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Michael Farber of Sports Illustrated has been running hot and cold of late.  Just last week, he ran one of the best pieces of hockey writing I’ve seen in the last year, a detailed look at the players coaches send to the doghouse and the reasons coaches put them there. 

Unfortunately, he followed that up this week with a piece on Vancouver Canucks forward Henrik Sedin that displays a fundamental misunderstanding of why he is such an excellent player.

For starters, the idea that Henrik’s sudden ability to score goals – attributed by Farber to a newfound penchant for shooting from scoring areas – seems fairly unlikely to me.  Shooting percentage is notoriously unstable; it fluctuates seemingly at random, and it’s more likely a run of shots just going in then any fundamental shift in Henrik’s mentality.  The reason I say that with a certain degree of confidence is from a quick look at the second and third years of Henrik’s career.

Year Games G A PTS PPG Shots SH%
2001-02 82 16 20 36 3 78 20.5
2002-03 78 8 31 39 4 81 9.9

 

The usual response to a shift in shooting percentage is that the player is being pickier about his shots, but that clearly wasn’t the case here, since Henrik fired only three more shots but saw his shooting percentage cut by more than 50% – almost all the way back to the level of his rookie year.  A similar effect occurred between 2005-07, as Henrik’s shooting percentage soared to 15.9% before dropping to 7.5%.  Daniel has experienced similar shifts, as have Alex Burrows, Ryan Kesler, Mikael Samuelsson, and the majority of NHL players with long careers.

It’s also worth noting that Henrik and Daniel played together in both of the seasons listed above; there was no desire to fill in for his brother motivating the last surge over 20.0%.  Additionally, that shooting percentage is almost certainly not something that Henrik can sustain; no active player has a career shooting percentage over 20.0% (Alex Tanguay is far and away the most efficient shooter in the league, with a career average of 19.3%).  I don’t want to call it luck, but there is certainly an element of chance to this current run of goal-scoring.

If any of this comes across as a criticism of Henrik Sedin, it shouldn’t.  Because it isn’t his shooting percentage that makes him such a good player, and it wasn’t separation from Daniel that made him such a good player this season.  He certainly changed his style, but I think we can argue that it was for the worse.  Henrik’s numbers with and without Daniel this season, projected over 82 games for full effect:

Henrik Sedin Games Goals Assists Points +/-
Without Daniel: 82 46 36 82 0
With Daniel: 82 30 104 134 +57

 

Those numbers hardly match Farber’s interpretation, which I’ll quote:

Like many of his countrymen, Henrik had to overcome the pass-first reflex he’d learned in the MoDo club system in the Sedins’s hometown of Ornskoldsvik; “the typical-Swede-being-a-nice-guy thing,” Daniel calls it. Says Henrik, “At MoDo, if you have a two-on-one, they expect you to pass. They want you to play for the team, not yourself.”

Looking at the numbers above, Henrik didn’t need to overcome the ‘being-a-nice-guy-thing’;’ he had to embrace it.  Sure, his goal scoring rate is nice and shiny when he’s playing without Daniel, but not only do the points drop off, the plus/minus sinks like a millstone.  Every single coach in the game will take a 30-goal scorer who is on the ice for 57 more goals for than against over a 46 goal-scorer who gives everything back the other way.

The decline in the numbers wasn’t just a result of Daniel’s absence, though.  When the Sedins have been together this year, coach Alain Vigneault has used them in a primarily offensive role – Daniel, for example, leads the team with a 60.2% start rate in the offensive zone.  Henrik’s 5% behind that, largely because he was sent out for a ton of defensive zone work when his brother was out of the line-up.

My final objection is that Henrik’s season represents a breakout.  Both Sedins have been simply incredible players since the lockout -  Henrik’s tied for 10th in scoring over that time span, within 10 points of players like Jarome Iginla and Vincent Lecavalier, and ahead of higher-regarded players like Martin St. Louis, Eric Staal, Henrik Zetterberg, Marian Hossa and Rick Nash Also if interest: of the top-100 scorers since the lockout, exactly six have a better plus/minus than Henrik’s plus-79 rating (since going minus-2 as a rookie, Henrik’s never had a negative plus/minus).  This was already a player who should be recognized as one of the league’s best players.

