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Let me first say that I think my status as a fan of the Sedin twins is well established.  I praised the Canucks decision to sign them, calling it “pivotal” and describing them as “fantastic” players.  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 superb for years.

Why do I bring this up?  Because I’m about to object to Hart Trophy buzz surrounding the duo.

The primary reason for my objection is the way that Alain Vigneualt has used the Sedin twins this season.

Zone starts are a simple measure of how often a player starts in the offensive zone versus the defensive zone.  If we look at every single player in the National Hockey League (with certain sensible minimums: 20 games played, an average of at least 5:00 even-strength minutes per game), we find that the Sedins have been gifted with an incredibly advantage: their line starts in the offensive zone more than any other in the entire league.  Here are the league leaders:

1. Daniel Sedin: 74.2% of shifts started in the offensive zone

2. Henrik Sedin: 71.1% of shifts started in the offensive zone

3. Alex Burrows: 70.0% of shifts started in the offensive zone

4. Marc-Andre Bergeron: 69.7% of shifts started in the offensive zone

5. Patrick Kane: 68.7% of shifts started in the offensive zone

6. Vincent Prospal: 67.9% of shifts started in the offensive zone

7. Mats Zucccarello: 67.7% of shifts started in the offensive zone

8. Patrick Sharp: 67.2% of shifts started in the offensive zone

9. George Parros: 65.5% of shifts started in the offensive zone

10. Sheldon Brookbank: 64.9% of shifts started in the offensive zone

Alain Vigneualt has been very, very judicious in his use of the Sedin twins.  It makes sense: they’re the team’s best offensive players, and the Canucks have been blessed with strong defensive options up front, so why not start them in the offensive zone time and again?

The problem is that neither is running away with the scoring race, and their competitors don’t have the same advantage.  Corey Perry and the Tampa Bay tandem of Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos have all started more of their shifts in the defensive zone than in the offensive zone, and all three are in the same ballpark as the Sedin twins offensively.

Perry in particular is compelling, and I say this as someone who has always disliked Perry.  Like the Sedins, he has played against the best opposition, but unlike them he’s started in his own end more often than not and played on the penalty kill (where he has five points).  His plus-7 with the Anaheim Ducks (minus-3 as a team) is as least as impressive as the Sedins’ plus-20 somethings with the Canucks (plus-73 as a team).

The Sedins are having good, strong seasons, but they’re getting a lot more help from their coach than the other candidates are.

Comments (15)

  1. Both Daniel Sedin and Corey Perry have played in all 79 games for their respective teams so far this season. Yet Corey has had 1,751 min total ice time, while Daniel only 1,465 min. Both have similar PP time (around 3.5 min/game), but Corey plays 2:16 more even strength per game than Daniel.

    I don’t know how one could run the numbers, but I’m fairly confident that, when it comes to forwards in the top 50 of scoring, minutes will be significantly more correlative to points than offensive zone starts. And even if not significantly more, even if just a little more, consider that Corey Perry has had 20% more ice time than Daniel this year!!!

    I must say that Offensive Zone starts is just a product of the luxury that Alain Vigneault has by virtue of having a deeper lineup. In my opinion it’s ridiculous to discount a player’s importance because he happens to play on a very good and deep team (so I’m not particularly impressed with your argument about +/- either).

    The Sedins, and Daniel in particular (Henrik plays more than Daniel), produce amazing numbers, and it’s even more amazing considering Daniel plays the least amount of minutes per game of any player in the top 20 scoring. Of course, I am a Canucks fan, but it’s a no brainer for me.

  2. @ Beantown Canuck:

    Good points, and I thank you for bringing them up.

    Admittedly, I didn’t notice the big difference in ice time between Perry and Sedin initially; it does change the picture somewhat.

  3. @Beantown Canuck:
    Not to take anything away from Daniel or Henrik (who have both been spectacular the last two years especially), but when dealing with the Hart Trophy (or MVP), it should go to the player who is most valuable to his team. I am aware that it really doesn’t work like that in any sport, but it should.

