VANCOUVER â€” Aware things could get a lot worse before they get better, the aging faces of the Vancouver Canucks remain on board with the franchise’s plan to rebuild.
Henrik and Daniel Sedin met the media along with their teammates on Tuesday to pick over the carcass of a dismal 2016-17 campaign that saw the club finish 29th overall in the NHL standings.
The talented twins, who will be 37 when the puck drops next season, said despite the long path back to respectability, they’re committed to the program of bringing more youngsters into the lineup as they enter the final year of their contracts.
“We’ve always been,” said Henrik Sedin. “We understand that it’s going to be a rebuild, a retooling or whatever you want to call it. It was going to take a couple years.
“That’s where we are.”
A second straight spring without playoff hockey â€” the Canucks earned just 69 points this season after a 75-point, 28th-place showing last year â€” had cost head coach Willie Desjardins his job just 24 hours earlier.
As they did all season, the Sedins pointed blame squarely at themselves, perhaps unfairly, for the club’s 30-43-9 record.
“It’s never fun to see your coach go,” said Henrik Sedin. “But that says a lot about what we have done this year.”
Daniel Sedin led the way with 76 points (20 goals, 56 assists) during Vancouver’s 101-point campaign in 2014-15 after Desjardins was hired, while Henrik had 73 points (18 goals, 55 assists).
But the twins’ production started to slide when the Canucks missed the playoffs last season, and practically fell off a cliff this year.
Daniel had 61 points (28 goals, 33 assists) to lead the Canucks in 2015-16, but just 44 points (15 goals, 29 assists) in 2016-17. Henrik, meanwhile, went from 55 points (11 goals, 44 assists) to 50 points (15 goals, 35 assists).
The Canucks were actually in a playoff spot at the end of January before cratering down the stretch with an NHL-worst 7-23-3 mark over their final 33 games as they set a franchise record for fewest goals in a season with 178.
“We’re committed to come back next year and have a great year,” said Henrik Sedin. “I’m fully confident we can do that, but that’s for us to prove.”
Another veteran questioned about his plans was pending unrestricted free-agent goalie Ryan Miller, who will also be 37 next season and is open to returning.
“I want to play until somebody kicks me out,” said Miller. “I have three cousins who came before me in the NHL and every single one of them told me: ‘Go to the rink until they kick you out, like literally show up, just go.’
“You have to get it all out, and I don’t think I have it all out of my system yet.”
While the Canucks’ worst season since the late 1990s didn’t have many positives, there is some reason for optimism.
Bo Horvat, who turned 22 last week, became the first player not named Sedin to lead the Canucks in scoring since 2006.
“Definitely not the result we were thinking was going to happen at the beginning of the year,” said Horvat, who had 20 goals and 32 assists. “At the same time we’re adding a lot more youth.”
Apart from Horvat’s rise, Markus Granlund and Sven Baertschi had breakout seasons up front, while the arrival of Brock Boeser and the emergence of rookie defencemen Troy Stecher and Nikita Tryamkin bodes well moving forward.
But the Canucks didn’t get much out of big-money free agent Loui Eriksson, who scored 11 goals and 14 assists in 65 games after signing a six-year, US$36-million contract last summer.
And Brandon Sutter wasn’t any better with 17 goals and 17 assists, including just eight points on Vancouver’s 29th-ranked power play despite spending most of the season alongside the Sedins.
“It’s a disappointing year,” said Daniel Sedin. “It’s up to us to come back and be better.”
Heading into the final season of matching four-year contract extensions they signed in 2013, the Sedins are driven by the dream of another playoff run in the twilight of their careers.
“That’s where the push comes from,” said Henrik Sedin. “To have a playoff push again, to be in big games and to play in important games down the stretch. The fire is still there.”
It’s just hard to see from the outside how that will be possible in Vancouver any time soon.
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press