Monday was a strange day for the hockey community. It’s funny how it often takes someone or something leaving for us to truly appreciate how good we all had it back when they were still around.
With the news breaking that Henrik and Daniel Sedin will be walking away from the NHL at the end of the season, there were a lot of those bittersweet emotions to sort through for those of us who have been fortunate enough to witness their magnificent run from start to finish.
While their departure undoubtedly serves as a blow to both the team and the league, seeing the deserved outpouring of admiration and reverence from players, media members and fans in the aftermath was heartening. For a pair of players who had made a career of flying under the radar and not getting nearly the amount of credit or attention their exploits warranted, it was rewarding to see them finally get what they deserved.
The list of individual accomplishments they’ll walk away with is extensive. They’re two of just 87 players all-time to top 1,000 career points, a feat that requires a combination of miraculous longevity and talent. If you’re looking at a franchise record for the Canucks, chances are one of them holds it. They each have an Art Ross Trophy, with Henrik winning the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player in his season (2009-2010) and Daniel earning it the next. In that two year stretch when they were at their peak, the numbers they managed to pile up were straight out of a video game.
For all the remarkable highlights they blessed us with over the years, the one that’ll always best encapsulate what a joy it was to watch them came during the final regular season game in Henrik’s Hart Trophy year. En route to cinching up the award, the duo toyed with a Flames team that simply had no answer or recourse for slowing them down. They created four goals, with this masterpiece below serving as the cherry on top. In it you see Henrik’s passing, Daniel’s finishing, and the unrivaled chemistry between the two that often mystified opponents and created scoring chances out of thin air.
Come June 2021, they’ll be acknowledged for all of those achievements once they officially become eligible for the Hockey Hall of Fame. Despite ultimately having fallen short on a team level in terms of the pursuit of bringing a Stanley Cup title to Vancouver, they should be first ballot inductees by any other discernible measure for what they managed to do individually.
But just as important as the things they accomplished is how they went about doing it and the lasting effect they’ve had on the sport. It feels like they were ahead of their time and maybe would’ve been appreciated more in the moment if they had come around now in an era when their mind-boggling passing plays would be immediately immortalized in GIF form and passed around on Twitter on a nightly basis.
Instead, they arrived during a time that was less aesthetically pleasing and offensively oriented, but the Sedins served as influential chaperones as the league transformed into the product it is now. By playing a skill-based puck possession game in the offensive zone that eventually wore down the competition, they helped redefine what it meant to be “difficult to play against.” Rather than using brute force or supernatural physical skills, they instead relied on precision passing and positioning to always be one step ahead of the opposition.
Using that patented cycle game behind the net, it never really mattered if they could defend because they were never really forced to. When the twins were on the ice, the Canucks were routinely controlling around 55 per cent of the shot attempts, and north of 60 per cent of the goals being scored.
As is the case with any truly great player, they made whoever they played with look like the very best version of themselves. You could essentially slot any player on their wing as the third wheel and expect the same spectacular results. Alex Burrows is the player who will be remembered to have had the most success with the Sedins, but before him there was a laundry list of replaceable wingers (Anson Carter, Taylor Pyatt, Steve Bernier, Mikael Samuelsson, etc.) who cycled through that coveted position and used it as a launching pad for a career year and a pay day.
From a present day on-ice Xs and Os perspective, the fact that this season marks the end of the road for Henrik and Daniel Sedin isn’t necessarily completely out of left field. At the age of 37, their usage was finally dialled back to a point more well-adjusted for players at this stage of their careers.
Used in what was essentially a bottom-six role, this is the lowest amount of ice time they’d been asked to play since the league came back from the lockout in 2005. With the team moving away from relying on the twins to be the key contributors they once were, a changing of the guard was underway, which signalled an inevitable split from the two.
It started making more sense for the Canucks to use younger players to see what they’ve got and try to figure out who will be around once the team is ready to win again. The Sedins would never make a public stink, but playing such a bit role on a team going nowhere anytime soon wasn’t exactly a good look.
|Season||Henrik 5v5 ATOI||Canucks Forward Rank||Daniel 5v5 ATOI||Canucks Forward Rank|
For diehard fans, there’s a certain relief that this is it for them because it means we won’t be forced to watch them awkwardly play out the string on a different team, wear a foreign uniform, and crawl to the finish line as shells of their formerly great selves.
Spinning it forward, how the Canucks handle the next steps in their succession plan as they transition to life without the Sedins will be a fascinating storyline to follow.
With $14 million coming off the books as the twins ride into the sunset this summer, and the cap expected to rise to $80 million, the Canucks figure to have nearly $25 million in free space to operate.
Whether that’s a blessing or a curse is open to interpretation. If used properly, that type of flexibility obviously presents the organization with some intriguing possibilities for improving the team. Unfortunately, the track record – more specifically how recklessly they’ve thrown around the money they’ve had at their disposal the past few off-seasons – of this current regime doesn’t necessarily inspire a lot of confidence.
It’s said that sometimes the best moves are the ones you don’t make, and for a team that isn’t positioned to contend, keeping the cap space open may very be the most prudent course of action. Even with the cap set to rise, there will surely still be teams desperate to get out from under bad deals and be willing to compensate whichever team can help them achieve that with future assets.
For the Canucks to handle this newfound opportunity properly, they’ll need to start exercising the type of patience and big picture thinking they’ve fairly been criticized for not wielding in the past. While it’s understandable that there’s a certain level of desperation for the franchise to put butts in the seats and give people a reason to tune into their games, the truth is that players like Brandon Sutter, Loui Eriksson, Sam Gagner, and whichever Free Agent Du Jour they’d throw money at this summer won’t be moving the needle in that regard anyways.
Where they’ve gotten into trouble is trying to play the short game. By attempting to forgo a proper rebuild and instead attempt a retooling of sorts, all they’ve done is increase the length of time it’ll take for this team to truly be competitive again.
Part of the reason people stand by and defend the work of GM Jim Benning and president Trevor Linden is that they were handcuffed by inheriting an aging core that was already locked into place. With the Sedins now gone, that leaves only Alex Edler, Chris Tanev, Jacob Markstrom, and Darren Archibald as players who were on the team in 2013-14, the final season under the old regime. For better or for worse, this now really is their team, and there won’t be any more excuses to hide behind.
For the Canucks to dig out of this hole, they’ll need to start embracing the reality of their situation and act accordingly. As bad as it’s been the past couple of seasons in Vancouver, without the Sedins around to soak up attention and deflect negativity away from younger players, things could get even worse as this franchise still lingers near the bottom of the standings.
There’s a cyclical nature to this league, and eventually the Canucks will rise up and be good again. More than a decade ago the Sedins took over from the beloved West Coast Express and lifted the Canucks to new heights and, one day, there will be a successor. That may be someone like Brock Boeser who’s already on the team, or Elias Pettersson, who’s in the organization but not yet in the NHL. It could even be someone they haven’t drafted yet, such as Rasmus Dahlin.
But whoever it winds up being, that next generation of talent will have its work cut out for them. Henrik and Daniel Sedin left some humongous shoes to fill for the Canucks, the city of the Vancouver, and the league as a whole.