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.
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.Tags: Daniel, Daniel Sedin, featured, Henrik, Henrik Sedin, Mythbusting isn't as fun when it involves graphs instead of explosions, Statistics, Stats, the Sedins, Toughness