    While the Sedins are definitely important to the Canucks, you can make the argument that they are talented and deep enough that they would be able to compensate without maybe one of them. Probably wouldn’t be winning the President’s Trophy, but they would be in the playoffs.

    What Perry’s plus/minus in relation to his team shows is his great importance to the Ducks this year, especially with the injuries to other players like Getzlaf and Hiller. Not to mention, as other writers have pointed out, how crucial his goals have been to earning the Ducks points (as many have tied games in the third, or won games in both the third and OT).

    That being said, Daniel is easily the front-runner for the trophy, and if he does win, it will be fully deserved. I mean, I still think Perry deserves it, but I would be surprised if he wins it.

  4. They will both get recognition so that’s good, whoever wins will have deserved it. I know Daniel would much rather win a cup than the Hart trophy, and I am sure Corey Perry would rather a cup as well. So just being recognized as the MVP should be enough the make these guys happy, their heads are in the right place.

  5. A major factor to look at when throwing out stats like ‘offensive zone starts’ is that Vancouver is a very good team that very likely has more offensive zone starts as a team than probably any other in the league. If you are constantly pressuring the other team and your opponent can only get whistles through icing or goalie stoppages, then the Canucks as a team will all have a higher than normal percentage of offensive zone starts, not just the Sedins.

    Further, the Sedins never kill penalties. During the PK is when you are likely to have most of your defensive zone starts. If they did kill penalties(which they are actually excellent at if called upon) their offensive zone starts would be lower %-wise and their offensive numbers would still be the same. Only difference would be their overall ice time would be up. These are the 2 reasons their offensive zone starts are high, not because Alain Vigneault is afraid to put the twins out for even strength face-offs in their own end. If you watch the Canucks on any sort of regular basis, you will frequently the Sedins on the ice in the final minute when protecting a one-goal lead.

    The Sedins MVP season shouldn’t be questioned simply because the Canucks happen to be very deep in forwards who are good on the PK. Offensive zone starts is a PK stat, not a coaching stat.

  6. @Garfunkel & Oates
    You have to realize that the numbers Willis shows here are ONLY even strength 5-on-5 numbers, he’s not counting powerplay or penalty kill situations. Although you’re right, they aren’t being used on the PK much this year, because of Vancouver’s ridiculous depth.

    You’re also right in that the Canucks do lead the league in offensive zone starts (as a team, they are at 55%). However the Sedin line is at over 70%, which is extremely high! Only 3 other forwards have had a season >70% over the last 4 years: Aaron Downey, Mike Ribeiro, and Cam Janssen. The top of this list is generally reserved for the type of player who needs to be sheltered and can’t really be trusted defensively (which obviously isn’t true of the Sedins).

    Giving this type of advantage to the Sedins is a luxury that very, very few teams could afford, but this year’s Canucks are one of them. I agree with Willis that using them in this manner is a deliberate tactic by Vigneault.

  7. @Beantown & @Jonathan Willis

    Regarding icetime, I used to think the same thing, that the Sedins’ get less icetime and still challenge for the tops in scoring. I suspect though that this is also a function of their use. I suspect that they get less icetime because their starts are so measured. And Kesler and especially Malhotra (before the injury) are the ones with the role of moving the puck North. As an aside, the Sedins’ big weakness is they are slow skaters, which is probably another reason for this kind of specialization.

    I am a fan of the Canucks and of the Sedins, but I suspect that Jonathan is right here, and that Corey Perry or Martin St. Louis are probably doing more yeoman’s work for their teams.

  8. @antro
    Is the Hart Trophy meant for “yeoman’s work” though? That seems odd? Do we require the most valuable player to do everything for a team? Does an offensive superstar that scores the majority of his team’s goals need to also kill penalties, throw bodychecks, and shutdown the opposition’s best players in order to be considered for the Hart?

