Two of a kind: Sedin twins' connection, class for Canucks won't be duplicated

They've come a long way from coffee and cheesecake.

On Tuesday, Henrik and Daniel Sedin announced in an open-letter to fans — not just of the Vancouver Canucks, but hockey fans — that they'll retire together following the 2017-18 season. Like Daniel said, they "came in as teammates, and we should leave as teammates, too." And like their first-year head coach Travis Green said, "It’s not very often that Hall of Fame players get to go out on their own terms, and where it’s scripted a little bit."

But this is the Sedins we're talking about, and while their careers started out under very uncertain, dubious terms, their 18-year tenures in Vancouver will be remembered for a workmanlike precision, the class and prestige they brought to their name, and the beautiful, at times frightening symmetry two of the most accomplished brothers in athletics were able to produce.

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So of course, they'll skate off into the sunset with two final games at Rogers Arena, where fans will deify them for the final times in a Canucks sweater — at least until Vancouver raises Nos. 33 and 22 to the rafters at a later date.

The concept of "uniqueness" is overused and misapplied in sports, because it quite literally means being the only one of its kind; unlike anything else.

But the Sedin brothers? They were unique, a trait that will stand the test of time because of their style of play and the success they enjoyed — all with the same franchise, all playing side-by-side, with the same nameplate, and as twins.

***

The 1999 NHL Draft was pegged as one of the deepest classes in history in the months leading up to the event.

Now with the benefit of hindsight, it was anything but that, but it did produce a flurry of trades that molded the fortunes and futures of a number of franchises.

Henrik and Daniel Sedin were considered two of the top prospects available, both pegged to have their names called very early. It's not often a single team can grab both of those players. But then-Canucks general manager Brian Burke was ambitious, and he executed.

"That draft day we expected to end up on different teams, and somehow they managed to get us both," Daniel said.

Vancouver and Burke owned the third overall pick, but the objective was to obtain another high selection so he could select both Sedins. Burke got the fourth pick from the Blackhawks in exchange for All-Star defenseman Bryan McCabe and another first-rounder, but even that didn't guarantee him a chance at drafting both Sedins.

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Then, on the morning of the draft, Burke managed to acquire the No. 1 overall selection from the Lightning for two third-rounders and the No. 4 pick Burke had just traded for.

The final piece of the puzzle necessitated sending that No. 1 overall pick to the expansion Atlanta Thrashers in exchange for their No. 2 pick and a guarantee they would not get on the draft podium and call the name of either Sedin.

Now selecting second and third, Burke had the inside track to both Sedin brothers.

It was a remarkable amount of work considering Burke's poor first impression scouting the Sedin twins in Sweden while they were playing in the Swedish Elite League.

"I went over to watch them play for Modo and they were awful,” Burke told The Calgary Sun on Monday. “I was so mad I wouldn’t go down to talk to them after the game. I told Thomas Gradin (the Canucks' Sweden scout), ‘If they don’t have the flu I’m getting fired… and so are you.’”

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There was a sufficient excuse though: The teenage twins had stayed up all night prior to the game studying for a calculus test.

"I could live with that,” Burke said.

But after that kind of wheeling and dealing — and with where they were selected in their draft class — the expectations for the Sedins were immense from the onset.

The Canucks were in a transition process. Vancouver made the playoffs for six consecutive seasons from 1991-96. They lost in the 1994 Stanley Cup Final to the Rangers. Gone were some of the leading faces on those teams like Alexander Moginly, Trevor Linden and Pavel Bure.

"I came back early in their second season," said Linden, the Canucks' current president of hockey operations. "They had a rough go. They were high picks, and playing behind the West Coast Express (Markus Naslund, Brendan Morrison, and Todd Bertuzzi), and trying to figure things out.

"They were unfairly criticized at times and it was hard for them."

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Considering the brothers turned 20 right before making their NHL debuts, their rookie-season production doesn't look like such a red flag, even in a higher-scoring era. Daniel scored 20 goals in 75 games; Henrik has 20 assists in 82. But in their first three respective seasons, neither brother cracked the 40-point plateau and in Year 4 went for 54 (Daniel) and 42 (Henrik).

