The Soft Sedin Myth

Popular wisdom is that the easiest way to shut down the Sedins is to play a tough, physical game. The theory goes that the Sedins wilt under physical pressure, with the Stanley Cup Final submitted as proof. The takeaway from that series for a lot of people is that the Sedins are too soft and that all that is required to shut them down is to hit them. Is this view true? How do the Sedins perform in more physical games? Are the Sedins soft?

During the offseason, the Blackhawks went out and acquired Dan Carcillo and Jamal Mayers, while the Oilers signed Ben Eager and Darcy Hordichuk. These two teams seemed to believe that it was Boston’s toughness that won them the Cup. Hordichuk certainly espoused that belief a little over a month ago, suggesting that the Bruins’ rough and tumble style will help keep him and other enforcers employed.

“At the end of the day,” he said, ” [Shawn] Thornton helped out a lot of us guys in that role. Had Vancouver won it would have been every team is trying to be like Detroit, we don’t need that toughness. Just what he did in that series and Lucic and Marchand and other guys, I think it is going to change Vancouver’s approach.”

As we saw in the wake of Marc Methot’s hit on Henrik Sedin, it doesn’t seem to have changed Vancouver’s approach much at all. While the Canucks did revamp the fourth line, they steered clear of adding an enforcer, while the Sedins claim to feel no need to respond physically, even knowing they have targets on their backs after the Stanley Cup Final.

“We’re going on the power play and have a chance to score,” Daniel Sedin said after the Methot hit, “That’s how you win games. We’re fine getting hit. It’s hockey, not some other sport.”

It’s that attitude that makes most reasonable Canucks fans scoff at the idea that the Sedins are soft. I see the Sedins take a lot of physical abuse in every single game and continue to produce points in the face of stiff physical play. The issue is that while other Canucks fans who watch every game might see the same thing that I see and agree with me, such a subjective viewpoint is not particularly convincing to others. Also, I’m curious to see whether the objective facts agree with my subjective experience.

Was it the Bruins' physical play that shut down the Sedins or is there another explanation?

So I attempted to find some objective way to view how the Sedins play against physicality. The issue is that statistics that measure physicality are in short supply. There are really only two that are generally used: penalty minutes and hits. For my purposes, penalty minutes are not of much use as an increase in penalty minutes generally just means an increase in powerplays, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see a correlation between the Sedins’ point totals and the opponents penalty minutes. As we at PITB have pointed out in comic form, the Sedins love powerplays.

With penalty minutes out of the picture, I am left with hits. Using all 82 games of last season, I put together a spreadsheet comparing each Sedins’ point totals compared to the number of hits the opponent had in each game to see if there is a correlation. If the Sedins respond poorly to toughness, we would expect to see fewer points scored in games where the opponent had more hits and vice versa.

Unfortunately for proponents of this view, such is not the case.

The average number of hits per game that the Canucks’ faced was 22.7. In games with fewer hits than the average, Henrik averaged 1.14 points per game, while Daniel averaged 1.18 points per game. In game with more hits than the average, Henrik’s production rose slightly to 1.16 points per game. In other words, the larger number of hits had no negative impact to his point production whatsoever. Daniel’s production, however, went up by a much more significant amount to 1.37 points per game.

That’s right: both Sedins were more productive in games with higher than average hits. But let’s say that more than 22.7 hits is not a high enough number of hits to count as properly tough and physical. Let’s say that 30 or more hits is a better standard. There were 11 such games last season when the Canucks’ opponents had 30 or more hits. In those 11 games, both Sedins had 15 points each, for a 1.36 point per game average.

The Sedins’ production didn’t decrease against toughness, it increased.

But maybe you’re a visual learner. In that case, you’re in luck because I have prepared two ugly charts that demonstrate what I just wrote. The points on the graphs are games: the farther right you go, the more hits, while the farther up you go, the more points. The line shows the trend. You’ll notice that both Daniel and Henrik’s point totals trend upwards the further right you go, indicating that the more hits from the opponents, the more points the Sedins score, the exact opposite of the myth.

Now there are some obvious flaws with this approach. The first is that hit counting in arenas is notoriously subjective and has a wide degree of variance. However, because I am only counting the opponents’ hits, this removes the issue of home team bias for Canucks home games and with the road games spread over a vast number of arenas, the variance may be partially mitigated.

A second issue is that this does not specify who on the Canucks received the hits. While it would be possible to isolate just the hits that were received by the Sedins, that would require pulling that information from the play-by-play data. Considering I compiled the above information manually, that’s just not happening right now. My assumption is that games with high hit counts are, in general, more physical games and that in itself suits my purposes.

The final issue is that this is merely correlation. There are any number of ways to explain this result and still come to the conclusion that the Sedins are soft. One explanation could be that less-skilled teams frequently play more physically, but this is not enough to overcome their lack of skill, which the Sedins are able to exploit. Personally, I don’t find this a very satisfying explanation and, in any case, it still disproves the idea that toughness alone is enough to shut down the Sedins.