This year, stuff is going his way.  I’ve mentioned Henrik’s personal shooting percentage, but his on-ice percentage at even-strength (12.61) is one of the best in the league.  None of this is controllable; Henrik can influence them, but not by much, and the numbers are too high to sustain.  Still, I’m enjoying this aberration (which reminds me of a higher-end version of the same phenomenon that Patrik Elias experienced in 2000-01 or Scott Gomez went through in 2005-06), because it means that both Henrik and Daniel might get the recognition that they have richly deserved for years. 

Even among Canucks fans, it’s been recognition that has only come slowly.  Local columnists, like Tony Gallagher, have implied that the lack of playoff victories by Vancouver somehow plays into their value (although of course he ignored the gold medal collected with Sweden in 2006), and that comparisons to Zetterberg are “delusional”. 

I almost hope Henrik wins the Hart at the end of the year; it would finally cement his reputation where it deserves to be: right next to the best players in the league. 

Comments (11)

  1. Uhm Jon not to question your writing skills or anything but should your with and without Daniel rows be reversed? It kind of defeats your argument when he’s a plus 57 and scoring 134 without Daniel. Compared to being an even player and scoring just 82 with. Might want to change that before to many people see your mistake.

  2. Thanks, Devon. Serves me right for picking on Farber.

  3. Ha! I read this article in SI just a day or two ago and as soon as I saw Farber quoting shooting % I KNEW you’d be all over this one. Another good piece as usual J-Dub!

    Side note: Am I the only one baffled by Farber’s inconsistency? Agree that the doghouse piece was awesome, but much of his other work this season has been close to tripe. For his all-decade team he picked J.S. Giguere as the 2nd team goalie (Brodeur was first). Really? Giguere??

    But despite his smattering of sub-par columns I usually enjoy him and find him thoughtful and intelligent on The Reporters w/ Dave Hodge and co. What gives?

  4. Good column Jonathan. I did want to point out that Henrik was shooting a lot more when Daniel was out of the lineup so there was a significant change in his mindset. As you say, it may have been for the worse (or maybe Mason Raymond is just not as good as Daniel Sedin). His shot rate came back to normal once Daniel came back into the lineup so it hasn’t been a lasting change, but I found it interesting.

  5. Greg: I have no idea, but I’ve had similar thoughts. Farber can be brilliant or brutal or anywhere in between.

  6. Scott Reynolds: Fair point. I actually meant to point the shot rate thing out (right after the ‘nice-guy-Swede’ thing) and obviously that didn’t hurt his goal totals either. I’m in agreement with Farber that it’s a partial contributer.

    It’s hard to know how much of the difference in Henrik’s play with Daniel gone was a product of mindset change, dropoff in linemate skill or QC/zone starts, but I don’t think the latter two can fully explain the chasm.

  7. Ah we all make mistakes, But a little bit off the Daniel and Henrik topic but still with the Canucks. What do they do once they get Demietra in the line up. That second line of Kessler, Raymond and Samuelsson has been ok to good. But with Demietra back who do they drop down? Raymond in a hope of getting Wellwood and Bernier going? Cause Demietra will only be effective in a top six role.

  8. Devon:

    The Canucks need to bring in some bottom-six guys. They’re fine up top but need guys who can actually play hockey on their bottom two lines.

  9. [...] to get back to Henrik Sedin briefly. This article from Hockey or Die about sums up why I consider the Sedins superstars in the NHL. Here's a significant quote: [...]

  10. @Devon

    It appears they’re content with playing Demitra on the third-line with Wellwood, at least until he gets his legs under him. Of Kesler, Raymond, and Samuelsson, the odds-on favorite to be dropped to the third line would be Samuelsson.

  11. [...] I wrote an article describing the twins as “perpetually underrated” in the spring of 2009.  I called for Henrik Sedin to win the Hart trophy last season, and objected to descriptions of his 2009-10 season as a “breakout year” – since he has been [...]

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