VANCOUVER – The Vancouver Canucks team that began the franchise’s fifth decade in the National Hockey League was nothing like the one that played in the first.
Over a five-year span beginning in 2008, the Canucks won more games than any other team except Sidney Crosby’s Pittsburgh Penguins, and in 2010-11 their status as the best team in hockey was indisputable until they lost the Stanley Cup Final to the Boston Bruins.
That crushing disappointment tainted their golden era. It was only with time and distance that we realized how good those Canucks were.
It was the same with most of the players on Sportsnet’s all-2010s team. It took a long time for Daniel and Henrik Sedin, as well as defenceman Alex Edler, to get the credit they deserved. Even goalie Roberto Luongo lost favour before regaining it in defeat.
Vancouver’s team success came at a cost, exacerbated by dismal drafting and developing over many years. Without reinforcements for an ageing foundation, the Canucks eventually crumbled, becoming one of the NHL’s worst teams over the latter half of the decade. That harsh reality made the good old days seem even finer in hindsight.
CANUCKS ALL-2010s TEAM
2006-2014, .919 Sv%, 2.36 GAA
There were 29 players selected for the five all-decade teams named by Sportsnet in honour of the Canucks 50 years in the NHL. Luongo is the only player named twice. He was that good in Vancouver and only recently, with the emergence last season of Jacob Markstrom, have the Canucks found a replacement for their all-time leader in wins who was traded home to Florida in 2014.
Consider this: at age 30, Markstrom is having the best season of his career with a .918 save percentage, which is still less than what Luongo averaged during his eight years in Vancouver, where he helped the Canucks win six division titles and two Presidents’ Trophies. Luongo won the Jennings Trophy in 2011 and was a runnerup for the Vezina in 2007, when he won 47 of the 76 games he played, a record that might stand another 50 years. If you listed the top-10 goaltending performances in franchise history, “Lou” would have at least half of them.
2005-2015, 56 G, 185 A
Canucks management liked Bieksa from the time they got him as a fifth-round pick out of Bowling Green in 2001, but loved him upon his arrival in the minors in 2004 when he punched out cocky teammate Fedor Fedorov, who was several inches taller and 30 pounds heavier. Bieksa’s combativeness on the ice helped earn him a promotion to the Canucks in the first season after the lockout, 2005-06, and he became a staple of Vancouver’s top-four for most of the next decade.
Bieksa’s overt toughness, which he needed to back up his pretty good swagger, in some ways overshadowed what a skilled all-around defenceman he was. He posted 42 points (and 134 penalty minutes) in his first full NHL season and eclipsed the 40-point threshold two other years in Vancouver. He is sixth all-time in scoring among Vancouver blue-liners. But it was Bieksa’s nightly competitiveness, his willingness to do anything to win, that became his hallmark. And his overtime, series-winner against the San Jose Sharks, a slapshot no one saw from a ricochet off the stanchion that put the Canucks into the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, is one of the biggest goals in franchise history.
2006-current, 99 G, 302 A
To a degree, Edler suffered a similar under-appreciation for much of his career that Daniel and Henrik Sedin did. Stolen in the third-round of the 2004 draft from under the noses of the Detroit Red Wings, who thought they were the only team that knew about the kid playing in a glorified beer league in Northern Sweden, Edler probably has more tools than any defenceman who played in Vancouver before him. He is big, mobile, handles the puck, shoots, defends, plays special teams and, although he doesn’t fight, hits and plays physically. It’s just that none of those qualities made him the star he was projected to become.
And yet, nearly 14 years since he arrived in the NHL as a 20-year-old, Edler continues to be an indispensable part of the Canucks, leading the team in ice time this season at 22:37 per game. Despite a series of injuries in recent years, Edler is the franchise leader in games, goals, assists and points by a defenceman, and he looks like he will play for several more seasons.
2000-2018, 240 G, 830 A
Henrik was not only the best playmaker the Canucks ever had, he was one of the great passers of his NHL generation, behind only Joe Thornton (and ahead of Sidney Crosby) in assists over the last 20 years. But more than that, he and his brother helped change the game – or were at least years ahead of their time with the way they supported each other in tight spaces and valued puck possession.
As Chicago Blackhawks superstar Patrick Kane told Sportsnet when the Sedins retired two years ago: “They kind of came up with their own style to be successful. If you look at the league, it’s tough to go one on one. I think they figured that out… and realized it’s better to go two on one. Work the give-and-go. Pass it, move your body, and then get it back.”
A captain for his final eight seasons, Henrik beat his brother to the finish line as the Canucks’ all-time leading scorer. He is the only Canuck to win a Hart Trophy, in 2010, and should be going to the Hall-of-Fame with Daniel.
2000-2018, 393 G, 648 A
Daniel was considered the goal-scorer of the two but, really, was every bit as good a playmaker as his brother. It’s just, someone had to shoot now and then, and it wasn’t going to be Henrik. Daniel scored more goals than any other Canuck, and behind he and his brother there is a gap of almost 300 points to the next highest-scoring Vancouver player – Markus Naslund, with 756 points. Daniel’s 41-goal, 104 point season won him the Art Ross and Ted Lindsay trophies in 2011, when players voted him league MVP.
The Sedins not only rewrote the Canucks’ record book, they changed the culture in Vancouver. With their ideals about hard work, character and unselfishness, they influenced for a decade every player who came through the dressing room doors.
“In 20 years, there will still be a Sedin flavour to this organization and the Sedin culture in that dressing room,” Bieksa said last month during the ceremony retiring the twins’ jerseys. “That will transcend any on-ice statistics that they have.”
2005-2017, 193 G, 191 A
Considering where he started, where Burrows finished represents one of the great rags-to-riches stories in the NHL this century. Undrafted and unsigned, Burrows was going to quit hockey after two near-penniless seasons in the ECHL, but made the Manitoba Moose on an American Hockey League tryout in 2004 when the Canucks’ minor-league team was able to expand its roster due to the NHL lockout. Two years later, he was playing in the NHL and less than three years after that he became the Sedins’ regular – and most successful – winger.
The former Montreal ball-hockey star scored 35 goals in 2009-10 and averaged nearly 30 per season over a four-year stretch. He never forgot how close he came to giving up on hockey and going back to school, so he never took for granted any of his 822 games for the Canucks. By the time Burrows left, waiving his no-trade clause for a move to Ottawa in 2017 because he knew it would help the rebuilding Canucks, the left winger who scored the goal that “slayed the dragon” against Chicago during the 2011 playoffs was 14th all-time among Vancouver scorers.