Markus Naslund Induction Lowers the Bar
From the rain tortured slopes of the North Shore mountains, we interrupt our ark building to revisit a topic we covered this past summer; that is this Saturday’s ceremony to officially retire Markus Naslund’s number 19. With this esteemed honour, Naslund will join fellow long time Canuck captains Trevor Linden and Stan Smyl as the only players to have their jerseys hoisted to the rafters.
This induction has been a somewhat divisive proclamation amongst the Canuck faithful, some referring to Saturday’s ceremony as simply “Markus Naslund Sham Night” - the best opportunity for a season ticket holder to dump a regular season seat for a healthy profit.
It is easy to argue that Naslund does not belong in the company of Smyl and Linden simply because as a leader he did not accomplish the post season success that they did. Nor did he embody their workman-like heart and soul; qualities that are typically more likely to win over the adoration of the fan base in this market.
But after Pavel Bure, he was the Canucks next bonafide superstar, or at least, perennial all-star. For a good number of seasons, he was the best left winger in hockey during the height of the dead puck era. By winning a Lester Pearson award, he was clearly respected by his playing colleagues throughout the league.
Perhaps most importantly to those making the induction decision, he was a classy fellow who put his community obligations first and foremost. He was a genuinely nice guy it seemed; so much so that he was able to befriend the certifiably gruff Todd Bertuzzi.
We say that retiring Markus’ number is lowering the bar. With induction being limited to only Smyl and Linden to date (as opposed to skill players like Bure or, even, Thomas Gradin), a premium has been historically placed on leadership and playoff success.
As we all know, Naslund’s teams were perennial playoff busts. And his fans will argue that Markus can’t be held responsible for the fact that his goal-keeper couldn’t stop a beach ball when it mattered most. And that’s fair.
But here’s the thing; leaders lead. Or at least good ones do. Markus did not. In fact, when it came to crunch time, Naslund, being the intelligent and sensitive man that he was, wilted under the pressure. How do we know this? How can we prove this? Well, since Naslund was not a physical player nor an old school holler guy, his opportunity to lead was through his goal scoring talent. So what do you remember?
When you think of clutch goal scoring in Canuck history, you think of Pavel Bure, Geoff Courtnall, Greg Adams, Brendan Morrison, Trevor Linden, Mattias Ohlund and Daniel Sedin. Naslund does not even enter the discussion.
In fact, what you remember about Naslund, the goal scorer, is wrist shots from the sideboards on the power play. You remember him forgetting the puck at centre ice during a shootout. You remember his coach being so afraid to use the team’s highest scoring player ever that he typically found his ass nailed to the bench during the tie-breaking session. Can you imagine that happening to Trevor Linden, who despite a declining skill set, was still such a valuable clutch player that he became a most successful shootout specialist in his latter years?
Forget for a moment about what we might remember, what do the stats tell us? Well, the stats tell us that Naslund lit it up against inferior opponents. On a point-per-game basis, the teams he was most successful against were Atlanta, Columbus, Toronto, Anaheim, Edmonton and Nashville - hardly a collection of the league’s elite. And his post season line? A paltry 33 points in 45 games and a minus 9.
Really, what was Markus Naslund’s defining moment? For too many, it was the “we choked” apology speech after a stretch drive collapse that cost them a division title. Or no less memorably, the Steve Moore elbow to the head that cued best friend Todd Bertuzzi’s side show that still lingers over this franchise and this great game to this day.
When you get right down to it, Naslund was not a heroic figure that deserves celebration, but more likely a tragic figure that draws our sympathy.
And in the sorry history of this franchise, perhaps that’s enough. But what it really means is that the bar it now lowered to include skillful players with great regular seasons, and nothing more.
And if it is, then what about Pavel Bure? Our first, and arguably only, superstar (not to mention, likely Hockey Hall of Famer). And then surely what about the twins? Another season or two of regular season dominance followed by playoff failure should be enough to enshrine them, too? And before you know it, our rafters will look like Molson Centre but missing the most important piece - a single Stanley Cup playoff banner.
As a side note, we find it interesting that the Toronto Maple Leafs have yet to retire Mats Sundin’s number. It’s a pretty easy argument to make that he mattered more to Leaf Nation than Naslund ever did to ours.
In the end, we can passively accept the Naslund induction on the very simple premise that this franchise has had so little to honour, though it only means that our campaigning for Pavel Bure will continue in earnest. Can you guess the topic of our next blog entry?