It was classic Sedins.
Henrik Sedin and his brother, Daniel, fought for the puck behind the Toronto Maple Leafs net and Henrik pushed out of the scrum, kicking the puck with his right skate to his stick. Working to get to the front of the net, Henrik held off Leafs centre Nazem Kadri at close distance with his left arm and carried the puck around on his stick with his right hand.
There were two minutes left in the first, the end of a particularly scrappy and agitated opening period of play last Saturday in Vancouver. The Canucks were up 1-0 and pressing 4-on-4.
Then, came a charging Joffrey Lupul, his right elbow flared towards Henrik’s head.
The Canucks forward tucked the puck away from Lupul, ducked the attack – Lupul’s shoulder crashed into Kadri’s face – and, regrouping, Henrik gripped his stick with both hands and made a no-look backhand pass between his legs across the crease to open ice. The only missing magic this time was the absence of Daniel waiting in the clear to put home a goal, having trailed the melee his brother was swarmed in.
“They just make passes that you don’t normally see anybody else make,” said goaltender Roberto Luongo, who has backstopped the Canucks since 2006-07, and had the prime vantage to observe the era in which the Sedins rose from skilled second-line curiosities to scoring-title winners.
“They know each other so well. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like for other goalies facing them four, five, six times a year.”
The Sedins reached the elite of the NHL later than some forwards. It was the 2008-09 season, at 28, when both brothers produced a point-per-game campaign in the same season. In the half-decade since, Henrik has been the No. 2 scorer in the league and Daniel No. 5.
The past two seasons, however, saw something of a slump, in relative terms, as the Sedins both dipped below a point per game. So it was a looming question ahead of this season, the year before free agency, how well the Sedins would fare, whether the fade would deepen, and whether the Canucks should still stake 20 per cent of the team’s salary cap on them.
The twins answered resoundingly. At 33, they are re-energized under new head coach John Tortorella, only the third bench boss of their 13-season career. As they play short-handed minutes for the first time in eight years, and handle more defensive zone work at even-strength, their scoring punch has revived. Prior to Wednesday’s games, Henrik was tied for second in league scoring (20 points), while Daniel was tied for ninth (17 points).
Last Friday, they signed mirror, four-year contract extensions, with a raise to $7-million (U.S.) each per season – less than what they would have seen on the open market.
The twin brothers, while obviously richly remunerated, have not focused on cash. Their families love Vancouver, the children are in school, the players are part of the community. In 2010, the brothers gave $1.5-million to B.C. Children’s Hospital.
“People who know us know that money is a small part,” Henrik said last Friday. “You’re maybe going to get better money somewhere else but that was never part of the discussion.”
The Sedins are one of the most extraordinary pairs in the history of all sports and the Canucks have made a big bet in their declaration that the two Swedes will be the pillars of the franchise as they play into their mid-30s, a time when most forwards suffer noted declines.
In a way, there was little choice, as the two could not be immediately replaced in any substantial way, if they left. And backers of the brothers believe they will be able to somewhat sidestep the typical slowdown, with their game that relies on brains and not brawn and foot speed. People point to another Swede, Detroit Red Wings forward Daniel Alfredsson, who is near a point-per-game as he turns 41 next month.
Never mind the Sedins’ fitness fanaticism, legendary among their teammates.
“Every year,” Luongo said, “when they show up at training camp, they’re the most-conditioned players on the team. That’s why they’re able to stay on top, success year after year, and dominate, and make those plays we all watch.”
As the Canucks have slid from the top rank of the league – having coming within 60 minutes of the Stanley Cup 2 1/2 years ago – the team leans on their two stars more heavily than ever.
Henrik’s average of 22 minutes 50 seconds a game is second-most among forwards in the NHL, behind linemate Ryan Kesler and ahead of Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby, and is more than three minutes more per game than he has ever played. Daniel is fourth in average time played, also more than three minutes more than he has seen before.
“It feels good,” said Henrik, the Canucks captain. “We’ve said all along that we’re not going to lose offence from playing [penalty kill] or taking more defensive-zone faceoffs. We’ve shown it this year.”
And there is always the Sedins magic, the on-ice wizardry of seemingly telepathic twins.
“And then,” Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa said, “they do something above and beyond.”
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