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Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Sedins: A Victory for Patience

sedins vancouver burke
The Leafs are mired in a classic Toronto death spiral, seemingly caused by a combination of the pressure from the impending trade deadline and being involved in the slightest of playoff races. Not exactly heavy stuff.

The team once held the 7th playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, but are 1-7-1 in the last nine games dropping them to 10th, three points out of the final playoff spot. You read that right, the Leafs have three points in the last nine games and are still in the thick of a playoff race. The Eastern Conference is a joke.

Unsurprisingly, the late season swoon has brought Leafs Nation to the edge, ready to jump. Solutions range from the mildly plausible (fire Ron Wilson), to the downright insane (TRADE EVERYBODY, BLOW IT UP, AND BURN THIS CITY DOWN).

Obviously, it is a concern that the Leafs are doing terribly under minimal pressure, which also leads to the conclusion that the late-season runs of previous years were a product of zero expectations and no pressure.

Yet it's important to remember that the Leafs are one of the youngest teams in the league and rebuilding takes time. I'm not trying to make excuses for a truly awful February—there obviously are major problems that need correcting—but just because young players are not paying dividends now, does not mean they will fail to develop into a strong core moving forward.

Fans are ready to make almost any trade, so long as the upgrade is immediate, although not necessarily long-term. James Reimer has lost his God-like status in Toronto, and the only other player under the bus as much as him is Luke Schenn. Players in the AHL aren't immune to the hyper-reactivity either. No trade proposal is complete without the names Nazem Kadri or Joe Colborne. Apparently, the kids are not alright.

Everybody wanted a rebuild, but now nobody wants to go through the growing pains.

As hard as it might be for a passionate fan base that hasn't made the playoffs in eight years, patience is still required.

The Sedins are the most glaring example of why teams need to be patient with their young players.

After being drafted in 1999, the Sedins decided against jumping directly to the NHL and played one final season in the Swedish Elite League for MODO. The twins led MODO in scoring with Daniel scoring 45 points in 50 games and Henrik besting him with 47 points in 50 games.

Forgoing the NHL as teenagers also allowed the pair to play in the World Junior Hockey Championship, which they surely wouldn't have been released for by the Canucks if they were in the NHL. Both ended up in the top-5 in tournament scoring for a Swedish team that finished fourth.

The twins also played in the IIHF World Hockey Championships that season and combined for 10 points in 7 games. Not many teenaged players get an opportunity to play in this type of tournament, especially those who have yet to play in the NHL.

The Sedins became NHL regulars the following season, 2000-01, at 20-years-old and had unspectacular rookie seasons. Henrik scored 9 goals and finished with 29 points, while Daniel had a better season with 20 goals, but only 34 points.

The next season it was Henrik who had the better year, increasing his goal total to 16 and accumulating 36 points, a modest increase of seven from his rookie season. Daniel experienced a sophomore slump, dropping to 9 goals and only 32 points, almost a mirror image of Henrik's rookie year.

The next season was not much different. Henrik's goal totals dropped to single digits—a whopping 8—but his point totals once again increased slightly, this time to 39. Daniel regained his goal-scoring touch, hitting 14, but settled for 31 points, again another decrease.

Three seasons in the league, approaching their 23rd birthdays, and the twins had yet to hit 40 points. Not exactly the type of production expected from top-5 draft picks.

Slow development, and not exactly linear. Not what fans in Vancouver were hoping for when Brian Burke pulled a rabbit out of his hat to get the twins on draft day four years earlier.

In 2003, people were openly wondering whether the Sedins were busts for the Canucks, despite the fact that the entire 1999 draft class was pretty terrible and the Sedins were actually few of those drafted to contribute anything at the NHL level.

Here's a quote at the time from a thread called "Sedins's 2nd line players, maybe even 3rd" on hockeyforum.com:

"And to think that the Canucks give up McCabe to draft them. Doesn't look like such a great move now."

Remember that quote when you read and comment in any thread about a young player. Do you want to be that idiot claiming the 23-year-old Sedins weren't worth Bryan McCabe?

In the thread there is some reasoned talk about patience, a lot more about trading the twins for nothing, and then some non-sequiturs about an aqua-fit class and some bad Swedish jokes. Sounds like the stupidity of a hockey forum.

The Sedins took a leap forward in 2003-04, most visibly Daniel, who broke the 50 point barrier and ended the season with 54, 20 points higher than his rookie season. Henrik didn't have the same type of leap, but once again featured the methodical steady increase in production that saw his career year of 39 points demolished by a 42 point campaign.

After this season people were a little more bullish on the Sedins—at least Daniel—but there was at least still a debate as to whether they were busts, and most people, even the more optimistic, saw them as good second-liners, but not much more.

Here's another doozy of a quote, this time on whether the Sedins are the best second-liners in the league and whether there is someone else from the 1999 draft that you would select over them. Of course, it's from hfboards.com:

"Have you ever heard of Mike Comrie? I'd easily take him over either. Maybe I'd take Daniel over him, maybe. And they're definitely not the best second liners in the NHL. Slava Kozlov and Mike Johnson are my votes for best second liners in the NHL..."

Wow. Pretty good stuff going on right there. Mike Comrie, Slava Kozlov, and Mike Johnson are all preferred over the Sedins.

Then came the lockout, the Sedins signed with MODO of the Swedish Elite League and had statistically worse seasons than they did when they were teenagers.

There was nothing to suggest the Sedins were going to become superstars, but they did.

After the lockout the Sedins took their big leap forward into superstardom, both cracking 70 points, turning Anson Carter into a 30-goal player, and making anyone who bemoaned the loss of Bryan McCabe feel like a complete idiot.

The Sedins completed six seasons of professional hockey, four in the NHL, and were 25-years-old when they had their huge breakout in their fifth NHL season. That's a long time. People want to write off young players after two seasons, sometimes even one, if they don't perform.

It took a long time for the Sedins to become the Sedins we know today, but the patience was well worth it. Since the lockout the Sedins have combined for 1149 points in 1087 games. That's averages out to about 86 points a season for each player.

The Sedins have won two Art Ross trophies, Henrik won a Hart Trophy, Daniel won a Ted Lindsay Award (most outstanding player as judged by the players), and the two have combined for multiple First and Second All-Star Team awards.

I'd say that's about elite as they come.

Over time the Sedins went from lottery pick busts, to potential trade bait, then graduating to solid second-line players at max, before finally becoming the MVP-calibre players everyone always knew they would be.

Everyone gets excited for young players, but the moment they don't progress in a simple, upwardly linear fashion, people are more than eager to jump off the bandwagon.

The Sedins are obviously an extreme example of development gone right, but the example is poignant nonetheless.

Be patient. Keep the faith.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Martin St. Louis didn't turn into a superstar until he was 27. Then scored 737 points in the next 710 games.

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