VANCOUVER – There is a heap that Henrik and Daniel Sedin don’t know about National Hockey League management. What they don’t yet know exponentially outweighs what they do.
But the wonder twins know about winning, which hasn’t happened enough for the Vancouver Canucks since before the Sedins retired in 2018. They know that winning is predicated on culture, and in this regard the brothers are oracles.
On Wednesday, the first day of the Sedins’ new jobs as special advisors to general manager Jim Benning, it was clear that the Canucks’ culture just got a significant upgrade even if Daniel and Henrik are “rookies” to hockey operations.
“We’ve had some really good teams in this organization,” Henrik said at an introductory virtual press conference. “We know what those teams had. Culture, what you bring to the practice every day, what you bring to games every day, how you come into training camp, those things all come into play to be a successful team. We’ve seen that firsthand with a lot of our teams. I think it will be fun to be a part of this group, this team, and see that they have the same things.
“I think No. 1 to create a winning organization, you create the right culture. And that’s something that we truly believed in when we played and we had on good teams.”
With the Sedins as the team’s best players and culture-setters, the Canucks built the franchise’s most successful period from 2008 until 2013, when Vancouver won more NHL games than everyone except the Pittsburgh Penguins.
But it took 10 years from Henrik’s arrival from Sweden for him to develop into an NHL scoring champion and Hart Trophy winner. Daniel Sedin needed 11 years. Excellence takes time.
The 40-year-olds probably don’t have the luxury of a decade to make a managerial impact with the Canucks – not under the current regime, anyway.
But their influence should be felt in an organization that is coming off its most disappointing season this century and has missed the Stanley Cup playoffs in five of general manager Jim Benning’s seven years in charge.
Benning, however, has to make himself open to that influence.
The extra voices the Canucks have added – and needed – in senior management are no good if the experienced hockey men are unwilling to listen.
“I’m going to be real open-minded,” Benning insisted Wednesday. “You know, they’re not that far removed from the league. They still know a lot of the players in the league. They know what winning teams look like. So I’m going to be listening to them, and they’re going to be a big part of our decision-making process moving forward.
“They’re going to be involved in all the different aspects of what we do. And that’s from team-building, talking about the types of players we want, what we want the team to look like. They’ll be part of our pro scouting meetings heading into the expansion draft here, be part of our free-agent meetings when we talk about free agents or adding players to our group. They’re going to have a big voice in what we do here.”
Benning and the Sedins spoke for months about what their roles might look like after the greatest players in Canucks history decided this past winter they were ready to re-devote themselves to the organization after taking three years away for themselves and their families in Vancouver.
They certainly don’t need any more money or fame. And by taking these jobs, the twins risk denting their crowns the way Trevor Linden, a former teammate and mentor to the Sedins, did when he was Canucks president for four years before being forced out three summers ago over an ideological clash with ownership.
“We care about this team, care about the people that work here,” Daniel explained. “And that’s the No. 1 reason, the only reason, we came in. We want to do a good job, and that’s been our mindset from the first day we came here 20-something years ago. We’ll do the same in this role. We’re looking forward to seeing this side of the business. It’s going to take a lot of learning, and we’re aware of that but we’re 100 per cent committed.
“The core group here is fantastic — so much skill, fun to watch. I think with any young core group, they need to take steps every year like we needed to when we were young. That’s kind of the only way your team will get better is if they take those steps. Never be satisfied. I think that was the main thing for us when we played. We always wanted to take steps every year. If they can do that, I think this will be an exciting group to be a part of.”
Henrik said there is no “game plan” for an ascent through management. The Sedins are here to learn and offer advice and perspective. But it’s not ceremonial. As when they played, they’re all-in.
“We’re going to find a role where we can do the best job we can and we’ll see where it takes us,” Henrik said. “We said after we were done playing that this is a side of the game where I think we can help, and we’ve taken our time. We care a lot about this team, so to be able to come back and help is a great feeling. We’re not looking for fame again; let’s be clear with that. We’re hoping to come in and do a good job and try to stay in the background as much as possible.”
Henrik said he and his brother can use their experiences to help players, both on the Canucks and their new farm team in Abbotsford. But it’s the hockey-operations aspect of their job that is most exciting to them, he said.
“We wouldn’t come back if we weren’t able to put 100 per cent into this job,” Daniel reiterated. “So that’s been kind of our mindset these last (three) years that we’ve been retired. We want to come back and be able to put time into this job. We don’t take it lightly, that’s for sure.”
No one should.