Prepping for the return of the 2008-2009 Vancouver Canucks

As cool as the weather has been in the lower mainland in the past week or so, it makes me think about one thing: the coming 2008-2009 hockey season for the Vancouver Canucks.

To help get you and me both prepared for this, I figured I’d go back on some key points from the end of last season while looking ahead to this next one. Of course, these are the things that stick out the most to me, so feel free to add your comments. And if you are a Vancouver Canucks fan, you’re probably doing the same thing as me when someone asks you your opinion on what to expect come this fall. You’re probably shrugging your shoulders and saying, I’m not really sure.
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So long, Trevor Linden

Picture time line of Trevor Linden I’ve already made mention of this before, but today it’s official. Trevor Linden[wiki] is leaving the game of hockey.

No matter how little of time I have been an avid Canucks fan, there is no way to easily say how incredible of a person Linden is. Even though the career is over, it’s not about being sad. He never won a Stanley Cup, never blew away the masses with his talent on the ice, nor did he really set any notable records that will live forever in the history of the NHL.

When it comes down to it, he’s just another guy.

That’s easier said than what he actually means to the city of Vancouver and to the legions of Canucks fans around the world. He is who he is, and if you don’t know him already, then you don’t know an amazing person.

Calling the shots The day job took me very close to the events as they unfolded today. Running around to help out at the press conference to having him pop in at the home base for interview with the media #131, there is something that strikes you about the guy. Deep down, he’s still the same 18 year old kid that was drafted into the NHL twenty years ago, to this exact day.

And every time I was in the same room as him, he was nothing but smiles.

It gives you some comfort to know that people like him are out there in the big dollar business of professional sports. Even though he could walk into nearly any place in Vancouver and be treated like a king, he’d still give you the time of day and directions to the nearest Tim Horton’s. Hell, today it felt like he’d even give you a lift there in his car, he’s just that awesome.

Goal number two

Dave Nonis fired, what’s next for the Canucks?

Dave Nonis (Photo by: retrocactus on Flickr
Photo credit: retrocactus on Flickr

You know, when the Canucks missed the playoffs after this season, I thought my world of being involved and/or following hockey would slow down. I thought that we would all be saying our farewell to Trevor Linden, find out who wins the cup, get some new draft picks, make some off season trades, and then get ready for the preseason with that yearly glimmer of hope.

Wow. What a bomb shell.

Actually, I take that back. I kept asking friends, co-workers, and Crazy Canuckers as to what they thought about Dave Nonis[wiki] and his job being in jeopardy as GM of the Vancouver Canucks. Something inside of me just felt uneasy about his role for a better part of the season, more so at the tail end.

My feeling about it all is that he was a good general manager of the organization. After that, you can’t say much more. Sure, there was the blockbuster trade for Roberto Luongo, but that isn’t a ton more to speak of after that. Willie Mitchell, yeah. After that, it’s been a lot of pickups and trades that were not the strongest or memorable. They were just… good or okay.

There’s not a lot to say about his activity in the last few years as being great or prolific, but he wasn’t half bad either.

Nonis had the passion and desire to be good at the job he held. There is no doubt about that. What works against him is what didn’t happen. An incredible goalie with a strong defense in front of him didn’t produce the goals, points, and playoff birth that could have kept his job.

However, this wasn’t my decision to make, nor can I say that I’m 100% in agreement. The only reason I say that I can’t be surprised is the fact that we have new ownership of this team, and this team is a business. The Aquilini’s are a business minded group of people. They are also lifelong fans. Nonis had those things working against his job, no matter how much the team he is in charge of spends on the disabled list or doesn’t produce on the ice.

Darren Barefoot mentioned to me on Twitter how Nonis should have been able to finish the last year on his contract, and I agree with that. The year after the lockout saw a lot of shuffling around the league, and we were a team built for a different game than what came about that season. The next season saw something different for this city: a real goalie. This year was a nightmare of injuries.

