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Daniel and Henrik Sedin: The NHL’s forgotten superstars

Vancouver Canucks center Henrik Sedin and left wing Daniel Sedin. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)
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Ask any hockey fan to name the top five players in the NHL right now, and you are going to get some predictable responses. Alex Ovechkin, Tyler Seguin, Patrick Kane, P.K. Subban, Erik Karlsson, and Jamie Benn would all make up the majority of lists.

But two names are consistently absent: Daniel and Henrik Sedin.

Daniel, the goal scorer, has put 346 pucks in net with his best year a 41-goal campaign in 2010-11. Henrik, the playmaker, led the league in assists from 2009 to 2012, three straight seasons. Both have won the Art Ross trophy, awarded to the player who leads the league in points. Henrik earned the Hart trophy in 2010 as the league’s most valuable player and Daniel was voted the most outstanding player by his peers in 2011.

Their raw point totals rank them both in the top 100 all-time, with Henrik (951 points, 92nd all time) slightly edging out Daniel (921, 99th). If you adjust those numbers in order to account for different schedule lengths, roster sizes, and scoring environments, they jump to No. 68 and 72 all-time, respectively.

As for their eventual enshrinement in the Hockey Hall of Fame, they appear to be shoo-ins. Every former Art Ross trophy winner that is Hall-of-Fame eligible currently has a plaque in Toronto. Yet they are almost always an afterthought when listing the league’s top superstars, such as Sidney Crosby and Ovechkin.

“Those are big names, great names,” Canucks coach Willie Desjardins said. “When the Sedins are winning the Art Ross you probably heard about them a lot more. People two, three years ago felt they were falling off and now you see their names in the top 10. It’s pretty special to be in that top 10 group.

“We aren’t an offensive team, it’s not like we have big numbers like Dallas and Washington, so they’re doing it with a high percentage of points on our team. When you see that, you know other teams are keying on them. It’s pretty remarkable what they’ve done.”

It’s also remarkable how much ice time the Sedins share. According to David Johnson, creator of the advanced analytics site, the twins have spent 7,702 even-strength minutes together, the most of any forward pair in the league since 2007-08, the earliest data is available. Anaheim’s Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf are (surprisingly) close behind, followed by Washington’s Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, a distant third.

That consistency has made the Sedins the most stable forward pair in the NHL, with a slew of other skaters trying to fit in on the top line beside them.

“We’ve had every type of player,” Henrik said. “We had Anson Carter, not the best skater in the world. Taylor Pyatt, a big, strong physical guy. We had [Alexandre Burrows], who is a smart player but not the biggest guy, not the fastest guy. Zack Kassian was really speedy for us. We’ve gone through different types of players, it doesn’t really matter for us what type of player it is.”

“You always have to look for someone to complement them,” Desjardins said. “As good as they are you need three guys to make a line. You need a guy that goes to the net, gets in on the forecheck and gives them a little speed to back the defense off.”

The Sedins’ skill has consistently raised the play of their forward partner. Carter averaged 0.68 points per game in the season he spent in Vancouver (2005-06). The year before (0.36) and after (0.44) were both worse. Pyatt scored 2.31 even-strength goals per 60 minutes from 2007-09 but just 2.15 when he skated with others. The Canucks saw more goals per 60 with Kassian skating with the Sedins than when he didn’t, but it was on the defensive side of the puck that Kassian benefited most. He and the Sedins allowed 1.96 goals against per 60, which ballooned to 2.68 for Kassian when he skated without Henrik and Daniel.

Burrows had perhaps the most success and the longest run. He shared over 3,200 minutes with the Sedins at even strength scoring 3.49 goals per 60 minutes — nearly twice the rate of an average top-six forward (1.8). Their best season, 2009-10, saw them average 4.49 goals per 60 minutes as a trio, and Burrows’s average shot distance was less than 26 feet from the net, with a majority of his attempts that year up close and personal to the opposing team’s goaltender.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Burrows said of his time playing with the Sedins. “They are such smart players. They are offensively gifted and their chemistry is just unreal.”

Burrows might be the foremost expert among the ever-changing third wheels.

“First of all, have fun with it,” he said, when asked what advice he’d give to any forward skating with the Sedins. “And then give them the puck as much as you can. Through the neutral zone, let them carry it in. Once in the offensive zone, give them the puck. One will probably be behind the net and the other will be on the half wall. Try to release the puck to them and go to the net. Open some space for them so they can work their magic.”

“We like to get pucks down deep in their end and work them behind their goalie,” Daniel said. “We don’t want to play that up and down, back and forth game. We want to have a lot of zone time and create a lot of offense from there.”

As Desjardins noted earlier, the Sedins are in the middle of a resurgence. Daniel has scored 19 goals, good enough for 11th most in the NHL. Henrik has 27 assists, placing him seventh. And that’s despite playing with six different right wingers this season. Their 16 even-strength goals with winger Jannik Hansen is tied for 10th most among forward combos this season, and that’s with Hansen sidelined since Dec. 26th with an upper body injury.
“They play against the other team’s top line and top D every night and they play big minutes,” Desjardins said. “They feel if they don’t score we aren’t going to win. That’s a tough way to go into every game. It’s a lot of pressure and I have a lot of respect for them.”

Considering the Sedins have been responsible for 27 percent of all the Canucks points this season and have been the driving force that has kept the team in the Western Conference playoff race, the twins likely warrant far more respect, and attention, than they’ve received to this point in the season.