Trust Mike Gillis to give us something else to do on a glorious summer day. In case you missed it, at yesterday’s annual season ticket holder reception, it was announced that the Canucks plan to retire the jersey of Markus Naslund this season as part of their 40th anniversary celebrations.
We find this to be a most interesting development.
There is no doubting Naslund’s accomplishments as an elite NHL player:
- the Lester Pearson Award (now the Ted Lindsay Trophy - the ultimate measure of respect from a player’s peers)
- the 3 appointments to the NHL First All Star Team
- the Art Ross trophy near misses
- the Canucks scoring leader for seven seasons
- the Canucks all-time scoring leader
Further, there is also no doubting that he was a class guy whose community contributions could not be questioned.
Mike Gillis maintains that the team has now defined criteria for jersey retirement and that Naslund had “all the attributes we’re looking for”.
This is where we get lost a little in the logic. Presumably, Trevor Linden and Stan Smyl both had these same attributes, too, since their numbers are already hanging from the rafters. Like Naslund, both Linden and Smyl embraced their community commitments. Unlike Naslund, they were not highly skilled players; in fact, if you were to draw up a list of the Canucks’ most “talented” players, they would not be at the top of that list. Like Naslund, both Linden and Smyl had lengthy runs as team captain. Quite certainly, it was their leadership ability that was the most crucial element to their jersey retirement.
So what can be made of Markus’ leadership ability? Well, when the accolades were flowing yesterday, there no was mention of it. And while he captained this team for their most consistent stretch of regular season success, when it came to crunch time, his team repeatedly self destructed. In Naslund’s defense, it’s not his fault that Dan Cloutier whiffed on Niklas Lidstrom’s one-hopper or that Marc Crawford lost the team or that Todd Bertuzzi lost his mind. But truth be told, Markus wasn’t a clutch player. Who can forget the “we choked” apology speech after the Canucks crapped the bed down the stretch handing the division title to Colorado? Or Naslund’s unbelievable ineptitude to score in shoot-outs (him leaving the puck at centre ice on one attempt still makes us cringe). Seriously, it got so bad that his coaches had little option but to nail his ass to the bunch for the circus shootout that you’d expect to be the modus operandi of a highly paid skilled winger.
It was always our opinion that the weight of the captaincy crushed Naslund. He was a sensitive intelligent player so much so that the enormity of THAT responsibility in THIS market was too much to bear. And some will say that’s not his fault; he didn’t make himself captain. And that’s true. But when the prodigal son (and Captain Canuck, Trevor Linden) returned from exile, Naslund had the opportunity to hand over the captaincy (as Trevor had unselfishly gifted to Mark Messier). He did not.
There is no question that there is an alarming discrepancy between the post season successes of the teams led by Smyl and Linden. For whatever reason, that’s seemingly no longer a crucial element to selection for jersey retirement. And to the extent that Naslund can’t necesarily be held accountable for the rest of his team, that’s certainly reasonable. But leaders lead? Don’t they? And are accountable for their troops when they fail?
In the end, we suppose we can get our heads around Naslund’s number hanging from the rafters. Although his leadership ability is not meeting the threshold of those before him, his tangible accomplishments are hard to argue; certainly in the relative history of the franchise. Add to that, he was, from all accounts, a nice guy. His befriending of the certifiably gruff Todd Bertuzzi ample evidence of that.
This, however, opens the inevitable can of worms. If Naslund is in, then why not Pavel Bure? As our upcoming post will unequivocally demonstrate, Pavel is a Hall of Famer. And as the Canucks only bonafide HHOF’er (or at the very least, the only bonafide HHOF candidate), it only follows that his number should be in the rafters, too. And on that basis, before Naslund. And if the Sedins (like Naslund) never advance beyond the second round of the playoffs but continue to earn the same regular season accolades, then their numbers should be there too, right? Mike Gillis says he’s not in the jersey retirement business. Now he is.
- criticallycanuck posted this