The 1990s were the coming-of-age decade for the Vancouver Canucks, who spent most of their first 20 years losing but rose under coach and general manager Pat Quinn to become one of the best and most entertaining teams in the National Hockey League.
The Canucks obliterated a pile of individual and franchise records in the early 90s, amassing 96 points in 1991-92 and 101 the following season. For context, consider that in their first 21 seasons in the era before overtime loser points, Vancouver managed a winning record just twice and never exceeded 86 points.
Trevor Linden was leading, Pavel Bure was scoring and Kirk McLean was stopping almost everything during a four-year period that saw the Canucks play 10 playoff rounds and build the first golden era in franchise history.
Then, in even less time, the team collapsed.
Mike Keenan, who briefly coached the Canucks and essentially – unfathomably – also replaced Quinn as general manager in 1997, gets a lot of blame for the franchise’s demise. But he also turned over a roster going stale and left his successors, GM Brian Burke and coach Marc Crawford, with enough assets to rebuild the Canucks into another contender.
Here is Sportnet’s all-1990s Canuck team.
CANUCKS ALL-1990s TEAM
The most popular player in Canucks history, Linden remains an icon in Vancouver. The last of Linden’s 1,140 games as a Canuck, on April 5, 2008, was one of the most emotional and memorable nights in the franchise’s 50 years. He captained the Canucks for seven seasons and was lauded as much for his work in the community as on the ice.
He was so respected for his character and leadership, it was easy to forget by the end of his career just how good Linden was as a player after Quinn selected him second overall in the 1988 entry draft. The right winger-turned-centre opened the 1990s with four straight 30-goal seasons, and reached that mark six times in nine years before Keenan traded Linden to the New York Islanders in 1998. Burke repatriated him in 2001, and Linden became the Canucks’ all-time leading scorer before he retired seven years later with 318 goals and 733 points.
But his most memorable play was during the 1994 run to the Stanley Cup Final. Linden’s two-goal performance in the Game 7 loss to the New York Rangers is considered one of the greatest by a Canuck. He remains the franchise leader with 118 playoff games and 95 playoff points – 17 more than Henrik Sedin.
The Russian Rocket was the cosmic yin to Linden’s yang in the Canucks’ universe. Breathtakingly explosive and gifted, Bure was unlike any other player in franchise history. Stolen in the sixth round of the 1989 draft due to sleuthing overseen by chief scout Mike Penny, Bure scored 34 times in 65 games as a rookie in 1991-92 and became the Canucks’ first-ever major award winner when he won the Calder Trophy. Bure then scored 60 goals in each of the next two seasons, although his greatest marker as a Canuck was probably the cathartic Game 7 overtime winner against the Calgary Flames in 1994 that launched Vancouver’s run to the Cup final.
Unhappy with management over perceived injustices, Bure first asked for a trade during his second season in Vancouver, and spent most of his eight years on the West Coast pining to play elsewhere. But he rarely let discontentment affect his play. No Canuck tried harder to score goals or enjoyed them more. In his final season before holding out to finally force a trade, Bure scored 51 goals in 1997-98. There have only been four 50-goal seasons in Canucks history and the right winger had three of them.
Bure left the Canucks after just 428 games, but crammed 254 goals and 478 points into that exhilarating period. Perhaps the most exciting player of his generation, Bure was voted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2012.
There were several candidates for the third forward spot on the Canucks all-1990s team, but we’re going with left winger Greg Adams. His acquisition in 1987, along with McLean in a trade that sent Patrik Sundstrom to the New Jersey Devils, became part of the foundation of the team Quinn built into a Stanley Cup contender in the early 1990s.
Adams spent 7 ½ seasons with the Canucks, scored 20 or more goals five times and reached 30 goals three times. But like many of the top Canucks from the early 1990s, he is most remembered for his playoff contributions, which included an overtime winner against the Toronto Maple Leafs that sent the Canucks to the ’94 final, and another OT goal that won Game 1 against the Rangers. Adams’ consistent, honest, two-way play made him key to the Canucks and his trade by Quinn to the Dallas Stars at the 1995 deadline was one of the legendary GM’s greatest regrets in Vancouver.
The Finnish defenceman, stolen from the Montreal Canadiens for a second-round pick just three months into the decade, was one of the most underrated blue-liners of his time. An elusive, fluid skater, Lumme could also defend, and at 215 pounds, was not easy to play against. His toe-drag around penalty killers challenging him at the point became a signature move, and Lumme finished his 579 games as a Canuck with 83 goals and 321 points, which tied him with Dennis Kearns for first in scoring by a defenceman and remains tied for third behind only Mattias Ohlund (325 points) and Alex Edler (386 points as 2019 ended).
Lumme formed one of Vancouver’s longest-running defence partnerships with Dana Murzyn, and spent all of his eight seasons as a Canuck in the top-four on the blue line. He survived the Keenan roster purge of 1997-98, but left that summer as a free agent and signed with the Phoenix Coyotes.
Babych was the Edler of his time – a big, strong, talented defencemen who did everything well, but nothing spectacularly and often played against the opposition’s top forwards. A second-overall draft pick by the Winnipeg Jets in 1980, Babych was acquired by the Canucks from the Minnesota North Stars in a 1991 trade for Tom Kurvers, and still gave Vancouver seven solid seasons despite some significant injuries.
He produced 154 points in 409 games as a Canuck, but his most impressive statistic was his 60 playoff games, which rank fifth all-time among Vancouver defencemen. Babych played until age 38 and logged 1,195 games in the NHL.
Before there was Roberto Luongo, there was McLean, who elevated the goaltending position in Vancouver and earned two Vezina Trophy nominations during his 10 ½ seasons with the Canucks. McLean’s 516 games in Vancouver are the most by any Canucks goalie, and his 211 regular-season wins are second only to Luongo’s 252. Richard Brodeur is third at 126 wins.
McLean, however, played more playoff games than Luongo (68-64) and his Game 7 overtime, pad-stacking save against the Calgary Flames’ Robert Reichel saved the Canucks’ season in 1994, and is a seminal moment in franchise history. And his 52-save night in Game 1 of the final against the Rangers is one of the greatest goaltending performances by a Canuck. McLean was one of the NHL’s last great “standup” goalies before butterflies took over the world.