Watching the transformation of Henrik Sedin this season has been amazing. He’s always had an incredible chemistry with his brother Daniel but I never really saw Henrik as a true number 1 centre in the league. He had incredible talent, but I never really saw him as an incredible player. In fact, I always saw Henrik and Daniel as the best 2nd line in the NHL. Maybe that’s because I don’t watch the Canucks play as much as I should, and maybe it’s because I live in Toronto and there isn’t much Canuck coverage here. Or maybe they just seemed so comfortable in their role on the 2nd line back when the Bertuzzi-Naslund-Morrison line was ripping it up. Am I really getting that old? It’s hard to say.
Regardless, while I applauded Mike Gillis for resigning the Sedins to reasonable contracts this past summer (cap hit of $6.1M over 5 years, each), the lingering thought in my mind was that they would have to really earn that money now. Those new contracts meant first and foremost, that the Sedins had now absolutely become Vancouver’s top line. And they have definitely stepped up, especially Henrik.
Henrik currently leads the NHL with 74 points in only 51 games, including 23 goals. Assuming he stays healthy, that puts him on pace to score 36 goals and 118 points, both of which would be career highs. In fact, Hank has already achieved a career high in goals this season – as the 22 goals he scored last season was his best previous tally. You can attribute his goal scoring explosion this season, in part, to the fact that he’s simply shot the puck more. He’s taken 105 shots this season compared to 143 in all of last season. I think he’s also played a much stronger defensive game, which has made him a tougher player to shut down and play against. He’s +23 this year, which is a currently a career best as well. Finally, he’s done a lot of this while Vancouver have battled two significant injuries: Roberto Luongo was out for a couple weeks and brother Daniel missed 18 games – at the same time. Henrik’s emergence as one of the top players in the league has come from the simple fact that he’s become the go-to player for the Canucks and that’s kept them in a tight battle with Calgary and Colorado for the division lead. There’s a quiet argument out there that Hank should be a serious contender for the Hart Trophy this year and it’s an argument that’s quickly gaining momentum. At the very least, Henrik Sedin has been one of the best and most consistent players in the NHL this season.
All of this leads me to one question – Does Henrik’s emergence as one of the NHL’s best players make Sweden a real threat to win gold in Vancouver next month? I’ve believed all along that the fight for the gold medal will be a three-horse race between Canada, Russia and a dark horse American team. But like most, I hadn’t really considered Sweden a real threat, despite the fact that they took gold 4 years ago in Turin. To me, the thing that’s always separated the Canadians, Russians and Americans from the rest of the pack was the fact that they all have two, maybe even three lines capable of being their number 1 line. Their depth of high-end talent up front seemed to be too much for the teams from the Czech Republic, Finland and even Sweden.
Yet, when you look down at Sweden’s roster, their top 3 lines look like this:
Daniel Sedin – Henrik Sedin – Henrik Zetterberg
Daniel Alfredsson – Nicklas Backstrom – Loui Eriksson
Patric Hornqvist – Peter Forsberg – Tomas Holmstrom
That’s a pretty strong top 9 and I think they’ll be a very good team. I think they’ll be a much stronger and tougher team to play against than most people think. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them earn a position on the medal podium. They’ve got strong goaltending and pretty solid defense, so it could happen. And when you’ve got an emerging world-class player like Henrik Sedin riding a major hot streak, it could definitely happen.
Your Reporter in the Field,