The popular narrative that the Sedins are soft and that it was the Bruins’ physical play that shut down their production in the Final does not seem sufficient in the face of this evidence. Canucks fans should not fear a more physical approach from the opposition, particularly if it results in the kind of powerplay performance we saw against Chicago. The Sedins aren’t afraid of getting hit; we shouldn’t be afraid of it either.

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27 comments

  1. the olde coot
    November 9, 2011

    Come Thursday night they’re in LA
    One truly trusts they’re there to play
    With three days to prepare themselves
    Practicing dekes and backhand shelves
    One only asks they earn their pay

    Perhaps it is one need explain
    That they are paid to entertain
    Therefore they’ve this obligation
    To affirm one’s adulation
    Ergo avoiding one’s disdain

    When Lui lets a soft one by
    Then one has ev’ry right to sigh
    And when the forwards fail to score
    Then that’s a fact to underscore
    What fans deserve one can’t deny

    Not only are they paid big bucks
    Which bottomline remains the crux
    Of what it is that one expects
    But also it’s that one respects
    The very fact they are Canucks

    The Olde Coot

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    • the olde coot
      November 9, 2011

      This comment strikes me as spot on
      These two “dislike”s should be withdrawn
      The Olde Coot tells it as it is
      It’s fact the Nucks are in show biz
      To earn their pay is sine qua non

      Dawn Duck

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  2. cambo
    November 9, 2011

    Another homer article by DW. Ask the Bruins what their game plan was??? speed bag the chicks, hit the chicks, because they don’t like physical play.. Case proven. No cup for Cancuk nation as long as Hygiene Product Sister’s and Lou are in town.

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    • JS Topher
      November 9, 2011

      you must be so bored with your life

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  3. G
    November 9, 2011

    It wasn’t Boston’s physical play that beat Vancouver. It was all the injuries endured on the way to the cup final that beat Vancouver.

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    • cambo
      November 9, 2011

      it was the physical play that caused the injuries. Take off your Cancuk blinders and face the music. No Cup with Sister’s or Louser.

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      • LCad
        November 9, 2011

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  4. tCL
    November 9, 2011

    It’s really a lot simpler than that.

    There are 29 other NHL head coaches out there, people who are paid exceptionally well to come up with an effective and sustainable strategy to counter Henrik, Daniel, and Bureaux. If toughness is what works against the Sedins, then why don’t more of them line up their 3rd and 4th lines against the Canucks’ first line?

    Because they realize that hitting the Sedins only creates more space for them to operate. They don’t play them tough because they realize that the best way to counter the Sedins isn’t toughness; it’s to play keep away, so inevitably, they will try to line up their best puck possession line against the Sedins.

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  5. John Andress
    November 9, 2011

    I agree with you that there is no basis to the soft Sedin myth and I believe that any objective observer of the Sedins’ play would have to admit that the twins take an enormous amount of physical abuse, particularly when they are playing the cycle game which has served the team so well over the years. I wonder if the knock on the Canucks play during playoffs can be attributed to the fact that, for obvious reasons, opponents play the Sedins far more closely than during the regular season. They will ensure that the Sedins don’t beat them single-handedly and take their chances with the rest of the Canucks roster. An unwise strategy considering that the rest of the roster includes some world class players, too numerous to name individually. Perhaps it is the failure of these players to take advantage of the opportunity created by the concentration on the twins that has led to the Canucks falling just short in the last couple of seasons. I wouldn’t like to bet money that the opposition can make this strategy work three years in a row.

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  6. J21
    November 9, 2011

    If the Sedins were identical hockey players, but Canadians called “Rick and Tommy”, and scowled periodically for no real reason, they would be celebrated as the greatest hockey phenomenon since the advent of artificial ice.

    (Or if they were the same people they are now, but played for an Original Six or Alberta team.)

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    • tCL
      November 9, 2011

      The only thing worse than seeing that your response received more “Likes” than mine is that I had to click “Like” on yours…

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      • J21
        November 10, 2011

        Favor returned, Linger.

        [Insert Offthepost.org plug here]

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  7. tom selleck's moustache
    November 9, 2011

    Thanks for the article. Did you include playoff data in your analysis as well? That also would be have been an interesting comparison and would have made for a more complete picture.

    I had read on another site that someone had also did their own independent analysis on scoring chances and had found that, in the Boston series, the Sedins actually had outchanced their opposition even strength as well. The puck just wasn’t going. So, really, it wasn’t that they were soft, they just had the misfortune of running into a brick wall in net.

    Still, I don’t it’s going to change people’s opinions. People, being who they are, will use any excuse to pile on and take pot shots at the Sedins so I don’t see this narrative going away anytime soon until they finally hoist the cup.

