Henrik Sedin had a simply amazing season, winning the Hart Trophy, and the Art Ross Trophy, despite receiving less playing time than his primary competition. His even-strength scoring rate was 2nd only to brother Daniel, he was downright dominant on the power play, and finished with the 3rd highest offensive GVT in the league. In the end, he finished with career highs across the board, with 29 goals, 83 assists and 112 points, the latter two of which are new franchise records.
Despite these spectacular results, our VUKOTA projection has him pegged for only 89 points in 75 games, which would be 97 points if he were to play every single game for the sixth straight season. Has he exposed a terrible flaw in the VUKOTA system, or is the objective eye of VUKOTA trying to correct our perspective?
Even-Strength Scoring Rate
Prior to this season, the best players in the league could hope to score about 3.3 even-strength points per 60 minutes, given the right linemates and more than a little luck. Someone as great as Sidney Crosby, at his very best, could maybe squeeze out 3.4.
Last season, however, Henrik Sedin's even-strength scoring rate was off the charts. Well, not off the charts, because it wouldn't be much of a measurement if someone could legitimately finish off of it, but you get the picture. Some people may argue that Sedin can sustain his production at a rate 15% higher than anyone else in the league, but VUKOTA simply isn't programmed to make such reckless predictions.
ESP/60: Even-Strength Points per 60 minutes (1.8 is top-6 level)
Player Season Team ESP/60
Daniel Sedin 2009-10 Vancouver 4.0
Henrik Sedin 2009-10 Vancouver 3.9
Alexander Ovechkin 2009-10 Washington 3.6
Thomas Vanek 2006-07 Buffalo 3.5
Daniel Briere 2006-07 Buffalo 3.4
Sidney Crosby 2007-08 Pittsburgh 3.4
Sidney Crosby 2009-10 Pittsburgh 3.4
Maxim Afinogenov 2006-07 Buffalo 3.3
Jarome Iginla 2006-07 Calgary 3.3
Martin Havlat 2008-09 Chicago 3.3
Jason Spezza 2006-07 Ottawa 3.3
Alex Tanguay 2006-07 Calgary 3.3
Alexander Semin 2008-09 Washington 3.3
Just to show you how difficult it is to claw your way onto this list, the only other players to score above 3.0 in the past four seasons were Daniel Alfredsson, Evgeni Malkin, Rene Bourque, Jason Pominville, Paul Stastny, Pavel Datsyuk, Zach Parise, Olli Jokinen, Joe Thornton and Nicklas Backstrom. That's right, only 20 players have done it and until last season Sedin wasn't one of them.
While Crosby and Ovechkin have unquestioned return memberships to this club, very few others will get through the doors again, possibly including Sedin. Vanek, Briere and Afinogenov were all part of Buffalo's miraculous spike in 2006-07, the same season that Iginla and Tanguay briefly caught lightning in a bottle, while Jason Spezza stole the show for the Senators. Since then none of them have managed to score at a comparable rate.
Player Best ESP/60 Since 2006-07
Even when given several seasons, only the most fortunate among them could sustain 7/8th's of their offense. If Henrik were to pull of that miraculous feat next season and somehow keep his scoring at a rate higher than both Ovechkin and Crosby, he would still lose 10 even-strength points and be in danger of sliding below 100. In this perfect world he'd have to play every single game (that might not be a problem, actually) and lose no more than a single point of power play production in order to prove us wrong. More realistically he'd tumble far closer to his usual scoring rate outside the 3.0 club.
It would be a different story if Sedin were 23 years old, because it's not unusual to enjoy dramatic improvements at such a young age and sustain that production – which Sedin, in fact, did. At 30 years of age scoring tends to decrease, gradually at first and then dramatically. To believe that Sedin will score 100 points is to believe that he can sustain more of his offense than anyone else who has been in the same boat recently, and that he'll continue to out-perform the two greatest scorers of this generation.
Oates and Gilmour
Sedin is not the first player to enjoy a sudden spike at this age. We searched the NHL's history for players whose normalized scoring statistics most closely resembled Sedin's, and who also enjoyed just as dramatic a spike at the same age. The two most recent and appropriate examples are Adam Oates and Doug Gilmour.
We plotted points-per-game against their age for the careers of Oates, Gilmour and Sedin, shifting Adam Oates by one year so that his spike would line up with the others. Don't be concerned that Sedin's scoring totals are lower, because that's largely due to the difference in era – scoring was a lot higher in the early 1990s when Oates and Gilmour competed. The gap you see in Sedin's curve is from the lock-out season.
As you can see, both Oates and Gilmour returned to Earth the following season. They both remained excellent players and enjoyed fine and high-scoring careers, but not at the same level as their miracle seasons. The same will be true of Henrik Sedin, even if he plays a full schedule and his regression is as soft as Gilmour's. Thus, he would somehow remain in the Ovechkin/Crosby range and he would still come up a few points short of 100, which lines up exactly with his VUKOTA projection.
We're certainly not saying it's impossible for Sedin to score 100 points because he does have a few points in his favor. After all, he scored 1.00 points per game without twin brother Daniel, and 1.47 alongside him, which would translate to 120 points over a full season. If Canuck opponents are particularly undisciplined there is the potential that he could add a few more points with the man advantage, compensating for a fall-off at even-strength. Are we perhaps being too defensive of our VUKOTA projection, and not giving the talented Swede enough credit?
No way. His scoring rate last season was just too high to sustain, even for someone like Crosby or Ovechkin. Players enjoy spikes like these from time to time, like the 2006-07 Sabres for example, but they inevitably regress back towards the mean. There's no question that Sedin is a talented scorer, but so were Oates and Gilmour and even they couldn't contend with the increase in attention they had earned themselves the following season. By all means, hope for 100 points, but be pleased with a near miss.
Robert Vollman is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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