When you play 1,285 games in the National Hockey League, everyone knows what you bring to the table. In Henrik Sedin’s case, that’s world-class passing.
Sedin has led the NHL in assists three times, and is behind just Jaromir Jagr and Joe Thornton on the active assist leaderboard. For 17 seasons he’s made his name – and some pretty good loot – putting his teammates in position to score.
Although his ice time has been reduced this season as he’s eased into a secondary role, that’s essentially what he’s done this year. His 24 assists ranked 13th in the league and he’s on pace for a 58-point season, which is pretty much in line with his late-career averages. Throw in some truly outstanding possession numbers and it looks like it’s same-old same-old for Sedin at the age of 37.
That’s not entirely true, though. Sedin is sitting on just two goals, which rather amazingly isn’t the result of some epic shooting slump. Instead the veteran centre has basically stopped firing altogether.
When we talk about shots, it’s almost always in the context of guys who pepper the opposing net like a year-round hailstorm – the Alex Ovechkin and Brett Burns types. Unsurprisingly, guys who are on the opposite end of that spectrum don’t capture the imagination in quite the same way. That said, Sedin has been unique in his reluctance, indifference, or inability, to shoot the puck.
Through 37 games the Swedish centre has just 27 shots, or 0.73 shots per game. In a vacuum that might not seem extraordinary, but with a little context it’s unbelievable. Sedin logs significant minutes, gets tonnes of offensive zone starts, plays on the power play, and sees the Canucks out-attempt opponents 628-402 when he’s on the ice. You’d think even a playmaker would put a few on net in that scenario.
Since 1997-98 – when we first got accurate time on ice data – there have been 3,872 player seasons by forwards averaging at least 15 minutes a night and playing at least 35 games. Only 18 times has a player meeting that criteria failed to register at least one shot per game. It happens with fewer than half of a percent of forwards seeing this kind of ice time.
That 0.73 number mentioned before is actually the second lowest we know of. This is what the bottom 10 list looks like:
Sedin’s actually not in bad company here as most of these players were second-line level contributors. Knutsen had his only standout year and Oates was a star. We’re talking about a statistical oddity here, not an indication that Sedin has been ineffective.
Though the longtime Canuck is primarily a playmaker, he’s been good for double-digit goals every season since 2002-03 and always puts at least between one and two on net per game. Even last year he was held shot-less in just 26.8 percent of his games – compared to 51.4 this year.
You don’t have to watch too much of Sedin before you see him pass up shots for teammates, but that’s always been his way, and it’s hard to fault his judgement. His last assist came in exactly that type of instance – one where he could have taken a clean shot but deferred to his twin brother.
But the story here isn’t that this is happening, it’s the frequency with which it is. Sedin was already an unselfish puck distributor, and now he’s taken it to a new level.
The conventional folk wisdom is that as we age we tend to crystalize as a human beings, firming up what we are and leaving little room for change. Perhaps that’s what’s happening to Sedin; he’s becoming an exaggerated version of himself in the twilight years of his career.
Whatever the reason, Henrik has gone from playmaker-first to playmaker-only lately. It’s a bit peculiar, but it’s hard to say it’s diminished his effectiveness much.
In what could be his final tour of duty with the Canucks, it’s hard to complain about him doing what he does best more than ever.