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Vancouver Canucks

A professional hockey team in the Western Conference of the NHL.

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The Other Canadians Team

  • Mar 24, 2013
You know the Vancouver Canucks. Oh, you KNOW the Vancouver Canucks. You've been hearing about them everywhere. Robin from How I Met Your Mother is a huge fan. (As is Cobie Smulders, the actress who plays Robin.) Michael J. Fox said he likes the Canucks, too. They've reached such a level of popularity that people who have only casually heard of hockey know the Vancouver Canucks are a hockey team, while in the meantime they haven't heard of the Montreal Canadiens at all. (Well, that's been my own personal experience, anyway.) To understand just what a trick that is, you also have to know the Montreal Canadiens were formed in 1909 - predating the NHL itself by a whopping eight years - and have won the Stanley Cup an incredible 24 times, more than any other team. The Vancouver Canucks were created in the 1969 expansion and have lost all three of their appearances in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Vancouver, being a Canadian city, was naturally a great hockey home for a very long time. The city started fielding professional hockey back in 1911, in fact! Back then, there was the Pacific Coast Hockey Association, a three-team league which included a team called the Vancouver Millionaires. In 1915, the Millionaires were the first team from the west coast to ever win the Stanley Cup, beating the Ottawa Senators. After the 1926 season, the Millionaires folded, and Vancouver was left with, well, the Vancouver Canucks, a minor league team created in 1945 which went through the Pacific Coast Hockey League and the Western Hockey League. Across those two leagues, the Canucks won four regular season titles and six league championships in 25 years of existence. When TV money started calling out to the NHL in 1967, the owner of the Canucks and the Mayor of Vancouver decided they should probably put in a bid. The NHL, demonstrating the vast intelligence it's known for, rejected their application. 

Almost everyone seemed to realize the rejection was stupid. There was speculation afterwards that the bid was hindered by Stafford Smythe, the president of the Toronto Maple Leafs, because he once quipped after a failed business deal based in Vancouver that the city wouldn't be getting an NHL team in his lifetime. Yeah, overkill, I know. To be fair, though, there were also reports that the Vancouver bid was pretty weak - the folks who created the bid kinda coasted through it, because they believed their city was already a lock and the presentation was nothing but a formality. Fast forward to 1969. One of the 1967 expansion teams, the Oakland Seals, is already in financial hot water. Canada is still pissed off at the NHL because the six teams created in the 1967 expansion are all American, and none of them are particularly close to the border. A deal was quickly concocted in an attempt to rescue the Seals by moving them to Vancouver, but the NHL has a few reservations. And by that, I mean they killed the deal for no other reason than the fact that they didn't want to see one of their spanking-new teams die off so quickly. Unfortunately, killing a deal like that could result in a nasty lawsuit, so to get around that, the NHL meekly promised Vancouver would get a team come next expansion. So when the 1969 expansion came around, the WHL Canucks were bought and turned into an NHL team.

The Canucks would have a small advantage over the teams from the 1967 expansion. 1967 created six teams, doubling the size of the league. 1969 created just two teams, so the Canucks would have more access to prime draft beef. Unfortunately, the problem with a two-team expansion is that there's still another new team to compete with for talent, so the Canucks had to luck out and hope their fellow expansion team, the Buffalo Sabres, wouldn't gobble everything up. Draft lotteries were held between the Canucks and Sabres for both the Amateur Draft and the Expansion Draft. When the Sabres ended up winning both, the fate of both teams was effectively sealed. Buffalo took the projected star, Gilbert Perreault, in the Amateur Draft. The Canucks' selection, Dale Tallon, didn't do badly; he became an All-Star twice in Vancouver. He was also traded to the Chicago Black Hawks in 1973. Perreault, meanwhile, became a career Sabre who put 1326 points on the scoreboard in a 17-year career. They took Gary Doak in the Expansion Draft, who was a lot worse; he netted a grand total of 130 points in a 16-year NHL career. 

In the earliest years, the Canucks were placed in the East Division for some weird reason. This left Vancouver with numerous disadvantages. First of all, the East Division was competitive as hell. Check out this makeup: The Boston Bruins, New York Rangers, Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Buffalo Sabres, and Detroit Red Wings were all there. Second, there was still the talent disparity of being an expansion team. Third, Vancouver is NOT an eastern city! The Canucks had to travel vast distances to play their divisional matchups, which doesn't exactly leave the players fresh to fight. Andre Boudrias emerged as Vancouver's leading scorer in those first five years, but the Canucks didn't have a winning season until the 1975 season, when they were put into the new Smythe Division. That was slightly friendlier and included the expansion Kansas City Scouts and the perpetually weak Minnesota North Stars for them to beat up on, as well as easier travel. The winning season came just in time, too; the World Hockey Association was trying to butt into the Canucks' market by introducing the Vancouver Blazers. The Blazers performed a lot worse and hightailed it to Calgary the next year. 