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  8. jer
    November 9, 2011

    Fantastic post, Daniel – one of your best. Nice work…

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  9. Fred Hughson
    November 9, 2011

    I’m tired of the endless weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth about what the Canucks (especially their best players) are doing wrong. Kudos to Daniel Wagner for casting light on the subject. Just about every other team in the league would gladly do a complete personnel-swap with the Canucks. This is the best Canuck regime that we”ve had since the start, from top to bottom. Sadly, the negativity is not going to stop, at least until the team takes all the marbles.

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  10. Karen
    November 9, 2011

    Love this… how many hits does this post have? Try a twitter-based sign up for readers to help with the data… if each person does one game, you’ll have the stats in no time.

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  11. warren
    November 9, 2011

    well thought out, well presented, thank you

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  12. Johnny B Goode
    November 9, 2011

    It’s as simple as this.

    The twins hail from Ornskoldsvik, hometown of Petr Forsberg.

    They play like he did, using their strength only to absorb punishment, except they’re a bit smaller, so they have to be a bit more slippery.

    Hopefully one or both of them don’t get critically injured by the constant wear and tear.

    They basically get trashed for playing classy, and I’m sick of it.

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  13. Nee
    November 9, 2011

    Some players transcend their city and fan base, and find recognition across the league for their skill. Datsyuk is like that. Lidstrom. Stamkos. Crosby even, though not in some areas (*cough*Washington*cough*). But most of the average fans can’t, or won’t, look past what’s directly in front of them. And rivalries cloud the picture even further.

    My point is, I really don’t care that the Sedins don’t get respect/recognition from a lot of people. I’m not surprised. It’s the nature of fandom. Smart hockey minds with no vested interest (like Bob Mackenzie or Kelly Hrudey) continually praise the twins, so they DO get respect. And from those who matter more than your average Jane/Joe screaming at the team to SHOOT THE PUCK the second they get on the powerplay, or boos their goalie when he has a bad game.

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  14. jtaylor
    November 10, 2011

    Having a quick look at your charts, and I am not sure there is quite as clear a trend as you make it out to be. You can use Excel to fit a trendline, but what it doesn’t do is fit the regression and tell you the confidence level of the correlation – I think there are tools to do this in Excel, but generally Excel and stats are a bad combination. I have a feeling that the stats won’t be significant enough to make the claim, and that there are a few outlier games with lots of hits swaying the results, and the more likely conclusion would be that the Sedins produce at the same rate regardless of the numbers of hits against them.

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    • jtaylor
      November 10, 2011

      I feel the need to point out I am a stats loser.

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    • Daniel Wagner
      November 10, 2011

      That could very well be the case, but my overall point stands even if the Sedins produce at the same rate. I think it can be said that playing physically against the Sedins either has no impact to their point production or a positive impact to their point production.

      And it’s actually OpenOffice Calc. ;)

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  15. Mike (different Mike)
    November 10, 2011

    May have already been said but injuries defined the cup finals last year not physicality. Kesler’s line was made ineffective by the fact he was playing at 60%. As a result Sedins were out against Chara and Siedenberg. Ridiculously soft referring aside, I would argue that a great team WITH a dominant defenceman/pair will usually beat a great team without one. Injuries aside, that was the main difference in last years finals and likely why the Sedins production was down. That is not a knock against them rather a compliment to Chara and Seidenberg (also Weber/Suter and Kieth/Seabrook etc.) Final note, please don’t bring up Pronger in Philly vs Chicago 2010 because Chicago was a great team WITH a dominant pairing and Philly was a good team with poor goal tending and ONE dominant defenceman.

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  16. Hillbutton
    November 10, 2011

    Good article. I was under the impression that toughness had a part in the Sedins’ wilting in that series, and you’ve taken me off that impression. Now I think it was entirely Chara/Seidenberg and Thomas’ doing.

    However, I’d like to see a study on the antics of Burrows/Avery/the like in games where there’s an enforcer on the other side versus their antics when there isn’t one. He and Lapierre were scoring as regularly as they ever do, but the nonsense they’re known for was silenced immediately when the Bruins began to dress Thornton, cutting a large part out of the Canucks’ game. I have no idea how you’d measure it, but given that the traditional role of the enforcer isn’t to intimidate scorers so much cheap-shit losers who only play hockey because they’re willing to do something stupid, I think it would be a better indicator of the overall value of toughness to a hockey team.

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  17. Rob
    November 10, 2011

    Countless times the Sedins have been seen to disappear in the face of adversity.
    Hits against the team are a useless stat.
    They’re very skilled players but also diving, whining cowards.
    How about just trusting your eyeballs instead of trying to baffle us with stats?

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  18. h33keymaN33
    November 10, 2011

    No MYTH here…. quite clear… 2 words to hear…

    DAVID BOLLAND (3rd line center aka checking center)

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    • Daniel Wagner
      November 10, 2011

      Was it Bolland’s physical play or was it his defensive acumen? Checking does not just mean bodychecking, after all. What Bolland seemed to do particularly well, actually, was possess the puck and keep it out of the Sedins’ possession. That seemed more effective than the physical play.

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