Hockey, like all professional sports, is not kind to older athletes. If 65 is a demarcation of retirement for most people, the mid-30s are the hard stop for almost all hockey players. There are barely enough active NHL players 36 and older to fill the roster of a single team.
Among these greybeards is a unique pair: twins Henrik and Daniel Sedin. At 36, the Swedes are in their 16th season on the only NHL team they've ever played for, the Vancouver Canucks. They've led the team for more than a decade and have rarely played apart. On the bench, they sit beside each other, Nos. 33 and 22.
In hockey old age, they continue to approach and pass milestones. And while they are in a long decline from their scoring peaks, they remain productive; they still lead the struggling Canucks and compare well with the few 36-year-olds in NHL history who have put up points.
No two players have been as entwined in the story of one team as the Sedins. They are committed to the Canucks, and management is committed to them. The Sedins, with another year on their contracts, can't really picture playing anywhere else. And they will likely retire together.
Critics may call on the Canucks to tear down the team's roster in an aggressive rebuild – including a Sedins trade. The Trevor Linden-led club, however, sees the twins as essential pillars in transition. And the Sedins, who fell one game short of a Stanley Cup five years ago, have modest aims these days: make the playoffs again, score big goals when it counts and be the bridge between Canucks past and Canucks future.
In mid-December, Vancouver was near the bottom of the NHL, where the team ended last season. The Sedins were producing few points per game – their worst record in a dozen years. Their play at times was sloppy. They were being outscored at even strength. They put fewer shots on net and their power play was, as usual, weak.
"Good games," Henrik said of the season, "and not-so-good games." Daniel said: "Okay, but not great."
They've adapted to age and a weaker team around them. The Sedins play more conservatively now.
"Our margin of error is very slim as a team," Henrik said. "You can't take as many chances."
Vancouver coach Willie Desjardins says he has never seen players who scored so often at the end of shifts, when their conditioning had worn opponents down and their skill could capitalize.
Daniel says it is something they have to get back to.
"It's up to us to score that important goal at the right time," he said. "That's been missing. We'll get there."
On Dec. 20 in Vancouver, it came together long enough to secure a much-needed win. After a difficult first period against the Winnipeg Jets – the Sedins and the Canucks were not good – the second frame was a throwback to what once was. Midway through the period, the Sedins controlled a shift, cycling the puck, pushing offensively for upwards of a minute. Then, from behind the net, Henrik slid a backhand pass into the slot. Daniel set a screen in a scrum with a defenceman. Jannik Hansen fired home the pass to tie the game, propelling Vancouver to a 4-1 win.
It was vintage Sedins. It harkened back to their best years, when they were dominant, when the puck moved from one to the other as if by magnetism, cycling back and forth – Henrik to Daniel, Daniel to Henrik.
The Sedins were drafted in 1999 – Daniel at No. 2 and Henrik at No. 3. They have combined for 1,961 points. Henrik will be the first to reach 1,000, now just four points away. (The 26 other players picked in the first round that year have collected just 2,468 points combined.)
The Sedins probably fall a bit short of a Hockey Hall of Fame career.
At their height, however, they were great.
Though top draft picks, they didn't become top scorers until later. The first big flash came in 2003-04, when 23-year-old Daniel put up 54 points, almost all at even strength. It was an elite production rate.
Their offensive production fired up after the lockout of the following season. When they won their scoring titles – Henrik with 112 points at 29 in 2009-10, and Daniel with 104 at 30 in 2010-11 – their seasons were among the best in NHL history for players at those ages, according to data compiled through hockey-reference.com.
Last season, Daniel hit 61 points – good enough for 34th in the league. Henrik's 55 points put him 63rd.
This season, as of Jan. 3, Henrik is on pace for the mid-50s, Daniel for the high 40s.
Reaching 50 points at 36 is unusual – only 53 players have ever done it.
They are resilient. Henrik played his 1,200th regular-season game on Dec. 22 – the 107th NHL player to do so. Daniel is 18 games away. And to play 1,200 for a single team is rare.
Amid the Canucks' problems, the Sedins feel the team is improving – and Vancouver has gone on a recent run to reach 10th in the Western Conference.
Henrik conceded to running out of gas at the end of last season, finding it hard to muster motivation. Now, he sees potential.
"For us, and as a team, it's about making it back to the playoffs," he said.
As a Vancouver Canuck, they both insist.
When asked if he could see himself in another uniform, Daniel said: "I don't think so. We've been here for so long. We believe in this team."
Henrik agrees. They are stewards of Vancouver's rebuild. "This is the team we want to be a part of," he said. "I see the future being bright here. It might not be this year, it might not be next year, but it's going to be here in the short future. We'll see how long we're a part of it."
Linden, the front-office boss, was an on-ice pillar for the Canucks, much like the Sedins. Linden was chosen No. 2 in the 1988 draft and spent most of his career in Vancouver, retiring here in 2008. The three played together when the Sedins were in their early 20s.
"They're here until they walk in my office and say they don't want to be here," Linden said. "And I don't think that's going to happen."
Beyond their scoring, Linden values the veteran leadership of his captain and assistant captain.
"It's hard to put a price on that," he said.
The days of the Sedins' long careers grow short. They will be 37 next season, their final contract year, but they might play thereafter.
"We come in every day and we try to have the most fun we can have," Henrik said. But continuing to play will depend on whether they can contribute. "We're not going to play just for the sake of playing," Daniel said.
Henrik doubts he or his brother would play on without the other. Their NHL lives will end like they began: together.
"When we decide on that," Henrik said, "I think it's going to be a decision with both of us."