The pre-season is experiment-time for Henrik and Daniel Sedin.
No matter who is coaching the Canucks, one of the tasks on the list is to decide who will play with the Sedin twins.
When Alain Vigneault was the head coach, he was able to do that successfully by putting Alex Burrows, then 27, in that role in 2008-09.
It has hardly changed since, and understandably so.
After all, while he was on that line, the Sedins were able to do things they had never done. In 2009-10, Henrik finished with 112 points, including 83 assists. By doing so, he won the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s leading scorer and the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player.
Meanwhile, Burrows led the Canucks with 35 goals as he finished with 67 points.
The next season, it was Daniel’s turn to do the same as his brother. He led the NHL with 104 points and won the Ted Lindsay Award as the most outstanding player as voted by the NHLPA.
However, the trio started to break down last season.
The Sedins, who had been consistently healthy throughout their careers, suffered injuries that were longer than just day-to-day. The injuries resulted in Henrik and Daniel being out of the lineup for 12 and nine games, respectively.
But even when they were in the lineup, Henrik finished with only 50 points and Daniel with 47, career lows for both.
It doesn’t stop there, though.
The injury bug hit Burrows, too, as he dressed for just 49 games and scored only five goals.
It was time for the newly hired brass of Trevor Linden, the president of hockey operations, and general manager Jim Benning to attempt to find a solution.
Two days after the July 1 opening of free-agent season, they believe they were able to find one when they signed unrestricted free-agent forward Radim Vrbata to a two-year deal worth US$10 million.
Prior to joining the Canucks, he had played for the Phoenix Coyotes for the past five seasons. The best of those was 2011-12, when he scored 35 goals.
Vancouver not only added a player who can score, but he is a right-hand shot, something that Burrows isn’t.
The Canucks have stated openly that they want Vrbata to play on the first line with the Sedins. But the thing is, nobody had seen them play together in a competitive game.
That changed on Tuesday, as the Canucks played host to the San Jose Sharks in one of two split-squad pre-season games.
“Well, I think every time you start the pre-season anywhere, it’s important to get into game situations and get used to hitting again,” Vrbata said prior to the game. “I don’t think it matters too much if you are on a new team or an old team.
“It was a long summer without real hockey and as I said, you want to prepare yourself for the regular season. So that’s why the pre-season is important. That’s where it all shows. It’s all good that you feel good in a practice or scrimmages or power-play practices, but I’m looking forward to playing the game to see we are at.”
How did Henrik feel?
“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” he said. “It’s been a good feeling from the get-go, on and off the ice. Mostly on the power play, he’s going to be a big help for us. So we’ll see. It’s going to be a work in progress and we’re going to take it day-by-day and try to get better. I’m sure there is a lot of things we need to talk about after the game, but that’s the way it should be.”
Of course, it remains to be seen if Vrbata will have chemistry with the Sedins, something that is necessary for any winger playing with the twins.
“I think just chemistry,” Henrik said. “To see how we read each other and so far in practice it’s been nothing but good. We’re excited, I hope he is and, like I said, we’ll take it day-by-day here.”
The Canucks defeated the Sharks 3-2, and Henrik was impressed with the new trio.
“I thought it felt good,” Henrik stated. “There are things that we can work on but I mean, for the first game together, right from the get-go, we had some good chemistry. He was close to scoring some goals. In the second period, we didn’t have a lot of shifts five-on-five, but in the third, we had a good third period as well.”
Doug Lidster, one of the Canucks’ assistant coaches, also was impressed.
“They had a shift I recall in the third period where they showed quite a bit of zone time and control and stuff like that,” he said “I thought that kind of fed the rest of our guys and I thought that was kind of a momentum changer for us, so they did real well.”
Despite that, it remains a learning process for Vrbata.
“It’s always good to get a win and start the season right,” he stated. “It was the first pre-season game so I think it was tough for everybody to kind of get into it after a long summer. I think it was a good start and we can build from here. We had some good shifts and some good looks. Unfortunately, nothing went in. But we can learn from this game and look at the shifts we had and try to see what should have been differently.
“First game we learn, and we’ll be better next game.”
(Dickson Liong is Taking Note’s Vancouver correspondent)