The Vancouver Twittersphere once again did what it does best last night. By that, of course, I mean they yelled at each other until they tired themselves out, over something that should be blatantly obvious to any remotely informed fan in any market. Something so obvious, you barely have to watch a game or look at a spreadsheet to know that the argument is silly.
Yes, they were arguing about the merit of Henrik and Daniel Sedin. Things started with this tweet from Tommi Seppala of Finnish publication Yle Urheilu:
One of the weirdest things in Vancouver right now: Twins are actually hurting the team taking lazy and stupid penalties. Night after night. it doesn't look good with those letters on their jerseys. #Canucks
— Tommi Seppälä (@TommiSeppala) March 10, 2018
Intuitively, I could see this happening to the Sedins over time, just like any other player. If you weren’t paying any attention whatsoever, it wouldn’t be an unfair assumption to assume that, because they’re 37 years old now, they’re probably slower than they used to be, and because the Canucks are bad, they have the puck less, and as such, they’re chasing it more and having to be more desperate, hence taking more penalties. But do the numbers agree with that?
Not remotely. The Sedins are having one of the most disciplined full seasons of their past decade of hockey, with their best differential and raw taken counts since 2014/15, which in itself was the year where they took the fewest penalties in a full (read: not lockout-shortened) season in the fancy stat era. “The Sedins are hurting the team with penalties” feels like a statement full of recency bias, in the sense that Henrik and Daniel have combined for at least one penalty in each of Vancouver’s last three games.
But let’s dive deeper into the discussion.
I agree with Tommi. Their inability to play at pace has become glaringly deficient. That they are taking bad penalties doesn't help.
They get the bulk of O-zone starts and PP1 time. They are a liability in their own zone. They have 23 goals between them.
— Aynsley Scott (@HockeyMinister) March 10, 2018
Has a lack of pace dragged the rest of the team down? Let’s take a quick and dirty look at how players who have played with the twins this year have fared with and without them, as far as controlling the flow of the game.
|Henrik Sedin||Daniel Sedin|
|Loui Eriksson||204||55.2||46.2||Loui Eriksson||180||57.5||45.6|
|Jake Virtanen||185||54.9||46.9||Jake Virtanen||167||54.2||47.4|
|Thomas Vanek||174||53.6||42.5||Thomas Vanek||160||54.2||42.1|
|Brock Boeser||103||50.7||47.6||Brock Boeser||99||53.3||47.2|
|Nikolay Goldobin||54||48.7||47.7||Nikolay Goldobin||49||48||47.9|
|Markus Granlund||30||39.2||46.5||Sam Gagner||28||55.3||45.5|
|Jussi Jokinen||23||45||43.8||Markus Granlund||26||49||46|
|Sam Gagner||22||52.5||45.9||Jussi Jokinen||25||45||43.8|
|Sven Baertschi||22||34.1||46.5||Bo Horvat||21||52.8||48.7|
|Brendan Gaunce||12||51.7||45.8||Brandon Sutter||21||36.5||42.7|
Of the ten Canucks forwards that spent time with each respective Sedin (themselves excluded), we have eight that have a better share of shot attempts with Henrik than without him (six by over 5%), and nine who have a better share with Daniel than without him (six by over 5%). While there is truth to the fact that Henrik and Daniel have the most lopsided share of offensive and neutral zone faceoffs on the team, the long-term impact on possession that those starts have on full-year stats is oft-disputed, in part because of the lack of significant disparity in frequency between a high and low percentage player in most cases, and in part because most game action comes on the fly.
Back to the list. If the Sedins’ pace was a massive detriment, you’d assume that a line that featured them and Thomas Vanek, which has an approximate top speed of a pack of garden snails, would get stuffed at even strength. Instead, They picked up 56% of the shot attempts, which sits them fifth among 34 forward lines in Vancouver this year that have played at least 20 minutes together. In fact, lines with the Twins on them currently take up half of the Top 9 trios, sitting in 1st (Eriksson), 3rd (Virtanen), 5th (Vanek), 8th (Boeser), and 9th (Goldobin).
There is one in 27th, though, and that’s the line with Jussi Jokinen. They sit at 43% possession, unlike the other five that are between 53-58%. That group started playing together… three games ago. Hmm.
You are aware of roles? Deployments? Not the same, not even close. Not a good comparison IMO.
I like the Sedins as much as anyone. But their usage will prevent others from benefiting and growing from that ice-time. Gudbranson at 3 years I'm fine with, 4 I wouldn't have been.
— Aynsley Scott (@HockeyMinister) March 10, 2018
Perhaps the best argument against having the Sedins play is that they could be roadblocks to other players getting minutes. After all, this is a rebuilding team, and as such, young players should be getting more minutes, and opportunities to succeed.
This falls apart once you look at, well, the entirety of the Vancouver Canucks roster, though. The only centre, development age or not, that deserves to play in Henrik’s minutes is 22-year-old Bo Horvat. This year, Horvat plays two and a half minutes more per game at even strength than Henrik, plays on the PK while Henrik doesn’t, and is within eleven seconds of him on the powerplay. Brandon Sutter, himself already 29 years old and still chasing his first over-40 point season, has played two minutes more per game than Henrik, including having an edge at even strength. I guess you can say that he’s forced 28-year-old Sam Gagner to spend more time on the wing?
On Daniel’s left wing, he’s theoretically competing with Loui Eriksson, Sven Baertschi, Thomas Vanek – come – Brendan Leipsic, Darren Archibald, and Reid Boucher for minutes. Again, none of these players are dragged-down youngsters. Leipsic got here a week ago and is playing the most he’s ever played in his career. Baertschi, when healthy, played about a minute more per game than Daniel. Loui Eriksson is 32 (and mostly plays on the right side these days), Vanek was 34, and like Eriksson, would often moe to the right. Archibald, while a nice story, is 28. Boucher might have the best case at 24 but hasn’t done shown himself to require second line minutes.
Vancouver’s issue isn’t making room for their top minute-ready young players. Vancouver’s top three forwards in per-game ice time are Bo Horvat, Brendan Leipsic, and Brock Boeser. Sven Baertschi sits 7th, and if you take away Leipsic’s week and a half and Eriksson, who only plays the position in stints, you have your leader in LW ice time.
Where Vancouver is holding back younger players is not in the top six, but at the bottom, and along the defence corps. It’s the Sutters, Gagners, Vaneks and Jokinens that have created the logjam up top, rather than running a younger, experimental scoring bottom six in a year that matters more for lessons than it does for wins anyway. It’s signing Michael Del Zotto (27) in the summer and extending players like Alex Biega (29) mid-season. It’s Ben Hutton sitting in the press box at 24 while Erik Gudbranson gets thrust into minutes he’ll never be able to handle, and handed a multi-year extension at 26.
The Canucks’ issue of having too many players that aren’t young enough to help the team when they’re ready to be competitive is very real, but it doesn’t start with the Sedins. They’re sitting back while the best of the youth get their chances to play, and are grossly ahead of the second tier, many of whom aren’t exactly kids anymore either. It seems very disingenuous to point fingers at them, as they continue to have productive and positive seasons in the twilight of their careers, and continue to be one of the few silver linings for fans needing a reason to keep tuning into games.
Using anecdotal evidence that reads a lot like “they weren’t great last week” might seem like a good way to sound future-focused, but deflects from the team’s actual issues.---
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