The Canucks posted another winning record in the 1976 season, but in a preliminary playoff series that ran for two games, they lost to the New York Islanders. After that, the Canucks sank into the mediocrity which would come to truly define their entire existence. After the 1976 season, they didn't post another winning record for 16 years, one of the NHL's longest streaks. Hell, one of the longest streaks in sports, for that matter, and since the NHL is the only major league in the United States and Canada that allowed ties, that's an even more impressive record than it sounds. And so it came to pass that the Vancouver Canucks began to define futility.

OR DID THEY?! See, this is the NHL, after all, the league in which playoff positioning is basic missionary! Be that as it may, the Canucks were able to make the playoffs in nine of those years - which, for all you math whizzes out there, is the majority! In the 80's, the Canucks were led by a core which included Stan Smyl, Thomas Gradin, and Richard Brodeur. I'm not sure how much good they actually did, seeing as how the Canucks spent the entire decade, you know, losing, but in 1982 they were having SOME kind of impact. That year, the Canucks went a paltry 30-33-17, posting 77 points. It was somehow good enough for second in their division. More to the point, they got to the playoffs. Now, despite the NHL's stupidity regarding playoff placements and the fact that it's so easy to get a spot in the first place, you can give the NHL playoffs this: The bad teams, despite getting regular invitations, don't get to move on very often, and about 95 percent of the time they're all systematically wiped out by the time the Stanley Cup Finals roll around. Yeah, well, see, in the 1982 playoffs, that didn't happen. In the first round, Vancouver made mincemeat of the Calgary Flames, a team even worse than they were. In the second round, they killed the Los Angeles Kings, another team that was even worse than they were. In the third rounds, they beat up Chicago, who had the same number of wins as the Canucks but also five more losses and was five points behind in overall standings. Vancouver was now in their first Stanley Cup Final ever! It was a run of supernatural good luck, but luck has very rarely won the Stanley Cup, and the team awaiting the Canucks in their first Cup Final was the New York Islanders, a dynasty in the midst of a four-year run which saw them take home the Cup every year. With 54 wins and 118 points, the Isles were number one in the entire league that year and had earned the right to compete for The Holy Grail. Made to play against an actual hockey team for the first time in the playoffs, the Canucks' Cinderella clock chimed midnight and their luck ran out. The Isles, clearly exasperated at the fact that a losing team could potentially fucking win, exposed the Canucks for what they were and Vancouver was promptly swept.

The Canucks of the 80's included skilled players like Patrik Sundstrom and Tony Tanti, but after the miracle run of 1982, the Canucks went right back to being the Canucks. They continued losing, and made the playoffs four times over the rest of the 80's. It's possible they might have been better than their losses indicate, because they were also forced to share their division with the Calgary Flames and the world-conquering Edmonton Oilers, quite likely the two best teams in the league back then. Each time they made the playoffs, they were eliminated by one of them. In 1989, when the Flames won the Stanley Cup, they managed to take them to a seventh game, but a series loss is a series loss. 

In the 1991 season, Canuck Captain Stan Smyl resigned because his on-ice role had been reduced by then. In his place came a rotating Captaincy of Trevor Linden, Dan Quinn, and Doug Lidster. Smyl retired at the end of the season, as the team's all-time scoring leader. The team had also managed a draft steal in the late 80's: Pavel Bure. In the early 90's, the Canucks' fortunes finally started to turn, and in 1992, they finally finally snapped out of their funk. Going 42-26-12, Vancouver won its division, and coach Pat Quinn was honored with the Jack Adams Award. Bure emerged as a bona fide superstar, recording back to back seasons of 60 goals. The Canucks were now good enough that in 1994, their 41-win season was considered underachieving - though, to be fair, their total record was 41-40-3; the thing with those annoying ties was that the single split points tended to pile up, and with the Canucks either winning or losing, they weren't getting essential points in the standings. Therefore, their seventh-seed playoff spot could have been considerably higher, but it didn't stop them from making a hell of a run at it! In the first round, Vancouver played a close series against Calgary. After four games, Vancouver was one game away from elimination, but they rallied back and took the next three. In game seven, a one-timer pass from Calgary's Theoren Fleury made its way to Robert Reichel. Vancouver goalie Kirk McLean stacked his goal pads right on the goal line to keep the puck from going in, making what Vancouver lore now knows as "The Save. The following period, Bure took a breakaway pass, deked out Calgary goalie Mike Vernon, scored, and won the series. Following five-game romps over the Dallas Stars and Leafs, the Canucks reached their second Stanley Cup Final. Their opponents? The mighty Edmonton Oilers! Remember all that trouble the Oilers caused for the Canucks in the 80's? Well, that all changed, at least to an extent. The Canucks won the first game on the strength of a 52-save performance by McLean, but lost the following three. But instead of falling meekly into the night this time, Vancouver went on to win the next two. In game seven, Trevor Linden netted two goals despite playing with cracked ribs. With a minute left in regulation and Edmonton up 3-2, Nathan LaFayette took a shot and hit the post. If ever there was a play that summed up the whole existence of the Vancouver Canucks, that was it. Time expired, and the Oilers won their sixth Stanley Cup.