Even if they were improving, it wasn't at a pace that was expected, and critics in a boisterous Canadian market made their voices heard.

"There were a lot of people who believed in us early on that were part of us this organization," Henrik said. "If they would have listened to a lot of voices outside of this room, it would have been easy to trade us early on because we didn’t live up to the hype that we came with.

"There are a lot of those people that we want to thank, because without them we might have been somewhere else. For us too we wanted to show people that we could play, and we tried to come in every year better, and that’s been our mindset from day one."

After four unremarkable years in the NHL, the 2004-05 lockout put the Sedins' respective careers on hold. They both returned to their native Sweden, where they played out the season for Modo, their first professional team. When the NHL struck a labor agreement and play resumed in 2005-06, the Sedins looked like new players: Henrik recorded career-highs in goals (18), assists (57) and points (75) with Daniel also establishing new highs in all of those categories (22-49=71).

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Linden has been by their side through it all. When the Sedins first broke into the league under the old collective bargaining agreement, players would room together on road trips.

Naturally, Henrik and Daniel would always bunk up, while Linden made a point to room with another Swede, Mattius Ohlund, a player the Sedins clung to in their early days.

When they had off nights on the road, the Sedins would order coffee and cheesecake to their hotel room. Linden and Ohlund often joined them to eat and chat.

"Clearly that went by the wayside because they became the fittest guys," Linden said. "When I think about them that year they were boys. They were not fit. The work they put in to get to where they got to has been remarkable. We’ve said it every year 10 years now: They come to training camp and their faces are chiseled."

The Sedins' commitment to their craft is one of the reasons they became a hallmark of consistency, not just in their ability to constantly produce at a high level, but in life.

"We care about our teammates," Daniel said. "If they can say that we always came in to practice or games in the mornings the same way, win or loss, if we had two goals or minus-four, we still came in the day after the same way. That’s something we really take a lot of pride in and I hope that’s been the case."

Midway through that breakout 2005-06 season came perhaps their greatest accomplishment on a team level during their professional careers.

At 26 years old, both brothers were selected to their first Olympic team. In an unpredictable tournament, Canada and the United States combined to go 4-5-1 in the qualification round before both were eliminated in the quarterfinals. Sweden defeated Switzerland, then the Czech Republic, and finally arch-rival Finland to capture gold. Henrik scored in the semifinal victory — a goal assisted by Daniel, of course.

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Henrik scored three times in the tournament, all assisted by his brother. Daniel chipped in with a goal himself, assisted by Henrik.

The following season, the Canucks got a new head coach in Alain Vigneault and made the playoffs for the fifth time in six years with the Sedins, but really for the first time with Henrik and Daniel driving the bus. Bertuzzi was gone, Naslund was declining, and it was the first season Daniel and Henrik finished 1-2 on the team in points (with 84 and 80, respectively, both carer highs).

"For the seven years that I was there, you couldn't get more accountable guys that took it on their shoulders at anybody to blame anything on," Vigneault said. "And any time they had success, and they had a lot of success, it was always everybody else. They were unreal examples to follow."

In 2009-10, Henrik exploded for 112 points, winning both the scoring title and MVP honors. Not to be outdone, Daniel responded with 104 points in 2010-11, winning a scoring title of his own. But he finished second in a tight MVP vote to Corey Perry, settling for a Ted Lindsay Award, given to the league's best player as voted by the players.

"[Daniel] probably should have won one that one year in there but he didn’t get it," former teammate Cory Schneider said.

It's perhaps the only thing in their careers the twins haven't shared.

***

The major knock on the Sedins, one that changes the narrative surrounding their careers (fair or unfair), is the lack of a Stanley Cup.

They came closest in 2011, pushing the Bruins to a Game 7 but ultimately losing. In 25 playoff games, Henrik recorded 22 points and Daniel 20. In that decisive Game 7, each twin was held without a point and both finished the game a minus-4. Even if that statistic does a poor job of painting a true picture of performance, it's a lasting image the Sedins will ultimately have tied to their legacies.

