Vancouver Canucks: The Sedin Twins and the Irrationality of the Hockey Media

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Vancouver Canucks: The Sedin Twins and the Irrationality of the Hockey Media
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Yesterday I wrote an (apparently somewhat controversial) article about how the media is giving unwarranted attention to the play of Ryan Kesler in the first round.

In the comment section, a fellow user expressed the sentiment that, while my accusation may be accurate, there have been many other irrationalities expressed in the media and that perhaps I should highlight some of them. His sentiment was correct on two fronts: that Ryan Kesler is not the only beneficiary of unfair treatment in the media, and that yes, I should write about the others.

At various points in their careers Daniel and Henrik Sedin have been the subject of much controversy and criticism. They have been described as "soft," "enigmatic" and "overrated second-liners." They have been referred to many times as "The Sedin Sisters" or, my personal favourite, "the Tampon Twins" (even a Canuck fan has to admit that one's pretty funny).

Even after Daniel and Henrik ascended to the ranks of the NHL's elite and put together seasons of 104 and 112 points respectively, there still remained some doubt as to whether they could get it done in the playoffs or not. Two straight second-round defeats at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks served to amplify that criticism.

The idea that the Sedin twins are playoff chokers is not entirely warranted. In the two years when the Canucks lost to the Blackhawks, Daniel and Henrik both put up 24 points in 22 games. That doesn't exactly strike me as "choking." The Canucks' failings the past two years are not the fault of the Sedins. Indeed, the Blackhawks were simply a better team in both years.

One would think that this year would be a different story. After all, the Canucks are in the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in 17 years. The Sedins have to have shed their label as playoff underperformers, right?

Not necessarily.

If the headlines are to be believed, it would seem that at many times this spring, the Canucks are winning in spite of the Sedins. This is simply not true.

In the first round against Chicago, Daniel and Henrik received much of the blame for the Canucks coming within a Chris Campoli giveaway of being at the wrong end of the greatest comeback in modern history. It would appear that Dave Bolland was able to come into the lineup and immediately neutralize the Sedins.

The scoring chance data for the Canucks and Blackhawks tell a different story. These numbers show that even with Dave Bolland matched against them, the Sedins were still able to finish with two of the best scoring chance differentials in the series. So while Dave Bolland may have had somewhat of a negative impact on the play of the Sedins, it was far from detrimental.

Despite Bolland's apparently Herculean defensive job on the Twins, Vancouver was able to squeak by Chicago and advance to face the Nashville Predators.

At various times during his career, Ryan Kesler has been described as "gritty," "chirpy," "cocky" and "playing with jam and heart." After he went supernova against the Predators, he quickly became a Conn Smythe favourite and reached the status of legend in the media. It would appear that Kesler single-handedly willed the Canucks to victory over the Predators without the slightest contribution from Daniel and Henrik.

This is unfair.

Right now, there are five Vancouver players with double-digit point totals in the playoffs: Henrik (21), Kesler (18), Daniel (16), Burrows (14) and Christian Ehrhoff (11). So other than Ryan Kesler, the Canucks top line is really the only one that is scoring consistently. Anyone making the claim that Daniel and Henrik haven't contributed as much as Ryan Kesler is wrong.

Against Nashville, the Sedins were disparaged for some ugly minus numbers as much as for their supposed lack of offense. It could be the Sedins' usually good defensive play went on vacation for six games, but I have a different explanation.

When the two brothers were on the ice, Roberto Luongo had a save percentage of .880, while his SV percentage behind Ryan Kesler was .973. Ryan Kesler is a Selke finalist so he is a good defensive player, but is his defense really that much better than the Sedins that it would cause Luongo's SV percentage to jump by 17 points?

I suppose it's possible. It could be that Kesler's "grit, heart and jam" is enough to turn Roberto Luongo from a poor goaltender to an elite one, but I doubt it. It's far more likely that this is simply a statistical anomaly that got amplified due to the short sample size of a six-game playoff series. Someone has to receive the short end of randomness.

It's a shame that "Statistical Anomaly" makes for a lamer narrative than "Gritty North American Player with Heart Wills Enigmatic European Teammates to Victory."

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