Best Of The Rest: Vancouver Canucks – Markus Naslund
Welcome to LWOS’ Summer Hockey Series, Best of the Rest. Plenty of sites do a version of a 30 greats in 30 days series, but this year we are doing something a little bit different. We want to look at the best player from each team who is not in the Hockey Hall Of Fame. In order to do this there are some rules. First the player must have been a significant part of this franchise (franchises include their time in a previous city… see Winnipeg/Atlanta) and must be retired for at least 3 years, making them Hall of Fame eligible. To see all the articles in the series, check out the homepage here.
The Vancouver Canucks haven’t had much luck when it comes to sending players to the Hockey Hall of Fame. Despite being a member of the NHL since 1970, the Canucks only have one born and bred player who excelled through the height of his career as a Canuck to enter the Hall: Pavel Bure.
While a few other HoFers, such as Mark Messier, Igor Larionov, Cam Neely, and, lest we forget, Mats Sundin have worn Canucks colors, Bure’s induction into the Hall last year was the first instance of a Canuck actually making it based largely off of what he accomplished in Vancouver (254 goals and 478 points in only 428 games as a Canuck, including two 60-goal seasons and a Calder trophy).
It’s not really that surprising though, considering that between 1970 and the 2005 lockout the team only won their division four times, and only advanced beyond the second round of the playoffs twice. The lack of team success was a reflection of the lack of individual success, as no Canuck posted a 50-goal or 100-point season until Bure did both in 1992-93. While some have found success since then and could make Hall bids in the future, namely Daniel and Henrik Sedin (both Art Ross trophy winners and MVP’s), neither are eligible for the Hall of Fame just yet. So who is the best Canuck not currently in the Hall of Fame?
Vancouver Canucks – Markus Naslund
Naslund’s career in Vancouver started somewhat inauspiciously. He arrived via trade from the Pittsburgh Penguins, where he had posted modest point totals behind superstars Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr in his first two NHL seasons, during the 1995-96 campaign. Certainly Naslund was talented, but the Penguins had a glut of offensive forwards and were looking for more grit in their lineup, so they shipped him off to Vancouver in exchange for Canucks winger Alex Stojanov, who was actually drafted eight spots ahead of Naslund in 1991.
It would turn out to be one of the most lop-sided trades in NHL history, as Stojanov only produced 2 goals and 4 assists in 45 games over two seasons with the Penguins before leaving the NHL for good. Stojanov retired from hockey at the age of 29. Conversely, Naslund would play 884 games for the Canucks over 12 seasons, and lead the team to some of it’s loftiest offensive heights. But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves here.
The beginning of Naslund’s tenure in Vancouver was a bit rocky, as he didn’t post a point in his first 9 games in Canucks colors. However, an early glimpse of his scoring prowess was seen in the final game of the season when Naslund potted a hattrick, helping the Canucks to a playoff berth.
The following two seasons were rough ones for Naslund. He posted 21 goals and 41 points in 1996-97, and then regressed to only 14 goals and 34 points in 1997-98. It was a troubling time for the franchise, as they struggled through a playoff drought, and Naslund actually requested a trade at one point in 1998 after being a healthy scratch under head coach Mike Keenan. Luckily for Canucks fans, he was convinced to stay with the team and finish out the season instead of heading back to Sweden.
However, 1998-99 was a turning point for Naslund. With Bure now gone from the franchise, and other offensive leaders on the club out with injuries, Naslund was expected to help carry the offensive load. He reached new career highs with 36 goals and 66 points, leading the team in both categories, was awarded the Cyclone Taylor trophy as team MVP (his first of five), and also played in his first NHL all-star game. It was clear that Naslund was on his way to becoming an offensive force in the NHL.
The next turning point in Naslund’s ascension to becoming one of the greatest Canucks of all-time came prior to the 2000-2001 season while the Canucks were playing exhibition games in Sweden. Messier had left Vancouver, and the club had a leadership void to fill. Naslund was named the team’s 11th captain, and the first from Europe.
It began the dawn of a new era in Canucks history, known affectionately as the “West Coast Express” era, named after a commuter train in the greater Vancouver region. With Bure, Messier and Alexander Mogilny all leaving the franchise, a new core of players including Todd Bertuzzi, Brendan Morrison, Matthias Ohlund and Ed Jovanovski, with Naslund as their leader, began to emerge. With a new core came new offensive heights for Naslund.
In 2001-2002, Naslund began a run of three straight 40 goal seasons. He would top out at 48 goals and 104 points in 2002-03, becoming just the third Canuck after Bure and Mogilny to hit the 100 point barrier. He would finish just 2 goals shy of Milan Hejduk for the league’s goal-scoring lead that season, and also 2 points behind Hejduk’s Colorado running mate Peter Forsberg for the Art Ross. It was the closest a Canuck had ever come to this prestigious trophy, and Naslund was rewarded with the Lester B. Pearson trophy, the league MVP as voted by the players, for his efforts. He also finished second in Hart Trophy voting.
This would be the apex of Naslund’s career, as well as one of the greatest seasons ever by a Vancouver Canuck. He was quite simply one of the best offensive players in the world during this time, and his wrist-shot was especially feared by opposing goaltenders. The sight of Naslund flying down the left wing with the puck on his stick was something to behold.
While Naslund never quite reached those heights again, he was productive for the remainder of his time in Vancouver. From 2003-04 to 2007-08, he wouldn’t post less than 24 goals, but saw his point totals drop in each consecutive season. Finally, at the age of 34 and after 12 seasons with the club (eight as it’s captain), Naslund’s contract expired and it was clear the Canucks were ready to move on with a new core headed by the Sedin twins. He left the Canucks as the franchise’s all-time leader in goals and points, with 346 and 756 respectively, and his #19 was retired by the club in 2010.
Naslund would play one season with the New York Rangers, before retiring from the NHL to play one more season of professional hockey with Modo in Sweden. In 2010, Naslund would retire from the game for good.
Naslund’s qualifications for the Hall are debatable. While his 395 goals and 869 points in 1117 NHL games are nothing to sniff at, they’re below the threshold of what most people consider to be Hall eligible, however three 1st-team all-star nominations and the Pearson trophy certainly help his cause.
Internationally, an area where the HHoF also gives some credit, Naslund was productive, but not spectacular. He won silver twice at the IIHF World Junior Championships with Sweden (he was named a tournament all-star in 1993, scoring 24 points in just 7 games), medalled three times at the IIHF World Championships, and also made one appearance at the Olympics for Sweden in 2002. Collectively, he produced 21 points in 31 senior-level international matches.
But ultimately what it might come down to is the fact that Naslund never won a championship, either at the NHL level or internationally. The Stanley Cup combined with World Championship or Olympic gold is usually standard for entering the Hall, as are the 500-goal and 1000-point barriers. That Naslund had a lengthy career without reaching any of these accomplishments, doesn’t bode well for his chances. Still, he retired as one of the greatest Canucks of all-time, and is certainly the greatest Hall-eligible player in franchise history not currently in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
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