Thursday, May 24, 2012

Henrik's top five assists from 2011-12

UPDATE: Rather than watch all the plays individually via the links below, I've uploaded a YouTube video with all five plays in one here:

To supplement and, I suppose, support my previous article, I took the unnecessary invaluable liberty of sifting through all 67 of Henrik Sedin's assists from the 2011-12 season.  The result?  Five of the best assists you have (or haven't) seen all year.  Ready?  Ok.

Number Five
Nov. 16, 2011; vs. Chicago – 2-on-1 to Hansen
Standard issue 2-on-1 saucer pass.  Sadly, this went on to become another blowout loss in Chicago (the undisputed worst kind of blowout loss).

Number Four
Oct. 25, 2011; vs. Edmonton – Backhand drop to Burrows
If not for the slow motion replay, you really have to be paying attention on this one.  Henrik's pass is that quick in relation to the flow of play.  After Salo's shot rebounds to Henrik, for whatever reason, Khabibulin assumes Henrik's not gonna drop a no-look pass to Burrows at the last second.  The goal brought the Canucks within one in the third period, but they ended up losing this one too.

Number Three
Nov. 6, 2011; vs. Chicago – Cross-ice to Daniel
A powerplay goal from the first half of the season (as if such a goal existed in the second half).  Again, Henrik ends up with the puck off a rebound and Crawford plays the shot.  Silly goalie, Trix are for kids.  Henrik throws it the width of the ice with Crawford swimming.  6-2 win for Vancouver.

Number Two
Dec. 1, 2011; vs. Nashville – Half spin-o-rama to Burrows
Off – what else – the cycle, Henrik skates out from behind the net to challenge Preds D Jack Hillen.  Who?  Exactly.  Burrows redirects it past Rinne.  6-5 shootout loss.

Number One
April 4, 2012; vs. Anaheim – Burrows
Inside-out-How's-she-doin-behind-the-back-spin-o-rama-goodness.  Mind you, the whole thing is moot if not for Burrows' equally impressive shot, but this is just silliness from Henrik.  An uncontested number one, in my opinion.

Here's to five even better feeds from Hank in 2012-13...


*See the discussion regarding this post on the forum here.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr...Henrik Sedin

Did everyone miss the headline at the end of the regular season last month?  With 67 assists in 2011-12, Henrik Sedin became just the 5th player in NHL history to lead the league in that category for three consecutive years.¹  The other four?  Joe Thornton (2005-08), Wayne Gretzky (1979-92..!), Bobby Orr (1969-72) and Stan Mikita (1964-67).  And if Henrik manages to out-assist the Crosbys and Thorntons of the league for a fourth straight go in 2012-13, the club shrinks to two – just him and Gretz. 
Pay special attention to the tasteful sign
behind held to Henrik's right.

You didn’t find it on or The Vancouver Sun for two reasons.  The assist will always be the overlooked middle child of a player’s statline.  How the league can stand to award the Lady Byng every year, but not have any hardware for the top playmaker is a tragedy.  Secondly, unless he or Daniel hit 100 points again, no one really gets excited about these two players anymore. 

Now, there are admittedly countless schools of thought to disprove Henrik’s place (or Thornton’s for that matter) among the Gretzkys and Orrs of the game.  And rightfully so.  Bobby Orr led the league as a defenceman.  The Great One lasted a consecutive 13 years atop the league, more than quadruple Henrik’s current streak.  Also implicit in Gretzky’s monopolization of the league’s assists board over two decades is the fact that any other elite playmaker competing in this timeframe was overshadowed in this regard.  Think Mario Lemieux, Steve Yzerman, Ron Francis…to name a select, select few.  These players would have likely put together a run of several years themselves, had they played in any other era.

What about the fact that Henrik’s highest assists total in these three years, 83, ranks exactly 52nd all-time.  Not quite elite.  Many would also argue that his streak has largely benefited from an unhealthy Sidney Crosby.

All these things are true, but let’s give Henrik some credit where credit is sorely due.  It's derived from the simple fact that in this time and space in the history of the NHL, he has perennially dominated the league as a playmaker.  Yes, Crosby has been injured, but remember the year Henrik won the Art Ross?  The Pens captain had played a full season and was 25 assists Hank’s inferior.  And as Thornton’s play in San Jose has deteriorated in this same three-year span, the assists crown has not only been Crosby’s to lose, but Evgeni Malkin’s, Nicklas Backstrom’s and Pavel Datsyuk’s among many other arguably more high-profile players.

Also, a closer look at that 52nd-best assists total reveals that Henrik’s 83 assists is the 21st-highest achieved by any individual.²  That is a heavily underrated stat because among the 20 players ahead of him, only Thornton, Crosby and Jagr achieved their marks in the current dead-puck era (ie. post mid-to-late 90's).  Common wisdom dictates that Henrik might have racked up far more had he played in the freewheeling 80’s.

All things considered and in the grand scheme of NHL lore…no, you probably won’t see Henrik’s name alongside Gretzky and Orr ever again in perhaps more telling analyses.  But for these past three years in the current NHL, the elder Sedin is, statistically, the absolute best at what he does.  And that’s a headline the league should see much more often.


