The Changing Role of the Sedins

Over the last decade-plus, the NHL has been dominated by dynamic duos, from Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau in San Jose, to Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf in Anaheim, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom in Washington, and of course this season the tradition continues with Dallas Stars pair Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn terrorizing opposing goaltenders. The number of individual accolades this group has garnered is impressive, and they all have the symbiotic relationship they formed with their partner to thank for that success.

While all those duos play a significant amount of ice time together, it pales in comparison to the connection Vancouver Canucks forwards Daniel and Henrik Sedin have on the ice, offering a rare case in NHL history. Greater than the sum of their parts (they’re likely still stars away from each other, but certainly not future Hall-of-Famers), the Sedins have played more minutes together than any other pair since they entered the league in 2000, and perhaps in NHL history.

As such, it could be argued that the Sedins’ unique deployment propagated the rise in duos and rotating wingers in the NHL (though the practice was not uncommon before, it seems essential now, and the focus has shifted much more from trios to dynamic pairs). Certainly the Sedins have had their fair share, necessitating the Canucks other forward lines to likewise rotate a third winger in and out (a few years ago that second line pair would be center Ryan Kesler and winger Mason Raymond, while today it looks like center Bo Horvat and winger Sven Baertschi occupy that role).

The Changing Role of the Sedins

In the past this situation could be utilized by a coach (of which the Sedins have had many) to maximize the club’s offense by elevating a player with a modicum of offensive talent to the level of a first-liner. But as the Sedins age, this unique dynamic allows the club to do more than just win games, as they can utilize the 35-year-old Swedes in other ways to help the franchise, including as mentors both on and off the ice. It also allows the club the opportunity to increase a player’s trade value by simply lining him alongside the Sedins, who have a history of making a huge impact on their linemates’ numbers.

The names on the list of players who saw an uptick in their offensive numbers while riding shotgun to the Sedins is both long and underwhelming.

Trent Klatt

Klatt won the first audition to play the role of third Sedin, with then-head coach Marc Crawford astutely choosing to pair the twins with a veteran during their first season in North America. Klatt would spend three years guiding the Sedins, posting 13 goals and 33 points in 2000-2001, a solid offensive output for the tough winger who was on the decline.

Jason King

King was a fine scorer in junior (63 goals in 61 games for the Halifax Mooseheads in 2001-02) and after serving a short apprentice in the AHL was given a spot alongside the Sedins during the 2003-04 season after Klatt left for Los Angeles.

The 22-year-old King scored 12 goals and 21 points in 47 games. That would unfortunately be the apex of King’s career, as he has played only four NHL games since then (with Anaheim in 2007-08) while splitting his time between the AHL and Europe.

Anson Carter

Carter is the classic example when pointing out the effect the Sedins can have on their wingers, and with good reason. Carter was already an established scorer (he had scored five 20-goal seasons before coming to Vancouver in 2005-06), but he broke out in a big way in his only season with the Sedins, scoring 33 goals to lead the club (and also set a personal best) and 51 points in 81 games.

Carter parlayed that season into a one-year, $2.5 million contract (which was a bigger number in the early cap years than it seems now). Despite being only 32 years old, that would be Carter’s last NHL contract.

Taylor Pyatt

Pyatt, a hulking winger with soft hands and a softer disposition, was given the next opportunity, spending the majority of his three seasons in Vancouver from 2006-2009 with the Sedins. He set career highs in goals (23) and points (37) his first year with the Sedins and matched his point total the following season.

Pyatt attempted to do the same as Carter, signing a contract with the then-Phoenix Coyotes in 2009. He retired last year having never potted 20 goals again.

Alex Burrows

Which brings us to Burrows, the Sedins’ longest-tenured winger and the one who arguably reaped the biggest rewards. From 2008-09 to 2012-13, Burrows’ primary seasons with the twins, he scored 130 goals and 242 points in 363 games, a 0.66 points per game average. His career best was in 2009-10, when he scored 35 goals and 67 points.

(It’s worth pointing out at the point that the Sedins, too, posted their most offensively dominant seasons during this time frame, though that was largely a result of them hitting their prime and less by the impact Burrows had on their play, though he certainly complemented them well).

