The Vancouver Canucks’ 37-year-old Sedin twins know they’ve reached their twilight years. They’re at peace and determined to end things their way.
Ask anyone who has ever lived abroad and he or she will tell you the true demarcation point in the transition is when you start thinking and dreaming in the language of the locals. It’s been that way for Daniel and Henrik Sedin for a long time. You speak English all day at work. Your kids would rather speak English at home than Swedish. It’s bound to happen. “I found it with counting,” Daniel said. “First you’re counting in Swedish. Then it’s Swedish and English. These days I’m counting just in English.”
Counting has taken on a new meaning for the Sedins, indisputably the two best players in the history of the Vancouver Canucks. (Shameless plug: In our recent Top 50 Players of All-Time by Franchise issue, we ranked Daniel No. 1 and Henrik No. 2. “Great choice,” Daniel said. “I’m better. Always have been.” Henrik: “That’s a mistake.”) They can count to 37, to be sure. That’s how old they are. They can count to four, which is what line they’ve found themselves on at times this season. And it’s pretty easy to get to 14 or 15, which is how many minutes they play most nights. What they’re not counting is days. They know the end is coming, and they’ve accepted it with remarkable grace, class and a team-first attitude. This may or may not be their last year in the NHL, but they won’t allow those numbers to bother them, whether they’re counting them in Swedish or English. “We understand,” Daniel said. “We know what’s going on. We’re not stupid hockey players.”
When it comes to this kind of thing, hockey players are not necessarily dumb. But from the fading star to the fourth-liner trying to pad his kids’ college fund, players are generally unable to accept reality. They’re often the last to acknowledge that time has moved on without them. They think they should be playing more. And they might even use up that currency they’ve built over the years to subtly (or sometimes, not so subtly) put their coaches or GMs on the spot by making an issue of it. But that does not stop the inevitable. When Neil Smith took over as GM of the New York Rangers in 1989, one of his first transactions was to put Marcel Dionne on waivers and effectively end his Hall of Fame career. When it happens between the Canucks and the Sedins, it will be done the right way. It is already underway, with the Sedins having passed the baton to the likes of Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser and Troy Stecher, the way it was passed to the Sedins by Trevor Linden and Markus Naslund. “They’re smart players, good players,” Henrik said. “I mean, it’s kind of their team now.”
Charged with the task of forming the Canucks’ on-ice identity is coach Travis Green, who came onto the scene this year not owing anyone anything. He has to try to win games and develop young players in the world’s best league, and he can only do that if his pair of 37-year-old veterans buy into the plan by accepting lesser roles. And that’s exactly what the Sedins have done. Green has been honest with them, and that’s all they’ve asked for. “I’m going to coach the way I think the game is going,” Green said. “It’s not like I’m saying to them, ‘You’re not good players.’ I really think they are. But the days of them playing 20-plus minutes…you know, we don’t have a team that can do that. We need to be a four-line team.”
The Sedins have made it abundantly clear, time and again, they intend to retire as Canucks. They have no interest in winning a Stanley Cup, or doing anything else, for another team. It means they will never win a Cup. It may mean they never play another playoff game. They have earned the right – and then some – to invoke their no-trade clauses, earn their final $7-million salaries and leave the game, whenever that is, on their own terms. But in return for that luxury, they know they can’t very well insist on staying, then complain about the way they’re being deployed. “People have been asking for this for a couple of years, fans have been asking for it,” Daniel said. “And now that it’s happening, there’s a lot of talk about it. It’s funny that they ask for one thing, and when it happens, it’s the other way around. We’ve been mentally prepared for this, and we’re mentally in the right spot for it.”
That’s another thing about the Sedins. When they speak individually, they unreservedly talk about themselves in the plural, absolutely comfortable in speaking for the other and having no trouble relaying the thoughts and feelings of the other. The same incredible intuition that has resulted in more than 2,000 points between them on the ice – many of them on each other’s goals – is clearly at work all the time. “Their hockey IQs are crazy, just crazy,” said 21-year-old Jake Virtanen, who has found himself on the right wing of the Sedins. “They just talk to each other, and I’m kind of on the side. They make their plays, and every couple of shifts they tell me, ‘Just go there.’ So I just let them do their thing, and I go to the net.”
Perhaps the Sedins will be back for one more season in Vancouver at a greatly reduced price, perhaps not. Since they arrived at the turn of the century, they’ve taken a quiet pride in turning the tide of fan sentiment that often seemed to be against them early in their careers. They’ve found a home there, done an enormous amount of work for the community and came so painfully close to delivering the franchise its first and only Stanley Cup. It’s at times like this when you start to think of your legacy. “With our teammates and coaches and staff around the team, we’ve always been the same kind of guys from Day 1 to the last day we play,” Henrik said. “It’s always been a big thing for us to never change. And we’re going to try to keep that going.”
However long it lasts.