  9. @Skeeter

    Those are good questions, and I think that as fans we are changing our take on what counts as the MVP. Certainly, the others mentioned besides Dank would also count as offensive stars (Perry, Stamkos, and St. Louis), so it’s not like this criterion is being thrown out the window. But it’s no secret that AV tries to get the Sedins out against lesser competition whenever he can, rather than go “power vs power”. And it also seems like the Sedins’ statistical increase was made possible when Kesler broke out as a defensive force (this goes back to Sundin’s signing). As you guys on Pass it to Bulis put it yourselves, Kesler and then Malhotra are enablers.

    So is it more valuable to do all these other things, *and* lead the team offensively? I think so.

    As an aside, Perry has been riding an incredible hot streak in terms of shooting percentage (17+%), and if he were shooting his NHL average, he’d have about 12 goals fewer. But that’s probably true of a lot of leading scorers, including Daniel.

  10. I guess it comes down to differing philosophies on what MVP means… I’m of the opinion that having great teammates shouldn’t diminish your ability to be the MVP… the MVP should be the best player in the league, not the player who helped his otherwise mediocre team soar higher than otherwise deserved. I judge it based entirely on what is in that player’s control. Players don’t decide zone starts or ice time; that’s in the coach’s control, based on what he feels are the needs of the team. Player’s simply control what they do with the ice time they get, and the Sedins are wizards in that department. Clearly no one performs better, offensively speaking, per ice time than either Sedin, and Daniel has a clear lead over Henrik in that department this year as well.

    But if you do go by “how well are you performing given the quality of your team” angle, then you have to consider that Perry’s linemates (Getzlaf and Ryan) have more goals combined and the same amount of points, combined, as Dank’s linemates (Henrik and and Burrows). Anaheim has 5 players (wow!!!!) in the top 25 in scoring in the NHL (Vancouver has 3). If your standard is a player who’s so much more important than any of his teammates, then you should go with Ovechkin or Zetterberg, who are the only two players in the top 10 in league scoring yet have no teammate in the top 30 in scoring—and both play on division-leading teams—that’s impressive! But they both have less goals, less assists, and 20 less points than Daniel, so I mean, come on…

  11. I would like to know the zone stats on a team basis. Maybe the Sedins have high offensive zone stats due to coaching. But it could be that the teams play style has the ENTIRE TEAM starting in the offensive zone more.

  12. Most counter-points I would bring up are already mentioned, but one that hasn’t been is style of play: zone-starts are simply a count of face-offs in the o-zone, not fresh-shift f/o’s in the o-zone. As anyone who has watched the Sedin’s play knows, they are a cycling, puck-possession line; their chances often originate from behind the goal-line and their shots are often from in tight. This means tons of face-offs that their line is the cause of, and any smart coach is going to leave their top line out when they have been putting pressure on.

    Of course, like any top line (see the whole list), AV does what he can to put them in the best position to score, and of course the strong defensive forwards give him more luxury in that department. Either way, I think this stat/argument would be much more valuable if it incorporated o-zone starts with new shift o-zone starts (or % of shifts ending in o-zone stoppages).

    As for Perry’s MVP candidacy: very worthy for sure, but his insane March is the only thing pushing him into this convo, and that’s on a team that may not make the playoffs. Of course, as one poster said, it comes down to definitions.

  13. I’d really like to thank everyone for the level of debate here – it’s been very good.

    With regard to the Canucks offensive zone starts, I’d like to point out that Ryan Kesler is under the 50% mark, while Manny Malhotra (at around 25%) has the worst mark in the entire league.

    Vigneualt’s making a conscious effort to put the Sedins in scoring situations, and it is (well, was) coming at the expense of players like Manny Malhotra and Raffi Torres. It’s a sensible thing for Vigneault to do, given that he has players like the Sedins and Malhotra, and that they excel in particular roles, but it is something we should take into account.

  14. Let me first say that I think my status as a fan of the Sedin twins is…Gay All The Way LOL

  15. [...] method of doling out ice time and circumstances has been mentioned in this space before. Aside from the Sedin twins, no player better represents the Vancouver coach’s habits better than Manny Malhotra. While [...]

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