Good article in the Province this weekend about about Markus Naslund. For the first time since his retirement, Naslund spoke candidly to Province reporter Jim Jamieson about life after hockey. This of course means that the debate of whether or not to hang his #19 from the rafters of GM Place has heated up. When asked about it, Naslund said “It’s very flattering. If you ask any athlete, to have your number retired is one of the most flattering things you can have happen. It would be a great honour”. Typical response from a guy who has been a class act throughout his whole career.
So should Naslund’s number be retired? It will surely serve as great debate for Canucks fans. I think it should (and will), but I don’t think it will be retired this season. The memory and bitterness of Canucks fans is still too great about Naslund’s final 2-3 seasons in Vancouver. People have forgotten about the amazing seasons he had for the franchise. If people can forget that Pavel Bure demanded a trade and sat out most of the 1998-99 season while still under contract and want his number retired, surely a lot of people will want Naslund’s number retired in a couple of years from now.
For those of you against having Naslund’s number retired, consider this: he is the all-time franchise leader in goals and points (while playing fewer games in a more defensive era than Smyl or Linden). At the top of his game, few in the league compared to Naslund. His best two seasons in 2001-02 and 2002-03, he scored 40 and 48 goals, doing so in a very defensive era of the league. In 01-02 and 02-03, only Jarome Iginla (52 goals in 01-02) and Milan Hejduk (50 goals in 02-03) scored 50 goals in a season. When you compare that to Bure’s best two seasons in a Canucks jersey (back to back 60 goal seasons in 92-93 and 93-94), you can see just how impressive Naslund’s achievements were. Bure’s first 60 goal season was a time when Mogilny (76 goals), Selanne (76 goals), Lemieux (69 goals) and Robitaille (63 goals) all scored more than him. Bure lead the league in goals in 1993-94, but not by much. Hull, Fedorov, Andreychuk, Shanahan, Graves, Sheppard, Modano and Neely all scored 50 or more goals (Neely actually scored 50 goals in 49 games that year). My point here is that Naslund’s best years were comparable to that of Bure’s (who would have his jersey retired had he not demanded to leave town), and his all-time numbers eclipse that of Linden’s and Smyl’s (who both have their jerseys retired).
Now I know what all of you are probably saying, “Naslund didn’t have any success in the playoffs.” While it is true that Naslund never reached the 3rd round with the Canucks, his playoffs could hardly be called failures. In his prime (2001-02 to 2003-04), Naslund scored 25 points in 27 playoff games. His best playoff came in 2003-04 when he was playing hurt (courtesy of Steve Moore) and was without Todd Bertuzzi. He got 9 points in 7 games that year, playing with Brendan Morrison and Matt Cooke. The Canucks playoff failures were more due to the team not having any kind of above average goal-tending (Cloutier’s goal from centre ice in 2002, Cloutier’s .868 SV% in 2003, and the Cloutier-Hedberg-Auld combo in 2004). Ask yourself this, would Bure and Linden be looked at the same if Kirk McLean hadn’t made “the save” in 1994 to keep their season alive? Of course not. Naslund never got a chance to do the things that Linden and Bure did in the playoffs because he simply wasn’t given the opportunity. Maybe that’s just bad luck for him, but I think he did enough in the playoffs to warrant his jersey hanging in the rafters.
So should the Canucks retire his jersey? Give your opinion in the comments section.