Thursday, June 12, 2008

Trevor Linden: The Almost Cam Neely

I'm probably a handful of fans who never "got" Trevor Linden. I'm talking about the player not the all-around nice hot Captain Canuck so many fans love and worship. Would someone please explain to me why at the age of 26 he basically began to regress as a goal scorer? That I've never seen explained in print nor ever asked by any media member.

Why is it contemporaries like Wendel Clark (yes, Wendy, the vastly overrated Make Belief) managed four seasons of 30+ goals after age 25 including a whopping 46 at age 27 and a surreal 32 goals in 77 games at age 32 mainly with Tampa (he was a trade deadline pickup for the Wings that 98/99 season)?

Even Kevin Dineen (Mr. Whaler/Hurricane...sorry, Ron Francis) squeezed out two more 30-goal seasons from ages 26 to 30.

Don't even get me started on Rick Tocchet, who lucked out and landed in Mario World where he bagged 48 goals at age 27. Tocchet somehow even managed to squeeze out four 20+ goal season at ages 31 through 34. During this time the closest our Trev got was 19 at age 32.

Think about it. From when he broke in as an 18-year-old through age 25, Linden had seven 30-goal seasons (yes, I'm counting the 18 goals in 48 games played during the 1994/95 strike season as a 30-goal season). At the time, I honestly thought he was headed to be the next Cam Neely and that a 40- or even a 50-goal goal season could be possible. He turned 26 on a team that had Alexander Mogilny, Pavel Bure and a young Markus Naslund in 1996/97 headed into what should have been the prime of his career.

Then something snapped and he was no longer the ironman. After missing just seven games total in those first eight seasons, he played just 49 in that 9-goal 96/7 season. From ages 26 to 30, he averaged a prorated 19 goals over an 82-game schedule. Sad thing was in only his 1998/99 season with the New York Islanders did he manage to play in all 82 games through that span.

His return to Vancouver at the age of 31 seemed to revive his ability to stay healthy and up until last season played in over 96-percent of the Nux games albeit with reduced minutes. His scoring touch was pretty much toast by then lost amidst his travels from the Island to Montreal to DC.

The even more frustrating thing about his career was in the playoffs through his first stint in Vancouver (79 GP, 30G, 80 pts), he was better than all his power forward contemporaries bar Cam Baby. Trev was money in the bank when it counted. Then it suddenly stopped. It's like he went from being Cam Neely, Jr., to an average NHLer from age 26 on.

Well, at least we'll always have New York in the springtime of 1994, but I still wonder what was it that turned Linden from a consistent 30-goal scorer to one who struggled to crack 20 in what should have been any decent hockey player's prime.

We'll always luv ya, Trev, but what did happen to your hands after age 25?

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