Oh captain my captain! Canucks retire Markus Naslund's number
The Canucks will take on Steven Stamkos and the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday at 7:30 pm pacific time, but thats not the biggest story of the night.
Markus Naslund, the Canucks Captain from 2000 to 2008 will have his number ascend to the rafters of Rogers Arena. Hundreds of journalists have already covered every angle of Naslund's number retirement ceremony, so I'll keep this as brief as possible.
Naslund's ties to the Canucks run deep; when he was a seven year old in his native Sweden, his babysitter was Elsie Gradin. Elsie Gradin, as Canuck fans can probably guess, was former Canuck superstar Thomas Gradin's mother.
He just seemed destined to be a Canuck.
His story with the Canucks began in 1996, when he was traded from the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Vancouver Canucks for Alek Stojanov. It was, aside from the Roberto Luongo trade, the most lopsided deal in Canucks history. For those wondering, Stojanov is now a volunteer firefighter in Hamilton.
Naslund didn't fit in on the Penguins roster; perhaps he was overshadowed by Mario Lemieux, perhaps he just needed a change of scenery. Whatever the case, he came to the Canucks without much hype or expectation.
He played 10 games for the Canucks in the 1995-96 season, going pointless in the first nine. In his tenth game, however, he scored a hat trick in a 5-0 win over the Calgary Flames. The next two seasons were also respectable, but didn't quite live up to the way he finished the first. He scored 36 goals combined in those two seasons, and it was rumored he feuded with Head coach Mike Keenan behind closed doors.
The following season, he exploded, with 36 goals and 30 assists for 66 points. He was named to his first all star team, and won the Canucks "Cyclone Taylor" award, given to the most valuable player on the Canucks. It was the first of five that Naslund would eventually win in his career in Vancouver. The best, however, was yet to come.
On September 15th, 2000, at the Canucks training camp in Sweden, Markus Naslund, with a smile on his face, pulled his number 19 jersey over his head. This time, however, it bore the "C." Naslund raised his hands in the air like a prizefighter, obviously ecstatic that he was the first european born Captain in Canucks Franchise history.
His first year as a captain didn't end as well as would've liked, though. He started the year great, and was named to his second all star game. However, with only 10 games left in the regular season, he suffered two broken bones in his leg, and missed the remainder of the season. One image that will forever be ingrained in the minds of Canucks fans will be Naslund, on his crutches, saluting the fans before a game against the LA Kings. The fans rewarded him with a heart warming standing ovation. He finished the year with 41 goals, 34 assists, for 75 points.
When Naslund returned from his leg injury the following season, no one knew he would be an integral part of one of the best lines in hockey for the next few years; The West Coast Express, with Todd Bertuzzi and Brendan Morrison. They didn't play the entire season together, but they did contribute an 8 goal, 21 point outburst over 14 games. It would be a sign of things to come for the trio.
Naslund the season ended with 40 goals and 50 assists for 90 points.
In his first full year with his new linemates, Naslund had his best offensive season ever, scoring 48 goals, 56 assists for 104 points
. The season, despite Naslund cementing himself as one of the premiere players in the game, was bittersweet. He lost out on the Art Ross and Rocket Richard trophies to Peter Forsberg and Milan Hejduk, both on the last games of the season. He finished runner up to Forsberg, his childhood friend, in The Hart Trophy voting, and the Canucks lost the Northwest Division title to Forsbergs avalanche as well.
The Canucks did not make it past the second round of the playoffs. In fact, a Naslund-guided team would never make it past the second round of the playoffs.
He did, however win the Lester B Pearson award, which is the MVP as voted by NHL players. It signified that Naslund had respect throughout the entire league. He was also chosen as the Hockey News' MVP that year.
Naslund would never score one hundred points again, and his play would decline over the next few years. He seemed slower, his shot wasn't as hard or accurate, and the Canucks continually failed in the playoffs. The fans weren't kind, rountinely calling for Naslund's head, or his "C."
Also, even though he was still the Canucks captain, the team was no longer his.
After the infamous Todd Bertuzzi/Steve Moore incident of 2004, Bertuzzi was linked to trade rumors frequently. A deal finally happened in the Summer of 2006, as Bertuzzi, Bryan Allen and Alex Auld were swapped for Roberto Luongo, Lukas Kraijeck and a pick. Luongo quickly became the face of the franchise, and Naslund slipped into second line duty. Even his departure from the Canucks was without fanfare.
Naslund had the unlucky distinction of having his last game as a Canuck coincide with Canuck Legend Trevor Linden. After the final game, as Linden shook hands with Calgary Flames players, and took a victory lap around the ice, Naslund had one knee on the ice, looking dismally into the distance. He would never lace up his skates as a Vancouver Canuck again.
He wanted to. He wanted to retire a Canuck, to have his legacy end where his success began. He wasn't even offered a contract, however, and he packed his bags and headed for the bright lights of New York city.
It was a very quiet depature for a very quiet leader. A humble exit for a humble person.
Now, Naslund gets his night. It's not Trevor Linden's night. This one belongs to Markus Naslund, the Canuck Franchise leader in goals, in points, in hat tricks, game winning goals, powerplay goals, single game goals, and years as a captain.
He didn't, however lead his team to any Stanley Cups. But can that blame be rested one one person?
Think of the lasting impact Naslund has had on this franchise. The emergence of the West Coast Express introduced casual Hockey fans to an exciting team that scored a seemingly endless supply of goals. The team became Stanley Cup favourites under Naslund, and even though he never won one, he made fans in this city excited to be Canucks Fans again.
When Henrik Sedin won his Hart trophy last season, who did he thank? Markus Naslund for taking him under his wing.
Instead of debate, let's celebrate the wonderful career Markus Naslund had. The Canuck for life that just happened to play in Pittsburgh and New York.
Tonight, the legacy finally ends for good. Markus Naslund will never lace em up for Vancouver again, but you better believe memories of his famous wrist shot will echo throughout the rafters at Rogers Arena for years to come.
Heres to a great captain, a great player, and an even better person.