It’s a rite of passage for every player that’s laced up the skates in the last 17 years for the Vancouver Canucks:
On the ice, it’s easier. You have nameplates. You have numbers. You have Henrik at center, where he’s amassed 1,037 points in 1,278 career games, with 798 assists. You have Daniel at left wing, with 1,003 points in 1,255 games, with 376 goals.
Off the ice? When the twins walk out of the dressing room wearing identical outfits — yes, in true twin tradition, they often dress alike — with their hair neatly trimmed in the same manner?
“I took it as a challenge,” recalled Anaheim Ducks defenseman Kevin Bieksa, a close friend of the Sedins who played with them from 2005 through 2015. “I tried to get on top of it right away. It really only took me about a month. Once you figure it out … they’re not totally different, but they have very, very different personalities.”
This is true. Henrik can be blunter than Daniel, who can be a bit more introspective. Like Bieksa said, they’re not totally different: Both players are universally adored by those who have played with them in Vancouver.
“Every young guy I’ve ever talked to who played in Vancouver raves about their work ethic and the kind of people they are,” said Mike Babcock, head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“I think everyone’s heard the stories about how good of guys they are. But until you actually wake up, day in and day out, and go to the rink with them, you don’t realize how great they really are,” said Bieksa. “Under those circumstances, people can get on your nerves over time, just naturally. But they’re two guys that never got on your nerves. Easy, humble. Never complained about a thing.”
That last virtue has gotten more work than the Sedins have this season for the Canucks.
The twins turned 37 in September, and they’re averaging their lowest ice time in roughly a dozen seasons under new head coach Travis Green, who is less than 10 years their elder. Despite a recent uptick due to injuries in the Canucks’ lineup, Daniel is at 14:20 per game, down from 18:23 last season; Henrik is at 14:34, down from 19:02 last season. This comes after a 2016-17 season that saw the twins post their lowest points per game averages since 2003.
They’re in the last years of their contract in Vancouver, headed for unrestricted free agency next summer. They’ve ceded the top line to a collection of younger offensive talents.
We’re witnessing the twilight of the Sedins. But while that might mean decreased ice time in the short term, that doesn’t mean they won’t try to force the coach’s hand.
“We never talked about ice time [with Green]. Before the season, he said everyone needs to be better. But we honestly knew where the team was. We have great young guys. They need their ice time,” Henrik Sedin told ESPN recently in New York.
“We’re not going to complain. We know what needs to happen for the team to succeed. But we’re going to take what we can, and force him to play us more.”
The NHL’s history is laden with beautiful freaks.
You have the seemingly immortal players like Gordie Howe and Jaromir Jagr. You have Zdeno Chara, a giraffe on skates who nonetheless became one of the NHL’s best defensemen. And then you have the Sedin twins, the first two NHL players to have made a reasonable argument for Hall of Fame enshrinement with two players on the same plaque.
To watch the Sedins is to have seen a duo act as a singular entity. The Canucks maneuvered to draft them Nos. 2 and 3 in the 1999 draft, sensing how vital it was that they play together. Anyone that’s watched them knows that’s the case: Their familial sonar enabled them to make pinpoint passes whose perfect timing was a result of a shared brain. When they cycled in the corner, it was like watching two players do what it took five Russians to accomplish at the height of Soviet hockey dominance.
Even now, 17 years into their careers, there are still flashes of that brilliance.
“I still believe that power play-wise and on the cycle they’re as good as anybody in hockey,” said Babcock, before a recent Leafs game against the Canucks. “Father Time is always going to catch up to you. That’s just the way it is. But they’re still dominant players.”
The Sedins are stars in the NHL; they’re legends in Sweden, winning Olympic and World Championship gold for their home nation and being counted among the greatest players it ever produced.
For Lindholm and other young Swedes, the Sedins have been a standard part of their hockey lives.
“They’ve had a big impact on me,” said Lindholm. “You know those collectors hockey cards? One of my mom’s best friends got a pack, the Sedins were in there, and me and my brother got them. I think that’s my first memory of them. They were still playing in Modo [in the SHL].”
They’ve also had a big impact on the Canucks. Henrik leads the franchise in games played, assists and points; Daniel leads in goals. Henrik is the only Canuck to have won the Hart Trophy, in 2009-10; Daniel finished second to Corey Perry for the Hart in the following season. That’s on the ice; off the ice, they’ve given back on both a grand scale — a $1.5 million donation to a local hospital — and on a small scale, like coaching teams in a local ball hockey tournament.
They’re franchise icons, NHL icons and hockey icons.
When you’re dealing with icons, it’s not exactly easy to tell them to take a back seat, after over a decade of driving the bus. But that’s what Travis Green needed to do in his first year as Canucks coach.
