Wednesday, December 15, 2010

I'm A Nice Guy! Retire My Jersey Number!

I'm sure those of you who live outside the Vancouver Canucks' realm are baffled as to why Markus Naslund got his jersey retired.

Let me explain to you what Vancouver Canuck hockey fans are all about since the late '90s. Think Tarrana Make Belief fans only the West Coast version of such. There has been such little
on-ice success (just two trips to the Finals in 40 seasons) that any player who hangs around long enough, well, they get as overrated as Wendel Clark is in the Centre of the Universe. These are the same fans who think that the current team, without a Norris Trophy level defenceman, is a Stanley Cup contender. Just leave them be in their Luuuuongo world. For the rest of you confused about the Canucks way of doing things, read on.

Almost irregardless of what a Canuck does on the ice, if he's a nice guy, plays most of his career in Vancouver, does charity work in the community and is the captain, odds are he'll get his jersey retired here. To wit, the three retired numbers of Stan Smyl, Trevor Linden and now Markus Naslund. (I would add you could also die suddenly but Wayne Maki's number 11 was unretired so Mark Messier could make a bucketload of dough here . . . so I guess Luc Bourdon is out of luck.)

Stan "the Steamer" Smyl was a honest, workmanlike winger in the '80s who had a terrific junior career going to three Memorial Cups and winning two with the New Westminster Bruins. He was the Canuck captain chipping in 18 points in 17 playoff games on the very lucky (assist to the LA Kings' Miracle on Manchester eliminating the Air Hockey Oilers to clear the track, Eddie Shack) '82 Cup Final run. Upon his retirement he was the Canuck leader in career goals and points (it also helped he played five more seasons as a Canuck than his centerman for most of those seasons, the vastly underrated Thomas Gradin).
Yet he had just three 30-goal seasons and only two point plus per game seasons in a 13-season career that spanned the goal-glut '80s.

Trevor Linden--oh, where do we begin? Another terrific junior star helping the Medicine Hat Tigers to two Memorial Cup titles. He also captained the Canucks to the '94 Final, but it's his nice guy (and the good looks) in the community that wins people's hearts here. It sure isn't his play on the ice that can possibly be the reason he's so beloved as what were people watching from 2001 onwards? Linden is probably the biggest enigma in Canuck history. Weirdly, few people have ever bothered to investigate how a player who looked like the second coming of Cam Neely (well, maybe a slightly lesser version of such) through the first half of his career turned suddenly from age 26 to a player with hands of stone.
Six of his first eight seasons he cracked the 30-goal mark (even in the strike season of '94/5 he was on a 30-goal pace so technically seven out of eight). He had 80 points in 79 Canuck playoff games in that first half of his career. The following 11 seasons he never even hit the 20-goal mark in any season. Forget even looking at his playoff scoring record as a third liner over those seasons. But, boy, he's a great guy in the community. Big kudos for that!

Markus Naslund follows pretty much the same pattern. He, along with a true hockey great in Peter Forsberg, helped Modo to two junior hockey championships in Sweden. In his first nine full seasons in a Canuck uniform, Nazzy three times cracked the 40-goal mark and three-times the 30-goal mark. Many suggested he mailed it in his last two seasons averaging 58 points a season. I'd argue he mailed it in much earlier as he was an incredibly poor playoff performer. Maybe it was his milquetoast style or just his lack of fire, but Naslund had just 33 points in 45 career playoff games with the Canucks. He had two decent playoff years but neither amounted to much as in his time in Vancouver, the team lost in the first round three times and the second round twice (once after holding a 3 games to 1 lead on the Minnesota Wild).

Apparently, Markus also "mentored" the Sedins. Well, maybe that explains the twins taking ages to finally become superstars at age 30 (how old was Sidney Crosby again when he first led the league in points?) and so far that lack of any discernible playoff success mirrors Naslund's career.

Now if you were the most exciting player in Canuck history (and arguably up there as the only player in the '90s who had you on the edge of your seat like Alexander Ovechkin does now) who averaged the most goals and points per game in Canuck history and should have been in the Hockey Hall of Fame by now BUT demanded a trade out of Vancouver...well, you may never get your jersey retired. His nickname alone--the Russian Rocket--is deserving of a banner on its own as one of the coolest in NHL history. What better describes his mad dash rushes up the ice.
Sadly, management and ownership of the Vancouver Canucks hold grudges and act like jilted lovers.

Those of us who are a little more savvy hockey-wise know what Canuck stands head and shoulders above the three amigos whose jersey numbers hang from the rafters of Rogers Arena.

Your honor, I ask you: "Does Markus Naslund have a top ten on You Tube? Do people write songs about the man Sweden dropped from their national team?" I rest my case here and here. Ladies, gentlemen, children, aliens from other planets and small animals, I present the one and only--Pavel Bure.

From Russia With Bags O' Goals