In the years since the flying skate was set-aside at the end of the 1996-97 campaign, the habitually chameleonic Canucks have switched colour schemes twice. They also reintroduced the inaugural stick-in-rink logo as a popular, clean third sweater.
“Definitely the (current) colours are very representative of where we live, and kind of got (us) back to our roots,” says Canucks president Trevor Linden. “I think that’s important.”
Vancouver’s current jersey is, in your narrator’s estimation, the finest sweater the club has ever worn. There’s something about that old, busy flying skate though.
Hockey sweaters are more than just laundry in this country. The flying skate on the black sweater with red and yellow piping - the colours invoke the look of Vancouver at night, the city lights reflected on the water - will always stand in Canucks lore as a visual symbol of the Pat Quinn era.
The sweater conjures memories of Linden being willing to play on crutches. It reminds fans of how Pavel Bure used to split defencemen with a level of ease unseen since.
It’s a logo and a jersey that gives testimony to the excitement of an unforgettable Stanley Cup Finals run in 1994.
“Listening to our fans and interacting with them, there's a lot of people who grew up with that and have fond memories,” Linden says of the club’s decision to reuse the skate logo this season, as part of the 20-year anniversary of Rogers Arena.
“I think it's just fun. People love to reminisce and it's kind of unique. It’s going to be an exciting night."
While the flying skate sweater harkens back to a much-cherished era of Canucks hockey, the team that will wear that jersey on Saturday is a far cry from the 1994 Stanley Cup Final side that made the sweater iconic. That ‘94 team may have limped into the postseason that spring, something this iteration of the Canucks may manage yet, but their popular status as a ‘playoff Cinderella’ deserves reexamination.
The ‘94 Canucks were not a fringe playoff team in terms of true talent. The year previous they’d won the Smythe Division and gave Wayne Gretzky’s Los Angeles Kings nearly all they could handle in the playoffs. The year before that, the Canucks finished second in the Campbell Conference.
An off year from goaltender Kirk McLean, a holdout by Petr Nedved and a variety of injuries to critical role players like Greg Adams resulted in Vancouver under-performing in the 1993-94 regular season.
“I remember sitting in the dressing room around Christmas and thinking ‘wow’,” Linden reminisced to Sportsnet this week. “Like Greg Adams was out… Petr Nedved was holding out. We had a lot of injuries and I was thinking ‘what happened to our team?’”
After Christmas, the club began to upgrade and improve. Mid-season trades for Tim Hunter and Martin Gelinas added to the club’s forward depth and the team morphed into a juggernaut following a deal at the deadline that brought mobile defencemen Jeff Brown and Brett Hedican to Vancouver.
Following the Brown acquisition the ’94 Canucks controlled better than 55 per cent of all shots on goal, an imposing number, in their remaining regular season games, according to data found at hockey-reference.com.
"A lot of people say well 'they caught lightning in a bottle' or 'they really didn't deserve to be there' that kind of thing,” Linden told Sportsnet this week. “And I think it's quite the contrary.”
There’s a lot about the 1994 Canucks team that is unique and not replicable in a modern league. Trading a holdout player at the deadline for two effective and relatively young puck-moving defencemen isn’t likely to happen in a contemporary NHL environment, not without a bounty of first-round picks attached.
The 1994 team was built around Linden and Bure. Linden, the 2nd overall pick in 1988, was 23-years-old during the 1993-94 season.
Bure was drafted late in the 1989 entry draft, but only because the Canucks figured out that he’d appeared in a few additional obscure games and was – to the surprise of Vancouver’s NHL rivals – draft eligible. In a more modern context, every team and media outlet would’ve checked eliteprospects.com well before the draft and Bure would’ve been a surefire top selection. He was 22 when the Canucks took the New York Rangers to seven games.
Without picking at the top of the draft, it won’t be easy for the Canucks to find the next Linden or the next Bure, or the next Henrik and Daniel Sedin for that matter. Elite talent wins championships, and the best way to add it is by losing.
Though he was a top pick during his playing days, Linden’s Canucks have a philosophical distaste for this sort of targeted ineptitude.
“I have a fundamental challenge with the notion that teams tank,” Linden told Sportsnet this week. “We want to win, our coaches want to win, our players want to win… We want to be the best that we can be.
“Having said that, we're not going to sacrifice pieces of our future to augment the team at this point. If we can get younger and get faster then that's what we want to be.
“We believe we picked a good player last year in the first round (Brock Boeser) that’s going to be a contributor, he's having a tremendous season in North Dakota,” Linden continued. “And we're going to get a good player this year in the draft. I'm not sure where the pick will be, but we'll get a good player.
“So we'll go at it that way.”
On Saturday night the flying skate logo will give Canucks fans a taste of the past; a whiff of former glory made present by savvy sports branding.
And at the centre of it all – today, as he was in ’94 – will be Trevor Linden. More than just a fondly remembered part of the Canucks’ past, more than just the team’s current president: he’s charting the course of the club’s future.