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The Greatest Canuck....

06 October 2014 - 04:21 AM

From The Province...

 

By Ed Willes

Province Sports Columnist

 

The exercise undertaken by the illustrious panel of pundits and opinion-makers was to name the greatest Canuck in the history of the franchise.

 

Note the wording here. The goal wasn’t to identify the best player to ever wear the Canuck uniform, or the most exciting, or the most popular. It was to identify the greatest Canuck. Maybe this is a fine semantical argument and, maybe, the results would have been the same anyway. But there can only be one choice when the full scope of this project is considered and Henrik Sedin has justifiably been voted the greatest Canuck of them all.

 

Sedin, the team’s current captain, edged Pavel Bure by three slender votes in the balloting and if you were going on raw data, it shouldn’t have been that close. Sedin is the franchise’s all-time leader in points and assists. Barring serious injury, and Sedin has been the most durable NHLer of his era, he’ll pass Trevor Linden early in the 2015-2016 season for most games played by a Canuck. He’s also the only Canuck to win a Hart Trophy and the Canucks’ longest period of sustained success coincides with his most productive seasons.

 

In short, if you just looked at the back of his hockey card, the case for Henrik would be made. But the real story for Sedin transcends the numbers and touches on something far more profound. Henrik’s greatest strength lies in his ability to make those around him better. This is also the biggest difference between him and Bure. They are, indisputably, two completely different players with contrasting strengths and styles. But consider the list of players who enjoyed their best seasons with Henrik, then ask yourself if Bure had the same effect on his team.

 

Alex Burrows you know about. In 2003-04 he played a full season in the East Coast League. Five seasons later he was promoted to a line with Henrik and his brother Daniel, promptly scored 28 goals and averaged 30 goals a season over the next four. Burrows is a fine player, but is there another centre in the NHL who could turn him into a 30-goal scorer?

 

This, moreover, is hardly an isolated case. In 2005-06, the Canucks signed Anson Carter to a one-year deal as a UFA, installed him with the Sedins and watched him turn in a 33-goal season. Two years later he was out of the NHL. Remember Jason King? In ’03-’04 he was an unheralded rookie who scored 12 goals in 47 games while playing with the twins. The thought then was the Canucks had found gold in King, but he would play just four more NHL games after he was taken off the Sedins’ line. The year before, Trent Klatt enjoyed his best season as a Canuck playing largely with the Sedins. He was out of the NHL after the following season.

 

And that’s just one aspect of Henrik’s story. As for the rest of it, think of the qualities he’s represented during his career here. Think of the way he’s carried himself on and off the ice. Think of his impact on the community. Again, we’re talking about the greatest Canuck of all time, and the collective weight of everything Henrik has accomplished here makes him the clear choice.

 

He and his brother, you may recall, struggled mightily with the demands of the NHL over their first three seasons in Vancouver. As the second- and third-overall picks in the ’99 draft, they were heralded as franchise-savers and endured an almost savage level of criticism when their production didn’t meet early expectations. There was a glimpse of a breakthrough in Year 4 before they came back from the lockout with a vengeance in ’05-’06, and over the next seven seasons Henrik was the model of consistency, averaging 86 points a season, the greatest sustained run in Canucks history.

 

As for the secret of the turnaround, there was no secret. The Sedins never met a challenge they couldn’t outwork and that was the basis of their transformation from support players to bona fide stars. They became bigger and stronger, enabling them to hold the puck longer in their trademark cycling game. They added a stride to their skating, making them as dangerous off the rush as in the half-court game. They did this through application and perseverance, all while maintaining an unimpeachable standard of personal conduct, and Henrik was named the team captain just prior to 2010-11. That season would end with the Game 7 loss to the Bruins in the Cup, but it stands as the greatest single season in Canucks history, and second place isn’t particularly close. It also came in the midst of a six-year run in which the Canucks averaged 104 points a season. This was Henrik’s impact on the team. In their best season with Bure, the Canucks recorded 101 points.

 

Then again, Bure was just a different cat. He was a supreme individualist, one of the greatest talents to play the game. But his contribution to the greater good could be measured by one stats line: goals scored. Granted, that’s a fairly important category. But Bure was an island unto himself. He was never regarded as a leader. He always seemed to be unhappy about something, mostly money. And he left the Canucks in a huge jam when he quit the team after the ’97-’98 season. The goals, to be sure, were something to behold, and when you watch the Bure highlight reel, you’re aware you’re watching someone who’s been touched by the gods. But his career with the Canucks basically consisted of four great seasons, including his first three in the NHL, and he ranks fifth among Canucks in career goals.

 

Yes, he was incandescent and, yes, he brought a spark to the city. But there’s so much more to the question of greatness. Bure was flashy and could bring the crowd out of its seat. Henrik’s greatest strength has been his consistency and reliability. Bure always seemed to be about Pavel. Henrik has always been about the team. Pavel was a rock star. Henrik? Not so much. Cripes, just look at the nicknames. The Russian Rocket. Hank. That tells you all you need to know about the two personalities.

 

In the end, it’s a matter of substance over style; of everything Henrik has brought to the table throughout his career against Bure’s one unique skill. The greatest player to ever wear a Canucks uniform? That’s a helluva question. The greatest Canuck is a lot easier to answer.

ewilles@theprovince.com
twitter.com/willesonsports

 

 

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