Even as Markus Naslund’s career in a Vancouver Canucks uniform was winding down – a career that saw him revitalize a moribund franchise, rewrite numerous franchise scoring records, become the longest-serving captain in Canucks history, and spend countless hours in the community – many fans questioned whether or not his jersey #19 was deserving to be raised to the rafters. Whether or not it deserved to hang alongside #12 and #16.
The fact is, many fans have come to compare Naslund’s accomplishments with Trevor Linden’s and Stan Smyl’s. And that’s certainly their prerogative. Naslund was an elite level player – an All-Star, Lester Pearson Trophy winner and Hart Trophy nominee – but was unable to take the Canucks as far into the playoffs as Linden and Smyl did. Linden and Smyl played with as much as grit as skill. Fair or not, Naslund was known more for his skill and finesse than anything else.
Because of these differences, however, it’s perhaps more appropriate to compare how they connected with Canucks fans. We can debate and dispute stats and playoff runs all we want, but there’s one thing that we may all be able to agree on – that Naslund connected with Canucks fans who grew up watching the team in the post-Messier era as much as Linden and Smyl did in their respective eras.
Having grown up in Vancouver, I’ve been a diehard fan of the Canucks since Chris’ birthday plus one. But there’s something about kids from Alberta that I remember the most. I’ve cheered for an average guy from Glendon, Alberta who went by the name “Steamer.” I also hollered “HAR-OLLLLLLD” in the hope that the best ‘stache this side of the Rockies hailing from Edmonton would lay out to block a slapper. But it was a young kid from Medicine Hat that I first felt truly connected to.
Harold & Stan were already well into their own careers and I liked them because those were the players my Dad thought were the best. Yet, it wasn’t until 1988 when this 18 year old kid named Trevor first donned a Canucks jersey that I truly became excited about the team. He was skilled, yet understood the importance of a blue collar work ethic (as Jim Robson once said “who will play, you know he’ll play, he will play on crutches”). He was exciting to watch and wore his emotions on his sleeve.
But it wasn’t just how he performed on the ice that had me enamoured (I’m a confident guy, I can admit that). He may have been from Alberta, but he found his home here on the West Coast of British Columbia. He was the first face of Canucks Place, the player I remember seeing down in the caverns of the Pacific Coliseum talking to the fans, and the player who you’d walk into the most while around town. Some of the darkest days as a Canucks fan were when “he who shall not be named” traded Trevor away and some of the brightest days were after he came back.
And if there were ever an indication that the team got it right when they raised number 16 to the rafters, it’d have to be this – he was always the player that my friends and I ever dreamed we wanted to be when we picked up a stick. And I bet he’s still the player younger fans still want to be.
I watched the Trevor Linden jersey retirement ceremony with some emotional distance, as I never quite understood what he was to Vancouver. It’s understandable. In 1994, I was nine; I didn’t understand what my testicles did, either. Linden’s contributions were a bit beyond my comprehension. By the time I was old enough to understand those contributions–the ones that crafted Linden as the greatest Canuck–Markus Naslund was the guy making them. He was the face of the Canucks; the top draw; the best hope; the spiritual and emotional leader. Yes, Markus Naslund was the greatest Canuck I ever personally witnessed.
And it doesn’t matter that he never won a cup; Trevor Linden never won one either. Instead, these guys built their legends on great hockey matched by great work in the community. It’s a model for greatness that started with Trevor Linden; Markus Naslund took it and ran with it, and that’s where I recognized it. We’re all hearing the stories now, about how Naslund passed it to Daniel and Henrik Sedin, and the Canucks are just now reaping the benefits of their great leap forward into a similar role. In that respect, it’s important to recognize who Markus Naslund was: the guy that took Trevor Linden’s example and turned it into a tradition.
Let me put this in a way that you boomers might understand: Markus Naslund is the Trevor Linden of my generation.
We here at CHB are partnering with Harrison and the Pass It To Bulis boys to give away a total of four (4) Trevor Linden lithograph prints.
(Print only. Frame not included.)
We are giving away two (2) lithograph prints here on CHB. (PITB is giving away another two (2) prints on their site.) One winner will be drawn from Twitter; another winner will be drawn from the comments section.
1) To enter on Twitter, send the following tweet:
RT/follow or enter a comment to win a Trevor Linden lithograph from @canuckshockey and @passittobulis. http://bit.ly/f1gbbu #Canucks
2) To enter in the comments section, write which one of Naslund, Linden and Smyl you connected with the most and why.
We’ll draw the winners on Tuesday, December 14th at 7:00 PM so get your entries in before then.
[update: 12/14/2010, 19:24 PM]
And the winners of the Linden lithographs are: @ArcVancouver and Amy N. (@ameecq). Email me with your mailing address at email@example.com and I’ll send each of you a print.