Hold on…. Editor's message…. Okay, you know what? I really don't care this time! I mean, sure the Oilers were wearing the sweaters of the New York Rangers, playing in Madison Square Garden, and the NHL records say this was the first time the Rangers won the Cup since 1940! There were an awful lot of guys on that Rangers team who played for the Oilers dynasty of the 80's, and it SHOULD record an Edmonton Cup!…. Casual fans? Okay fine. You know what? The New York Rangers won the Stanley Cup in 1994. NOT the Edmonton Oilers.

So anyway, that Cup loss was a real wind-taker. While the core of the Canucks was still young, talented, and capable of production, the Canucks reverted to their regular form and went back to sucking beyond belief. They didn't record another winning season after that for six years. While Pavel Bure was reunited with his old CSKA Moscow teammate Alexander Mogilny after a big trade with the Buffalo Sabres, the expected chemistry never developed between them. Fortunately, in 1996 the Canucks were able to make up for that when they traded a warm body named Alek Stojanov to the Pittsburgh Penguins for a warm body named Markus Naslund. While it looked like a fair trade at the time, it's now regarding as a lopsided fleecing on Vancouver's part. Stojanov was sent down to the farm soon after, and except for a couple of callups, he became a career minor leaguer. Naslund became Vancouver's fearless leader, a beloved face of the team, and eventually their all-time leading scorer. In summer of 1996, they came close to signing Wayne Gretzky, but they made the mistake of giving The Great One an ultimatum, and The Great One doesn't DO ultimatums! He was WAYNE GRETZKY, after all, the greatest player in the history of hockey, and he'll do whatever the hell he wants! The Canucks made up for that the following summer by inking a deal for Mark Messier, the greatest Captain in NHL history, the guy who led the Edmonton dynasty in the 80's…. Okay, fine, AND the 1994 Rangers too. 

Here's how goofy and hapless the Canucks could be: Canucks Captain Trevor Linden, knowing Messier would be a superior Captain, resigned his Captaincy to Messier after the signing. Linden later regretted the move, saying he thought Messier was generating too much tension and hostility in the locker room. Linden was traded soon after to the Isles for Todd Bertuzzi, and he was soon New York's Captain. Meanwhile, no one warmed up to Messier, so after his contract was up, they made no attempt to get him back. Even Fearless Leader never got the Canucks back to the playoffs. 

The turn of the millennium saw the Canucks emerge and contend. Naslund and Bertuzzi were joined by Brendan Morrison in 2002, and together, they became The West Coast Express, becoming a line of high-scoring wingers and All-Stars. In the 2003 playoffs, the Canucks won their first playoff series in eight years. In 2004, the Canucks also started getting a lot more media attention than they're used to, but not in a good way: On March 8 that year, Bertuzzi grabbed Colorado Avalanche forward Steve Moore from behind and punched him in the head. As Moore fell, Bertuzzi landed on top of him, and Moore suffered three fractured neck vertebrae, face cuts, and a concussion. It was a revenge shot for a blow Moore landed on Naslund during a previous game, but it was still a cheap shot and Bertuzzi was suspended through to the start of the following year. He also faced legal action, with Moore filing lawsuits in both British Columbia and Colorado. 

