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The Sedin conundrum: how many good years do they have left?

Please welcome yet another new blogger to the RobTheHockeyGuy team, Stu Elmes. Stu is a lifelong Canucks fan from Vancouver but is currently living in Thailand. Today Stu takes an in depth look at what we can expect from Henrik and Daniel Sedin, as they each turned 33 years old yesterday.

Living overseas for the past 4 years, I have had a very different experience attempting to closely follow my beloved Canucks. Live games are on at stupid times, going to Rogers arena (GM place when I left) is out of the question, internet connections are dodgy at best, I can’t listen to sports talk radio on my commute to and from work and, worst of all, finding fellow Canucks fans to shoot the shit with about how the team is going or to watch games with is nearly impossible (those I do encounter are usually either so drunk or so out of touch that it quickly becomes clear that talking to them is a complete waste of time). I flew home for the entirety of the Boston series in 2011 and I do my best to keep myself apprised of what is going on with the team and watch games whenever I can.

In preparation for the start of each season what I do most of is read. This year is no different. I have been reading the analysis and speculation regarding the upcoming season every day. This offseason there seems to have been a stark change in tone. Gone is the positivity and hope which accompanied the ‘Nucks climb to the top of the league from the 2008-09 season through to their second consecutive Presidents’ trophy in 2011-12. Doubt and panic seem to be the order of the day. There is a very real sense that this team may have, once again, missed its window.

Among the many question marks surrounding the 2013-2014 edition of the Vancouver Canucks is the question of the efficacy of Daniel and Henrik Sedin as the Canucks top players moving forward.

Regular Season Success

Statistically, both Daniel and Henrik have produced on a very healthy scale during the regular season consistently throughout their careers and currently stand first and second in scoring in team history.

Both had career years in the 2009-10 Season;  Henrik piling up 112 points and capturing both the Art Ross and Hart trophies,  whilst Daniel accumulated  85 points. The following season (the magical 2010-11 campaign) Henrik managed 94 points, while Daniel surpassed his mark from the previous year, tallying 104 points earning him an Art Ross of his own along with The Ted Lindsay Award as most outstanding player as voted by the players.

Anyone would agree that these are very robust regular season numbers. There was a very real sense during those halcyon days that this kind of production would continue indefinitely, and why not? These boys were in their physical prime, and had come into their own on a young, deep team which, despite its playoff struggles, looked to be a force to be reckoned with.

In the 2011-12 season both brothers, along with the rest of the team, saw their offensive numbers drop markedly. Henrik accumulated 81 points and Daniel, who missed 10 games due to a concussion, managed only 67 points. Adjusted to account for the 10 games Daniel missed due to injury, his numbers equate to 76 points. While good enough to yet again lead the team in scoring, they were hardly stats worthy of players who just a season ago had appeared to be among the offensive elite of the entire league.

Then came Gary Bettman’s lockout, a shortened 48 game schedule and another disappointing playoff showing.

In the 2012-13 season, Henrik managed 45 points and Daniel 40 points. Adjusted to a regular 82 game schedule, this amounts to (and keep in mind I never claimed to be a math wiz): Henrik 77 points and Daniel (who played 47 games) 70 points.

Plotted out as total regular season points over their entire careers and adjusted for injury/lockout since 2005, the numbers look like this:

If we consider the possibility that the 2009-10 and 2010-11 years were just a wonderful anomaly, we can consider the stats from these years unnaturally high due to a number of possible factors: weaker opposition, more effective linemates, better team depth, etc.

This raises the possibility that the Sedins are currently producing at the rate that they should be, that between 70 and 85 points each is a reasonable rate of return for players of their caliber. They have consistently produced at this rate since the 2005-06 season. That is eight seasons of consistent scoring  with a couple of exceptional years thrown in for good measure.  Over the eight seasons mentioned above, Henrik has averaged  84 points and Daniel 81.

What this says to me is that the Sedins, if they stay healthy, can probably be counted on for between 70 and 85 points per year for at least the next few years in the regular season.

Playoff Ups and Downs

The playoffs are a different story. The Sedins points per game average in the postseason is lower than their regular season output, but this is not uncommon for superstar forwards. Henrik’s output is 0.09 points per game (ppg) lower in the playoffs than the regular season. Daniel’s differential is 0.14 ppg. That’s right on par with Sidney Crosby, who averages 0.13 ppg less in the playoffs and considerably better than Pavel Datsyuk (0.25 ppg less) and Joe Thornton (0.20 ppg less).

What the Sedins can be criticized for is not being able to carry the team on their backs during many playoff series, especially when put up against top caliber defencemen. The 2011 playoffs is a good example when the Sedins had 0.86 ppg against Chicago (Keith/Seabrook), 0.58 against Nashville (Weber/Suter), 1.8 ppg against San Jose (weaker defencemen) and 0.36 ppg against Boston (Chara/Seidenberg).

If the Canucks are to win the cup with the Sedins they absolutely MUST lead the way offensively and they must be able to do it against elite competition.

The Future

It is my belief that the Sedins are fully capable of doing exactly this. I am convinced that, given the right pieces around them, the Sedins can answer the bell and silence their doubters forever. The question floating around in the sportosphere seems to be whether it is already too late.

At 33 years of age, it is surprising to note the number of concerns expressed in the Vancouver media that the Sedins are either at or rapidly approaching a phase in their lives where their production will inevitably drop off simply by virtue of age induced body deterioration. Conventional wisdom states that a hockey player’s performance peaks statistically between the ages of 27 and 32 and that an athletic male reaches his peak muscle mass in his “early thirties”. The graphs reviewed previously appear to bear this out. Henrik and Daniel had their best statistical years to date at the ages of 29 and 30 respectively.

The counterintuitive aspect is that there seems to be a belief that the brothers are standing at a precipice, about to tumble off the proverbial cliff toward offensive obscurity. This is simply not the case. Daniel and Henrik at the age of 33 on a very young team have consistently come in at or near the top of the list in physical fitness and training exercises throughout training camp and have shown a strong commitment to maintaining their health and fitness levels. If they continue to do this, the deterioration should be minimized, but this is only half the story.

The other thing to consider is the game they play. Far from flying around the ice, banging and crashing the boards and dropping the gloves, The Sedins play a puck control game in which speed is not a major factor for success. Losing half a step to age, which as I previously stated they have not done yet, will not take the same statistical toll it might take on other players for whom speed is the key.

For this team, the Sedins are not the problem. Their contracts need to be renewed. Mike Gillis simply must get his head around the fact that these boys cannot do it alone. Daniel and Henrik need to accept that based on their average playoff performances, they need to help create some cap room to allow Gillis to bring in some help. Secondary scoring, while extremely helpful, is not the answer either. What this team needs is a legitimate primary scoring threat to bear some of the offensive burden. This has been apparent for some time, but the Canucks brass seems to lack the will to get it done.

Until that happens, as the Sedins go, so go the Canucks. The evidence tells us that, come playoff time, this will not cut it. The team needs another legitimate scoring threat that can carry the mail when the Sedins can’t.

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