"Game 7, Stanley Cup Final, you want to pull that out for sure," Daniel said. "We had a lot of good teams throughout the years here, and that team was special for sure. There was something about that team that was special to us. That’s one thing you have to remember: The highlights of my career, but the lowest point, too."

The Canucks began to slowly decline on a team level form there. While poor personnel decisions curtailed an ability to re-tool and take advantage of their talents, the Sedins remained dominant.

We can go all the way back to 2007-08 to track the Sedin's five-on-five time on ice played together, and their puck possession numbers. Since that season, the twins have played 9,820 five-on-five minutes together, and 1,073 minutes apart. And in their time together, they've produced a Corsi-for percentage of 55.73, with 9,939 shot-attempts for and 7,894 attempts against, according to NaturalStattrick.com.

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Simply put, when Daniel and Henrik were on the ice together, they controlled play at an supremely high level.

"From a fan’s standpoint, I just love watching them play," Linden said. "They played the game in such a unique way, the way they’ve created time and space with their ability to find one-another and put pucks into dead zones has been so much fun to watch for so long. I’ll miss watching that."

Taking the puck away from the Sedins in the offensive zone was a project in and of itself. Watching them was like watching two players functioning not only on the same wavelength, but using the same brain. Their passing sequences looked choreographed, each stride perfectly in concert and two seconds ahead of the defense.

"I was able to ride shotgun with those guys for a few years," said Alex Burrows, now a member of the Senators.

From 2009-13, Burrows played the majority of his minutes on the Sedin's line, spending 2,487 even-strength minutes with the twins, according to Corsica.Hockey. Over that time, the line had a Corsi-for percentage of 58.91 and scored 155 goals versus 67 against (when playing away from the Sedins, Burrows has been a negative possession player).

"It was unbelievable," he said. "... It was pretty fun."

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There was a time early in the regular season when it looked like, despite a young roster many felt was better suited for a rebuild, the Canucks would contend for a playoff spot. On Nov. 22 — American Thanksgiving, a pretty good barometer in the standings for which teams will make the playoffs — the Canucks were tied for seventh in the Western Conference.

"We started the year with the mindset that a decision would be made in the postseason," the Sedins' retirement letter read.

But injuries and reality caught up to a Vancouver roster that was always destined for the draft lottery.

"It’s been an ongoing discussion throughout the year," Henrik said. "We’ve kind of known for a long time. A bit earlier in the season we were leaning toward this, but still, you don’t want to make a final decision. You never know how you’re going to feel down the stretch, and we wanted to come and play every game, don’t treat us as a ‘good-bye season’ or those kind of things. It’s been pretty easy to show up for the games."

There was an open dialogue with Canucks brass, who encouraged the Sedins, if they knew for sure they were going to retire, to allow for this type of in-season announcement.

"We said we’ll revisit this as we get closer to the end of the year," general manager Jim Benning said, "and the only thing that we did ask is if they knew 100 percent this is it, it’s going to be a great opportunity for our fans to show their appreciate for everything that they’ve meant to our organization the last 18 years."

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That part wasn't quite as simple as it sounds. For as successful as the Sedins have been, and for all the awards and accolades they've collected, they never sought out the spotlight.

"They’ve always been quick to take accountability and responsibility," Schneider said.

The former Canucks goaltender was teammates with the Sedins from 2008-13, including in the 2011 run to the Cup Final.

"They don’t look for accolades and attention," he said. "They don’t necessarily want to be in the spotlight, but they’re the first ones step up when things aren’t going well and say, ‘This is on us; we’re the leaders of this group and we need to figure a way out of it.’ That’s what the best leaders do, and the guys you need to have in your room, and they’ve been doing it for a long time."

It was a major talking point when the Sedins fielded questions Monday at Rogers Arena following the announcement.

Some people say you might be better people off the ice than players on it. Which means more to you?

"Well, it might mean that we’re terrible players," joked Henrik. "People can think what they want about us on the ice; it’s their opinions. Some fans like us and some fans don’t like us. The least you can do is come in and treat people like they should be treated, and come in with a smile on your face. That’s what we try to do."

