VANCOUVER – The hockey season hasn’t started for real yet but Daniel Sedin has already bettered twin brother Henrik.
Daniel had the highest score among Vancouver Canuck players in a fitness test the team uses as a yardstick to measure conditioning.
“As long as I beat Henrik I’m happy,” Daniel said at the Canucks’ training camp. “That’s all I care about.”
Daniel had extra motivation.
Henrik had beaten him in the VO2 test last year. The test measures the maximum capacity of a body to transport and use oxygen during exercise.
Dealing with the disappointment of losing to the Boston Bruins in last spring’s Stanley Cup final is another reason the brothers from Ornskoldsvik, Sweden, worked so hard training this summer.
The Sedins struggled in the seven-game final. Daniel, who won the NHL regular season scoring title, had one goal and three assists. Henrik, who led the playoffs with 19 assists, didn’t manage one against the Bruins.
“In a series where you’re not doing what you are capable of, that’s a tough thing,” said Henrik, the Canucks captain.
“That makes you work harder in the summer time to get back into good shape.”
There are several reasons why the Bruins managed to shut down the twins. Boston had a hot goaltender and the Bruins played a physical game that broke up the brothers’ passing.
But at the end of the day, two of Vancouver’s best players were not good enough when it counted.
“We still haven’t won it all and that’s what we have to do,” said Henrik. “That means you have prove you can go all the way.
“That’s what we are going to try to do.”
Entering their 11th season in the NHL, the Sedins have evolved into two of the most dominate players in the league. Not the biggest or fastest men on the ice, they might be the most confident in their ability.
“It’s more knowing the game,” said centre Henrik. “That’s what we have learned in the past couple of years.
“There are always things you can improve on. (Taking) shots, some things you want to (improve) on the power play. There’s stuff you can do to get out of the corners better or setting picks. It’s mainly knowing the game.”
Over the last few years the game has become like a puzzle with more of the pieces falling into place.
“You understand the game a little bit more,” said left-winger Daniel. “You are more poised with the puck. You tend to see different things out there.”
Of the two, Daniel has always been the trigger man. Henrik is the set-up artist with an uncanny ability to find his brother with feather passes.
Daniel won last year’s scoring race with 104 points from 41 goals and 63 points, all career highs. He also was awarded the Ted Lindsay Award as the players’ MVP.
Henrik was fourth in scoring but led the league with 75 assists.
The year before it was Henrik who won the scoring title with 112 points. With Daniel missing 18 games because of a broken foot, Henrik managed a career-high 29 goals and 83 assists. He won the Hart Trophy as league MVP voted on by the media.
Expectations are high over what the Sedins can accomplish this season. The brothers believe they can have a more productive year with fewer points.
“It’s not about points,” said Daniel. “It’s about getting better as a player.”
A player can have a 104 points but still be sloppy defensively, he said.
“If you have 70 points, and your plus-minus is plus 30, I think you help your team more that way,” he said. “We want to be good two-way players. With that comes playing good defensively.”
Coach Alain Vigneault said the dedication to conditioning shown by the brothers, who turn 31 on Sept. 26, improves their performance.
“That has an impact on the way they play,” said Vigneault. “Because they have improved their condition they are quicker, they see the ice quicker.
“They are able to execute some plays quicker than they have been able to in the past. That’s why they have taken their game to the level they have now.”
Veteran Owen Nolan, who is trying to earn a job with the Canucks, has played against the Sedins and watched their progression. He said time in the league is a great teacher.
“You start to see situations that happen over and over,” said Nolan, who has played 18 seasons.
“Maybe you don’t have success doing certain moves or certain plays but you figure out what the right move is in that certain situation. If you play enough games you understand how to read plays a lot quicker.”
Forward Chris Higgins said intelligence is one of the Sedin’s biggest attributes.
“They just out-think who ever they are playing against,” said Higgins.
“Guys coming out of junior and college, they have to figure out what they can and can’t do. I think the twins know what they can and can’t do. What they can’t do isn’t too much.”
The brothers have three years remaining on contracts that pay them US$6.1 million each. While retirement is probably several years off it’s something the twins have thought about, especially with young families.
“Sweden is still our home,” said Daniel. “We love Canada so much it’s getting tougher and tougher to leave every summer.
“The kids want to say here and the wives want to stay here longer. It’s getting tougher going home but I still see myself raising the kids in Sweden. When that is, we will see.”