Two days before Markus Naslund is set to become the third player in Canucks history to have his number raised to the rafters, I can’t help but feel like anyone excited about this is forced to defend him. No question, his detractors are out there and there are a lot of people not in favour of his number being retired. Why? A lot of people didn’t like his demeanor, blame him for lack of playoff success or his perceived lack of leadership. But the real reason? A lot of fans have short memories.
The problem with Naslund is he hasn’t been gone long enough for fans to forget the bad and remember the good (as I said 6 months ago, they should have waited longer before they retired it). He’s also Swedish, which I think plays a part. How many people were not in favour of Linden having his number retired even though he rarely fought and was 6’4″? Naslund’s play dropped off late in his time with the Canucks but so did Linden’s (did you know Linden never scored 20 goals in a season in the last 12 years of his career?). Linden was perceived as an old warrior that just became defensive while Nazzy was seen as just getting soft.
But how quickly we forget. Naslund was an absolute stud. A scoring sensation during the most defensive time in the modern era. Here’s a refresher:
1. He’s the franchise leader in goals and points. When Linden eclipsed Smyl’s record it was largely applauded, when Naslund passed Linden it was largely ignored.
2. Naslund was one of the faces of the NHL for a large period of time. Don’t believe me? Nike thought so:
3. Always a scoring threat, Naslund lead the Canucks in scoring for 7 straight seasons! To put that into perspective, Pavel Bure lead the team in scoring 4 times while Trevor Linden and Stan Smyl each accomplished this twice.
4. Naslund was voted the MVP of the entire league in 2003 by his peers. There are a lot of people who believe that this is a more significant accomplishment than winning the Hart Trophy. He’s still the only Canuck to ever have this distinction.
5. Many people forget that Nazzy wasn’t always seen as a poor captain by fans in Vancouver. In the 2000-2001 season, his first as captain, Naslund was seen as the key player that lead his team back into the playoffs. He broke his leg late in the year and received an impromptu standing ovation the next time he appeared publicly at GM Place. It’s funny how having bad goaltending and a coach that can’t get his team to play defensively makes you look like a bad leader.
6. Naslund’s numbers often get compared to the numbers of players from different eras, which isn’t fair. Goal scoring was never more difficult than in Naslund’s prime. Naslund had 48 goals in a year where only 1 player hit the 50 goal plateau. When Pavel Bure scored 60 goals, he finished 5th in the league in goals (Selanne and Mogilny had 76 each). I argue that Naslund’s 48 is a more impressive feat.
7. Naslund often gets blamed for the team’s playoff failures. Naslund participated in 5 postseasons with the Canucks and put up 33 points in 45 games. Not spectacular by any means, but if you look at his numbers during his prime, he put up 25 points in 27 games. Good numbers in the dead puck era. Also consider that Todd Bertuzzi wasn’t with him in one of those years and when he was playing he essentially produced very little offensively to help Nazzy.
8. Remember Matt Cooke’s buzzer beater to tie things up in the final seconds of game 7 against Calgary in 2004? Remember who rushed the puck up and deked through Calgary’s defense?
9. His wrist shot was the best in the game for a significant period of time, as evidenced by this beauty in game 7 in 2003.
10. Bertuzzi-Naslund… Scores! It happened so much, they made a song about it.
I hope you enjoyed this look back at some moment Naslund had here in Vancouver. Even though he wasn’t on a team that made a deep playoff run we shouldn’t discount what he accomplished. He was the most classy and consistent superstar the team has ever had.