The Canucks had trouble adjusting to the post-lockout rules, but by the end of the millennial decade, they had clearly emerged as one of the best teams in the NHL. The 2011 season was the team's 40th anniversary, and to celebrate, the Canucks decided to present their fans with something they had never seen before - the Stanley Cup! Or so it went for most of the season. Led by star goalie Roberto Luongo, brothers Henrik and Daniel Sedin, and their eternal point man Naslund, the Canucks came on as the best team in the NHL. They won the Presidents' Trophy handily for the first time ever, with 54 wins and 117 points. They also won the Campbell Bowl as Conference Champions and were the clear favorites to blow the opposing Boston Bruins out of the water. They REALLY REALLY looked like a Team of Destiny that year, but the Bruins clearly hadn't gotten the script. Vancouver played well in the first two games, taking them both, but some troubling signs crawled up: One is that the dominant Canucks won them both by just a single goal. And the differential wasn't a result of the Canucks coasting, either; Boston was matching them the whole way. The first game ended with a final score of 1-0, with the lone goal coming from Raffi Torres with just 19 seconds left in the game. The second game ended 3-2 in overtime. But it was in game three where the real fun began. Boston scored the first goal eleven seconds in and Loungo, with a history of playoff meltdowns to shed.... Melted down in a way I've never seen. In game three, nine total goals were scored, and Boston scored the first of them, the last of them, and all but one in between. Although it was the third game, it set the tempo for the way the series played out. Boston whomped Vancouver in the fourth game too. Vancouver finally responded in game five, putting Boston on the ropes with a 1-0 victory, but anyone paying attention up to this point knew the Canucks were a dead team walking and merely prolonging the inevitable. And so, in games six and seven, Vancouver truly reverted to being the Canucks again. They played like a dazed little league team, got stomped quickly and easily, and the Bruins won their first Stanley Cup in 39 years. The commentators after the series tried to sell the public on the idea that it was one of the great classics of Stanley Cup history, but I don't know what the fuck they were watching. The games Vancouver won were hotly fought and exciting. The games Boston won were the Bruins taking potshots at the little ducks in a shooting gallery. If anything, this Final was a defining argument against the idea that a Finals series is automatically good just because it went seven games.

The Canucks are still dominant. Hell, last year they even took home the Presidents' Trophy again. The most prized symbol of on-ice success, however, still eludes them.

The list of retired numbers for the Canucks includes Stan Smyl, Trevor Linden, and Markus Naslund. The numbers of Wayne Maki, Luc Bourdon, and Rick Rypien were taken out of circulation following their deaths. Some of the greats who have passed through Vancouver include Mark Messier, Cam Neely, Pavel Bure, Mats Sundin, and Igor Larionov. For such an old and popular team in a famously devoted market, the Canucks don't pack a lot of all-time talent.

Although it isn't one of the NHL's marquee rivalries, the Canucks have a giant land war going on with the Calgary Flames. This exists in part because the two cities are so different from one another: Geographically, Vancouver is in a small little nook that was somehow carved out amidst forest, mountains, and the ocean. Calgary sits right on Canada's plains. Vancouver is a bastion for Canadian leftist politics, while Calgary leans to the right. They've faced each other plenty of times in the playoffs, starting when Vancouver beat Calgary in 1982 on the way to their first appearance in the Finals. Calgary holds a 3-2 edge in playoff series overall. While the rivalry cooled a little bit in the late 90's, the millennium brought it back with a fury in the 2004 season, when both teams were competing for the division. It became even hotter with the emergence of Markus Naslund and Calgary's Jarome Iginla as two of the league's best. One year, those two players were in a Nike commercial promoting their rivalry.

Some of Vancouver's identifying moments include their first two runs to the Stanley Cup Finals, McLean's save, and unfortunately, the Bertuzzi/Moore incident. Mostly the Canucks are known as the bad team that came out of the 1969 expansion, an identity which they should have been able to shed in the last decade or so. Unfortunately, on the moment they were supposed to rise up and turn their fortunes around forever, they reverted to their lovable loser form at the worst possible time. Once a bad team, always a bad team until they bring home the Cup. Until that happens, Vancouver will be known for being a historical loser. They'll also be known for throwing riots in the streets after the Canucks lost the Stanley Cup in 1994 and 2011. And, uniquely, they're also known for being the team that just can't find a decent sweater logo. They've been though many different designs in their history, but none of them stuck. Their first design was a simple shot of an ice rink with a stick crossing it. After that, they introduced the Flying V, one of the most maligned sweater designs hockey has ever seen. They followed that up with the Flying Skate, and finally seem to have found something that works with a letter C that has an orca breaking out of the top.

Are the Vancouver Canucks the NHL's version of the Chicago Cubs? You could make the argument. They're historical losers with a rabid national following, beset with a series of odd misfortunes for the times when they were doing well. (Oddly, the Canucks and their expansion-mate team, the Buffalo Sabres, seem to have switched places for now: The loser Canucks have come to the front of the league, while the historically powerful Sabres are one of the worst teams in the NHL, beset with a wimp of an owner who refuses to fire his useless GM.) There's one great thing to be said about the Vancouver Canucks, and it's that they're always interesting and fun. If you want to hop the bandwagon, there's always room. And hell, with them playing the way they are now, there's a serious chance they won't be the NHL's Chicago Cubs very much longer.

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Nicholas Croston ()
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Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial.      Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
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Conference: Western
Division: Northwest
Stadium: General Motors Place
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"The Other Canadians Team"
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