one person. The Canucks hope it is a lot more than two.
“These two guys have worn letters in our room for a long, long time,” Canucks coach Travis Green said. “They’ve been the leaders of the franchise for years. So it’s going to look a lot different. The inside of the room is going to feel different with them not being there. It’s going to look different, going to feel different and you’re not going to be able to just sit here (and know) where is it at.”
Canucks president Trevor Linden said: “When I think about leadership, I think about the group in the room. I was a young captain, I was a captain for several years. Every team, the ‘C’ is the most noticeable (thing) on the jersey. But it’s the group that you put in place. Leadership comes from many members of that team. I think we’ve got some people who are going to have to step up in a leadership role.”
Soft-spoken defenceman Alex Edler has been in Vancouver for 11-and-a-half seasons. Injury-prone defenceman Chris Tanev has been around for eight years. After them, Horvat is the next longest-tenured Canuck at four seasons. Other veterans include Brandon Sutter, Loui Eriksson, Michael Del Zotto and Sam Gagner.
Linden said the team can’t immediately replace the Sedins’ offensive production or leadership by bringing in new players, although general manager Jim Benning said he’ll be looking at the trade and free-agent markets during the off-season.
Other news to emerge Monday:
• Canucks rookie Brock Boeser, who missed the last month of the season with a back injury, has flown home to Minnesota to have his wrist examined by a specialist and may require surgery.
• Linden said he expects the Canucks to operate “ several million dollars” below the salary cap next season, which means the NHL team probably won’t spend the $14-million that is leaving the books with the Sedins.
• Benning said there will be “open competition” in goal next season, so minor-league star Thatcher Demko will have the chance to displace Anders Nilsson as Jacob Markstrom’s backup.
• The Sedins are taking an indefinite period of time away from the game to devote to their families in Vancouver, but envision potentially returning in hockey-operations roles. “President,” Henrik quipped after Linden left the press room.
• Green was especially blunt in his assessment of Ben Hutton’s season, saying the defencemen will have to improve his skating and conditioning if he wants to build an NHL career.
• Horvat has accepted Team Canada’s invitation to play at the world championships, and retired Canuck Derek Dorsett and fellow Saskatchewanian Derrick Pouliot will travel to Humboldt, Sask., to offer support in the wake of the Broncos’ bus tragedy.
One of the themes of Monday’s press conference, especially from management, is that the Canucks are further ahead in their rebuild compared to a year ago due to the emergence of Boeser and the development of others.
“That question is not easy to answer: When are we going to be able to compete for playoffs?” Green said. “I want to see us keep improving. We need to get our team to that stage where we say, ‘We’re now a team that can compete for the playoffs.’ Our (young) guys have to become better hockey players. I’m confident we’re on the right path.”
“It’s going to be strange,” Edler said of a Canucks team without the Sedins. “They’ve been there my whole career, so it will be a change for me. But I’m excited about our team. We have a lot of good young guys that are coming up. They’re starting to understand what it takes to be in this league.”
But there is a long, long way to go.