June 26, 1999, was a day that changed the fortunes of the Vancouver Canucks for more than the next decade. While there are some cynics who think the team’s success was stunted by the events of this day, most fans will agree that the decisions made by Brian Burke that day triggered a period of the most sustained success the franchise has ever experienced.
The date in question was, of course, the day the Vancouver Canucks drafted Daniel and Henrik Sedin with the second and third picks of NHL Entry Draft. Although it was expected that some team might try to arrange a scenario where the Sedins would end up playing together, the obstacles seemed too great to expect that this was a realistic outcome.
But Brian Burke recognized that the value of the twins together was exponentially higher than either one of them separately, and he set in motion a series of moves that landed the Canucks the high scoring pair. It has been 13 years since this fateful day, long enough to warrant a little reminiscing about the day that altered the course of the organization.
Of course the story begins earlier than 1999, in a little town in Sweden called Ornskoldsvik. Tommy and Tora Sedin already had two sons, but two more were on the way. The Sedins were born on September 26, 1980, with Henrik arriving just six minutes before his “younger” brother. The Sedins were a humble family, like most Swedes, and Henrik and Daniel grew up playing together and developing the chemistry that would serve them so well in the National Hockey League.
The Sedins began playing together at age eight and began playing on the same line at age 14, with their familiar roles becoming well-defined: Henrik as the dynamic playmaker and Daniel as the prolific goal scorer. The pair continued on to MoDo, one of the top Swedish Elite League teams, having produced NHL stars like Anders Hedberg, Peter Forsburg and Canuck legend Markus Naslund. The Sedins were named co-MVPs of the Swedish Elite League in their second year in this competitive circuit, a great accomplishment for two players so young.
The success the Sedins enjoyed at MoDo put them on the radar of most NHL teams. The 1999 draft was not viewed by experts as particularly strong, with Patrik Stefan, a Czech playing in the International Hockey League, tabbed as the likely top choice. Daniel and Henrik followed close behind in the pre-draft rankings, with Daniel rated slightly higher than his brother.
Most general managers recognized the potential benefit of having the Sedins play together, not the least of which was creating a stronger chance that they would sign in the NHL and leave their native land for a long career in the NHL. The Sedins and their agent, Mike Barnett, made it clear they wanted to play together. But given that no team had multiple picks in the top five, how could any organization figure out a way to land both of the Swedes?
Rough Times in Vancouver
One of the organizations that had a top five pick was the Vancouver Canucks. The team had landed on rough times in 1998-99, finishing with the worst record in the Western Conference for the second straight year, triggering great unrest among the masses in British Columbia.
The Canucks were just four years removed from its glorious run to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, but the franchise had not been able to return to this lofty perch. Kirk McLean could not repeat the magic of his 1994 run in the playoffs and the Canucks made the desperate move of trading its captain and heart and soul, Trevor Linden, to the New York Islanders for power forward Todd Bertuzzi and rugged defenseman Bryan McCabe. Superstar Pavel Bure was also traded, to Florida, for Ed Jovanovski and others, and Mark Messier was enlisted to try and turn the team around as its captain, a task at which he was a resounding failure.
The result of all the rebuilding was a poor record and the third pick in the draft. The Canucks were in need of some scoring punch, and Daniel Sedin seemed like a strong pick for a team in need of a sniper.
Vancouver Canucks 1999 Draft
But Brian Burke, the Canucks’ general manager, was never one to shy away from a gamble. The Atlanta Thrashers (now the reconstituted Winnipeg Jets), one of the teams above Vancouver in the draft, were poised to choose Patrik Stefan. This meant Vancouver, sitting third, had dibs on one of the Sedins. This put Vancouver in the catbird’s seat in the hunt to land both of the twins. Burke made it clear he was going to draft a Sedin no matter what, so Vancouver was the only team with a chance to land both of the brothers.
So how did Burke pull off the maneuver to draft both Sedins? The main piece of the puzzle was trading Bryan McCabe, the strong defenseman acquired in the Trevor Linden trade, to the Chicago Blackhawks. McCabe and a future first rounder landed Vancouver the Blackhawks first round pick, which was number four in the draft. Now Burke had two top five choices, but he needed to make sure that neither Tampa Bay nor Atlanta would snatch one of the Sedins at number one or two. Burke traded two later round selections and the number four pick to Tampa Bay to move into their number one slot, and then sent a pick to Atlanta to allow the Thrashers to move to number one with an assurance they would not pick a Sedin. That left Vancouver with the number two and three choices, which landed them Daniel and Henrik, respectively.
They paid a fairly high price for relatively unproven talent out of Europe, but it was a fortuitous decision by Brian Burke. He now had the building blocks in place for a strong future in Vancouver.
Vancouver Drafts the Sedin Twins
The success was not immediate, however, for the Sedins in the NHL. They took one more year to build their game at MoDo before heading across the water to Vancouver. The first few years were a struggle for Daniel and Henrik, as they were forced to adjust to the more physical North American game. In their first four years in the league, Henrik averaged only 36.5 points per season and Daniel just below 38. Their fifth season was played in MoDo as the NHL lost its entire season to a lockout.
After the lockout, the Sedins play began to emerge as they were given more playing time and more responsibility. Both Sedins became point a game players, with Henrik breaking out in 2009-10 with 112 points, earning both the Art Ross and Hart trophies as the NHL’s leading scorer and Most Valuable Player. Daniel was injured for part of that season, so his big breakout came a year later when he scored 41 goals and 104 points, winning the Art Ross Trophy. Though the past two seasons have not been quite as productive for the twins, they are still one of the top scoring duos in the league.
The team has also enjoyed as unprecedented run of success at the same time the Sedins have emerged as stars. The Canucks made the playoffs the twin first four years in the league, led buy the “West Coast Express” line of Naslund, Bertuzzi and Brendan Morrison. The team struggled a bit after the lockout as the Naslund line deteriorated and the Sedins emerged, but beginning in 2008-09, Vancouver made the playoffs five straight seasons, winning the Northwest Division each year, as well as the Presidents’ Trophy twice (recognizing the team with the best overall record in the league). In 2010-11, Vancouver made it to the Stanley Cup Finals, before dropping Game 7 to the Boston Bruins.
The Sedins both have one more year remaining on their contracts in Vancouver, and there have not been any talks initiated thus far to extend their contracts. Although the Sedins would love to finish their NHL careers in Vancouver, with the potential for rebuilding in Vancouver looming, it is not clear yet if they fit in the team’s long term plans. If indeed 2013-14 is the last year for the twins in Vancouver uniforms, fans should enjoy the swan song of the wizardry and class exhibited by Daniel and Henrik.