Now in his 11th NHL season, Burrows has never hit the 20-goal or 40-point plateau while not playing the bulk of his minutes with the Sedins. This year he has just six goals and 13 points in 45 games while playing away from the Sedins in a bottom-six role.

Radim Vrbata

Last year, the most recent third Sedin was brought aboard ostensibly to play with them and promptly lead the club in goals with 31 while setting a new career high in points with 63 at age 33.

While not entirely reliant on the Sedins (he had been an offensive player of note in the league for years, particularly during his heyday with the Coyotes), his great season punctuated with a berth in the All-Star Game highlighted what the Sedins are still able to do for their line mates, even as they approach their mid-30s.

The Future

Which brings us to today, and the opportunity the Sedins’ unique role as top line producers joined at the hip provides a rebuilding club. While the majority of their time this season has been spent with Danish winger Jannik Hansen (who is, surprise surprise, on his way to a career year at age 29), the Canucks management would be better served to consider how they can best utilize the Sedins over the remaining two years of the twins’ current contract (because they aren’t going anywhere).

In this vein, there are two main ways the Canucks could choose to exploit the Sedins’ ability to heighten the offensive production of their winger.

The Showcasers

One, a move that may be both blatantly transparent and effective, would be to use the spot beside the twins as a place to inflate a player’s offensive numbers in an attempt to showcase them for a trade. This has been a tactic employed by organizations in the past to great effect, and it could work for Vancouver as well.

Case in point: Vrbata. The aging Czech winger has struggled at times this year while playing much more often with Horvat than with Henrik as his center, which has surely factored into his underwhelming offensive numbers (11 goals, 21 points).

If Vrbata were to be given a chance to ride with the Sedins for an extended amount of time, say all of February, it’s very likely he could see both his goals and points per game take a sizable jump, perhaps increasing his trade value and allowing the club to get a better asset in return should they (and they absolutely should) choose to trade him. With the Canucks chances of a post-season berth looking more tenuous by the day, the club must absolutely attempt to increase the value of its biggest trade chip.

The Mentors

The second tactic the Canucks could choose is to deploy some of the team’s young wingers with the Sedins over the next two years. This would not only increase their offensive numbers and perhaps confidence, the twins could also provide them with a veteran presence which would hasten their ascension to every day NHLers. There can be no better teachers for the club’s incoming core than these two franchise legends, and that’s where their greatest value at this point in their careers may lie.

Within the organization, there are three young wingers the club hopes will be fixtures in the top-six for many years to come: Jake Virtanen, Hunter Shinkaruk, and Brock Boeser.

Virtanen was the first of the three to make his debut with the big club and has enjoyed just a handful of his (limited) ice time with the Sedins, while primarily being centered by either Horvat or Sutter. Unable (or, more accurately, unwilling) to send the 19-year-old back to the WHL, Virtanen has endured a rocky road through 23 games, scoring just two goals and five points while averaging a shade over 10 minutes per game. The right-hand shot with the big body could be an ideal fit with the Sedins, and can certainly use their sage advice as he works to become a pro.

Shinkaruk also made his NHL debut this season, playing one game on a line with Adam Cracknell and Derek Dorsett (neither are known for their scoring exploits) and, unsurprisingly, he was held scoreless in 9:35 of ice time. However, the 21-year-old has been having a great sophomore season in the AHL, leading the Utica Comets in scoring with 15 goals and 30 points in 33 games. He’s likely ready to graduate to a larger role with the Canucks next season. Riding shotgun to the Sedins, he could be a deadly triggerman with the potential for a big rookie season.

Boeser is a bit further away from the NHL, but may be the most skilled of the three. Playing with North Dakota in the NCAA, he’s scored 25 points in 22 games as a rookie, showing off his elite scoring potential. He too seems destined for a spot in Vancouver’s top-six, and could also get a huge boost in his development playing alongside the twins. However, depending on how long he waits before going pro, he may miss out on the opportunity entirely.

So while many have pointed and crowed, “Look! The Sedins are still good!” as the twins continue to put up impressive numbers during an era which has seen scoring backslide, their true value to the club is no longer about how they can help the Vancouver Canucks win now, but how they can help them win in the future, a task these two unassuming men from Sweden would be more than happy to put upon their shoulders.

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