With last week’s stunning acquisition of young hulking winger Zack Kassian in exchange for prized rookie Cody Hodgson, the Canucks are about to add another chapter to a long running story in Vancouver: the quest for the perfect power forward.
This story has its beginning, of course, with Cam Neely, who would become the prototype for the very term. Except the Canucks didn’t know it. And gave him away for Barry Pederson, a playmaking centre who had been a BC junior hockey star and twice a 100 point scorer for the Boston Bruins. Though at the time of the 1986 trade, he had the use of roughly one arm and was a shadow of his former self - though still good enough to lead the pitiful Canucks in scoring. Meanwhile, Neely became the NHL’s definitive power forward and hockey hall of famer despite a career that was tragically cut short by injury.
Since that devastating and memorable loss, Vancouver has had more misses than hits to replace what Neely was never able to provide in Vancouver, but did so effectively in Boston.
Indeed, since the 1983 draft that produced Neely, the Canucks have burned six first round picks on big men up front. There was one hit, Trevor Linden. And several misses - Rob Murphy, Shawn Antoski, Alek Stojanov and the most lamentable Libor Polasek. And there was Jim Sandlak, who seemed to have the game, but just not the gumption on most nights.
The Canucks, since the Neely disaster, have actually had better success trading away big men than keeping them. Linden became Todd Bertuzzi - who, while a Canuck, was the best power forward in the game. Bertuzzi, the power gone from his game after the Steve Moore incident, became Roberto Luongo. Stojanov, of course, became Markus Naslund. And even Sandlak was good enough for Murray Craven, a key player on the 1994 Final team.
And when the Canucks weren’t drafting big men, they were passing on some they rightly should have nabbed. And while second-guessing draft picks is a ridiculously simple and unfair game, there are a few instances that are notable in their sheer idiocy. Two picks after the Canucks selected J.J. Daigneault, who approached the 1984 draft table on crutches, Calgary selected Gary Roberts. And of course, failing to nab local boy Milan Lucic, who was playing in their own backyard for the WHL Vancouver Giants, before the Bruins got him in the 2nd round of the 2006 draft is a slight that will not be forgotten by many.
In Canuck lore, the broad shoulders of Trevor Linden almost carried the team to its first Stanley Cup. And the dominant play of Todd Bertuzzi helped return the Canucks to an elite team before a tragic ending. And, of course, the loss to Boston in last year’s Final has been blamed, by many, on a lack of toughness on the top lines.
So while the quest for the perfect big man continues with the acquisition of Kassian, none of this legacy should matter. We doubt he’s a Canuck historian. But it will likely matter to the rabid fan base, who have too much misery in memory.
When news of the trade first broke, it seemed to catch most by surprise - even the supposed hockey insiders - which causes one to worry if the Canucks had done their best to auction Hodgson to the highest bidder. But it would seem given the Canucks’ now apparent long running drama with the Hodgson camp, that they likely had this deal in the works for quite some time and had their sights particularly set upon Kassian. So while this trade may be evaluated on the longer term performances of both players, the trade of a blue chip asset in Hodgson only increases the pressure on Kassian to contribute now.
And so it goes. Another big man in Vancouver. With pressure to fulfill a prophecy often promised, but rarely fulfilled.