With his contract in mind, I think Nonis had a plan. One more year left, he can’t finish that vision that he had, and we’ll never know if that script would have played out for the better.

They say that a true test of a general manager is proven in five years. The contract gave him four, but he only got three. When I do those calculations in my head, combined with all the ups and downs of the days of Nonis, the one thing I keep coming back to is concern as a fan. Concern that we now have owners of this team who can prove themselves that much better in half the time than one man did in three. If they can do that, then I’ll be really impressed.

Zanstorm has a really great post that made me think a little bit more about my point, and I think it still stands. His break down of what Nonis did during his tenure in Vancouver is a tad mediocre in the proof, so like I said. He did… okay.

Understanding who Trevor Linden is and was

It’s really no secret, but I’ll say it again. In 1994, I was cheering for the New York Rangers in the Stanley Cup Finals[wiki].

Goal number one

I know that might sound hard to believe, but it was only about six or nine months prior to that when I really sank my teeth into hockey, all because of NHL ’93 on the Sega CD. I was 15, growing up where football rules the fall, basketball is king of winter, and baseball consumes summer. That video game taught me a lot, especially about this Patrick Roy[wiki] guy that played for that Montreal team. I couldn’t score against those freaking Canadiens[wiki], so I started playing as the Habs. I was nearly unstoppable.

That June of 1994, I remember watching Pavel Bure[wiki] more than I recall Trevor Linden. However, the thing I recall more was how incredible of a battle that series was. I sat and watched the games in the kitchen, enthralled with ESPN’s coverage, wanting so badly for the Rangers to win only because of Chris Farley’s sketch on SNL where he portrayed the annoying, drunk, baseball fan in the stands of Yankee Stadium, crying out, “Go Yannnkkkeeeeess!”

I’d find that clip on YouTube, but it’s nowhere to be found. Needless to say, I sat there with my best impression, “Go Raaaannngggerrrss”. At the same time, I remember a dislike for Brian Leetch and Mark Messier that remains to this day. I was more of a Mike Richter fan, and goalies were the thing that dragged me into an interest for hockey, even if I have only played roller hockey, in the first place.

Still, the crowds in Pacific Coliseum[wiki] were insane, and it made sense to me as to why the Canucks held such an advantage over the Rangers when they played in Vancouver. The players had heart. They had support. There was a love for the game that only New York could try to buy into. It was mesmerizing. On top of that, I had no idea that I’d be working at that place nearly 13 years later.

Naslund, Linden, and Ritchie

Ten years after that cup run, I recall hearing a little bit here and there about the Canucks. Once Rebecca became apart of my life, I was taught a lot about the legacy of what came before and after that time, and that was enough for me to finally shed my years of wandering for a team to follow. The Rangers were just a one time thing, Chicago never really appealed to me, and Colorado was pretty cool during those Roy years.

But how does this all tie into Trevor Linden? I can’t really be sure, but all of that history came back to me when I watched him on the ice this past Saturday. It was in that moment at the start of the third period where you understand how amazing, beyond just being a hockey player, this guy is. He’s not the greatest to play the game as much as he is one of the best, true men among men that only comes along once and a while.

Yes, he has dazzled with the way he has played the game over the past 19 years. Some days have been better than others, and he didn’t get the brilliant send off that he deserved in a 7-1 loss for the, potentially, last game of his career. Even though I have only had the chance to really pay attention to him in the last three years, I still get it.

It’s not that he was the greatest hockey player to have ever lived. It’s simple character and class that I have a lot of respect for, and that is hard to come by these days. That was the chill that I felt when they players backed off the red line at the start of the third period on Saturday night. Trevor just wanted them to get the period started, but the crowd won out, forcing him to acknowledge the noise of 12,000+ who would stick it out to the end of the game.

And if this story plays out like the media expects it to, Trevor Linden will retire this year, and Markus Naslund will move on from Vancouver. What a huge void to fill in this city.

My shot with Trevor Linden