¹ For the full list of single-season assist leaders, see it on here.
² Only counting each unique player once, ie. players like Gretzky, Lemieux and Orr have multiple single-season assist totals in the top 50 or so, but in this regard we only count each player once. See the list on here.

*See the discussion regarding this post on forum here.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Alex Burrows: Olympic hopeful (...Right?)

And who says Burrows is a pest? Even
Kazakhstani goalie Vitali Kolesnik is
feeling the love.
Ever engage in a thought experiment where you consider the merits of a ridiculous proposition, then slowly start to believe it?

Depending on who you ask, Alex Burrows is either one of the most overrated or underrated player in the NHL.  If you’re a devoted hockey fan anywhere outside of Canada’s west coast, chances are the Canucks forward is nothing more to you than a pest whose stat line is generously inflated by his linemates.  The fact he’s achieved 20-plus goals in each of the past four seasons only means Vigneault provided Daniel and Henrik a warm body to pass to while the gifted Swedes cycle their way through the entire league.

Granted, Burrows’ career was undoubtedly jump-started by his place on the Canucks’ top line, but the past season has seen him maintain the same pace while playing large chunks of time without them.  With this in mind, is Burrows a candidate for Canada’s Olympic roster in 2014?

The answer, anywhere in the NHL, is a resounding…no.  I must be that rare breed of Canucks fan – overzealously loyal, even after their latest playoff disappointment.

Your average Canucks devotee will always be quick defend Burrows honour against Ron MacLean and the rest of the world, but few will go so far as to say he is among the top 12 or 13 Canadian forwards in the game.  I’m here to argue that as of yesterday, which marked Canada’s third straight quarterfinal exit from the IIHF World Championships, Burrows has played himself into Steve Yzerman’s consideration for the national team’s fourth line in 2014.

Here’s the short story: After missing the first week of competition with a suspected concussion, Burrows was slotted into the team’s fourth line with fellow grinders Andrew Ladd and Teddy Purcell.  In five games with limited ice time, he recorded three goals and no assists, ranking second-last among Canadian forwards in point-scoring.

Admittedly, his numbers aren’t overwhelming by any stretch.  Even at the NHL level, his points totals haven’t cracked the to forty among Canadian forwards in either of the past two seasons.  In 2009-10, he ranked fourteenth, but many would see that as an outlier.  At face value, Burrows still seems as well-suited for the Olympics as Mark Messier in a Canucks uniform. 

But here’s where the argument naturally begins: Canada doesn’t need twelve superstar forwards, all capable of scoring at a point-per-game pace.  They require about nine of those; the remaining three or four have to fill a defensively-responsible energy and provide the intangibles in a low-profile fashion.  Starting to sound more like  number 14 in blue and green?

Burrows has always played key minutes on the Canucks penalty kill, which has been perennially top-ranked.  His role was no different on Team Canada these past two weeks.  Intangibles?  For the past four years, his plus-minus (a stat that is questionable in merit, but does measure to some degree a player’s impact at even strength) has been in the top 10 among Canadian forwards.  In two of those years, so have his takeaway totals.  Burrows is underrated as a defensive forward and while maintaining the same level of tenacity, his penalty minutes have decreased from 179 in 2008-09 to 90 this past campaign.

A good fourth-liner is also timely.  Enter Burrows' proverbial "slaying of the dragon" and overtime-winner against Boston in last year's playoff run.  In 2011-12, he scored seven game-winners, tenth among Canadian forwards.  At the World Championships, his first goal of the tournament started Canada’s 5-3 comeback win against Finland.  The next game, he scored shorthanded against Kazakhstan (I know… it’s Kazakhstan) when a powerplay goal against would have cut the lead to just 2-1 in the second period.  Finally, his quarterfinal goal in the third period would have stood as the game-winner against Slovakia had Canada not collapsed into itself to finish the contest.
Zamuner and Draper set precedent for
a player like Burrows to be selected...
Here's the statistical comparison.

When you look at what Canada’s gold-winning fourth line was in 2010, however, imagining Burrows as a replacement for the likes of Patrice Bergeron and Mike Richards once again seems ludicrous.  But the history of Canadian rosters at high-profile tournaments reveal selections that seem far more unlikely than Burrows.  Rob Zamuner, anyone?  Kris Draper ring any bells?  (1998 Olympics and 2004 World Cup/2006 Olympics, respectively.)  Both stand out as players who, on paper, seemed out of place, but subjectively, they filled a need for the sort of player that I think Burrows meets and exceeds.

The reasons against are many and the likelihood is minimal.  Nobody will really complain when he isn’t even short listed, including me.  But you cannot say that Burrows doesn’t play the game in a way that could benefit Team Canada's Olympic team if it was chosen today.  Who knows?  Maybe Yzerman will throw us all a curveball.  Then we'll see if Burrows can wrap around Tim Thomas in an American uniform too, come 2014.


*See the discussion regarding this article on the forum here.