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There are countless Sedin stories about how they impacted and benefited their community. In 2010, the Sedins donated $1.5 million to help build a new British Columbia Children's Hospital. The donation was intended to be private before the brothers were encouraged to go public to help attract other donors.

In 2016, the NHL changed the format of its All-Star Game, moving to a 3-on-3 divisional tournament, with the players on the winning team getting a $91,000 prize. When the Pacific Division won the inaugural tournament, Daniel gave all his winnings to the Canucks' training staff.

"They’re such good people," Linden said. "They’ve done such amazing things in their community, and to be able to do this for our fans and for the game of hockey, because the real sad part about this is the game is losing two incredible ambassadors that represented the game so great."

The Sedins' production has begun to decline, but they're still prominent players in the Canucks lineup. They've combined for 100 points (52 for Daniel, 48 for Henrik) and rank second and third on Vancouver, respectively, trailing only rookie Brock Boeser.

Green reduced their ice time this season, with each averaging right around 15 minutes, but even that turned into a good story.

"Here are two guys, Hall of Fame players, that I’m coming in and cutting their ice time by quite a bit, and you worry about that as a coach," Green said. "You worry about the leadership in the room. I never once really worried. They were on board, and that just shows you how special they are."

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They're also still mainstays on a power play unit that is converting at just under 24 percent, third best in the NHL.

"When you’re in the heat of the battle — we’re trying to build a culture, and one that’s about winning, and what it takes to win," Green said. "They’re second and third on our team in scoring, and they’re going to be on the ice."

It raises the question as to whether the Canucks could truly take the next step of their rebuild without H. Sedin and D. Sedin on the roster.

"Organizationally it’s a continuation of a transition," Linden said.

In a press conference for the retirement announcement of the two best players in your franchise's history, no one can use any terms that make this seem like a good thing for the organization. Linden and Green both danced and challenged the idea the Sedins retirement could be any form of good from a competitive standpoint.

And while the Sedins are still very productive players whose losses will be felt next season, the Canucks needed to turn the page to a new chapter. They've fumbled around their rebuild with questionable personnel decisions that call to question a true, singular vision.

The Sedins were both in the final years of identical four-year, $28 million contracts, meaning $14 million comes off the books next season. The Canucks are projected to have over $23 million in cap space without many new deals needing to be struck with current roster players.

Should they choose, the Canucks could be aggressive in free agency. Benning said they also like the young core they're building.

"We started kind of talking about it," he said. "We didn’t know this decision was going to come down until about a week ago. That’s something we’ll be looking to at the offseason."

Green said a number of those players are already getting opportunities.

"I don’t believe that we held any players back this year by [the Sedins] playing," he said. "I don’t think it would have been any different next year. It’s easy to play ‘what-if’ but we don’t have to. The fact is that they’ve decided that they’re not coming back, so for me, do I need to analyze what affect it would have next year? No, because it doesn’t matter anyway, and it didn’t have an affect this year."

Still, a healthy Boeser (20), Bo Horvat (22) and Sven Baertschi (25), the Canucks' probable top line, will also assume bigger leadership roles. Then there is Gaudette, 21, who just signed out of college as the top scorer in the nation, and Elias Pettersson, 19, Vancouver's 2017 draft pick (No. 5 overall) who tore up the 2018 World Junior Championship and has put up impressive numbers as a teenager in the Swedish Elite League.

Olli Juolevi, 19, also selected at No. 5 (2016), is still overseas as well, playing in Finland.

And then there's the Canucks' 2018 draft pick, which should be in the top five. The Canucks enter play Tuesday 27th in the NHL, but a bad (or good) finish in their final three games could see them slip to 30th.

"We have some players that can step up and assume more," Linden said. "At the same time we have to be careful with some of our young players that they’re prepared and ready to take the next step."

Of the players already at the NHL level, though, they've had two great mentors.

"We have a lot of older guys on this team right now, too that they can learn from," Daniel said. "That’s not an issue. They’re going to be really good. There are going to be a lot of good leaders in this locker room."

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Just maybe don't ask them to pick up the tab for team meals on the road, a privilege previously assumed by the Sedins.

"There are lot of cheap Canadians on this team," Henrik said. "Maybe (it will be) a Swede."