Green was elevated to the Canucks’ head coaching gig after four years with the AHL Utica Comets. He’s one of the NHL’s youngest coaches at 46 years old. This means that the guy telling Henrik and Daniel that they’d have to take a cut in ice time was, in fact, one of their opponents on the ice as late as 2007.
Aren’t coaches supposed to be like a dad, instead of being like your buddy?
“It’s been a little bit different. But it hasn’t been weird at all. It’s actually great to have,” said Henrik Sedin, noting that the twins actually played with assistant coaches Nolan Baumgartner and Manny Malhotra. “He’s been around recently. He knows the league, he knows the players.”
Green sought to establish a peer-to-peer rapport with the Sedins early in the season, offering the chance for frequent postgame debriefings for the three of them.
“Travis said he wants us to come in and talk with him after games. We don’t really, though, because he’s the coach,” said Daniel Sedin. “But me and Henrik talk a lot before and after games. We’re venting. So we don’t really need to talk to Travis that much.”
Daniel Sedin said that despite being contemporaries, there’s still a wall between players and coaches.
“We’ve always looked at it like ‘coach is coach’ and ‘players play.’ If he wants to have a discussion, we’ll have a discussion. For us, we’re here to play hockey. He can do whatever he’s here to do. No different than coaches we’ve had before,” he said.
Henrik said that he, Daniel and Travis Green never had a formal sit-down before the season about their ice time. They didn’t need to. The Sedins understood the necessity for rookie winger Brock Boeser (leading the team with 27 points), 22-year-old center Bo Horvat (10 goals and 10 assists, before his injury) and 25-year-old winger Sven Baertschi (8 goals, 10 assists in 30 games) to get their ice time as the team’s top line.
“You have to understand that we’ve been in that situation too, where maybe we took guys ice time. Or got ice time that older guys wanted, too,” said Daniel Sedin.
The Sedins also knew that Green really liked giving his checking line some work. After the ice time commitments to the first and third lines, the Sedins took what was left.
“We know where this team is at. We’ve had some tough years, and for a team to be successful, everyone has to buy in,” Daniel Sedin said. “So for us to be successful, we need to buy in, and everyone needs to buy in. That’s easy.”
Well, sort of easy.
There is this thing called “pride.” And the Sedins still have a lot of it.
“Man, you want to be out there. That’s how you are as a player. You want to play as much as possible, of course, and in those key situations. Right now, we still get it once in a while. But they want to see [the younger players] as much as possible in those situations,” said Daniel Sedin.
“As hockey players, you want to be out there when it matters. You want to be out there when you need to score a goal. Something that needs to be in a hockey player to be successful, and that’s what we have in us,” said Henrik Sedin. “It’s what’s made us successful. That’s been tough.”
Perhaps the toughest aspect of this change is the way the Sedins have had to recalibrate their internal clocks, which used to tick down to shifts with more regularity.
“You have to be really focused, each and every shift. Sometimes it’s a long time between shifts, and you’re on the bench. So that’s the biggest change. You just have to try and stay focused, and be ready for it. Because you will sometimes get that ice time,” said Daniel Sedin.
This is true. Especially when there’s a significant injury, like the one the Canucks just suffered.
Horvat went on injured reserve last week with a broken foot, putting him on the shelf for up to six weeks. In the two games they’ve played since then, the Sedins have seen an uptick in ice time: Daniel played 17:08 and Henrik played 18:22 in a loss against the Calgary Flames on Saturday.
“We’re going to have to lean on veteran guys. Everyone has to step up in certain areas when those kinds of players go out,” said Green.
So we might get to see more of the Sedins for the next month, as Vancouver tries to stabilize itself during an adverse time. The Canucks are 14-12-2, having gone 5-4-1 in their last 10 games and losing two straight. No one expected them to be in playoff contention this season, which is why Vancouver has been one of the League’s biggest surprises. The hope is that they can hang tight until Horvat returns.
The question is: How much more of the Sedins will we see after this season?
Their contracts — each with a $7 million cap hit, because “twins” is why — are up after this season. Both have full no-move protection, and neither has shown an appetite for leaving Vancouver during the season to play for a contender.
They’ve also never viewed this season as a victory lap before retirement. They wrote in The Players’ Tribune that they might “have a few more years left in us.” They talked with The Province about “being good players” to hopefully “force the Canucks to want to re-sign” them. Daniel Sedin said there’s not been a moment when the twins have discussed this as the end, or a timeline towards the end of their NHL careers.
“No, no, no,” he said, laughing. “This is a big year for the organization. We’ve had some tough times. For us, we want to get into the playoffs and play well, and set up this team for years to come.”
No matter their roles are or what their time on ice adds up to, the goal for Henrik and Daniel Sedin remains the same as it was when they were the ones stealing shifts from veteran players.
“As we explained before the season, when we said that we wanted to stay: It’s important for us that Vancouver make the playoffs. That’s our goal,” said Daniel Sedin.
“We’ll see what happens, and where we go from there.”