1978 to 1981 – Harry Neale’s Canucks

1978-79

Coach: Harry Neale
Captain: Don Lever
First Round Draft Pick: Bill Derlago
Leading Scorer: Ron Sedlbauer
Playoff Result: Lost in 1st Round

Fresh off of an impressive year coaching in the WHA, the Canucks gave Harry Neale his first coaching stint in the NHL. Despite the team having another horrid season (finishing with a 25-42-13 record), they made the playoffs. This was made possible by them being in quite possibly the worst division ever assembled. The Smythe division that season consisted of three other teams were the Chicago Blackhawks (29-36-15), the St Louis Blues (18-50-12) and the Colorado Rockies (15-53-12).

The Canucks were eliminated in the first round, two games to one, by the Philadelphia Flyers.
Despite another sub-par season, things were looking up for the future. Stan Smyl, Thomas Gradin and Curt Fraser all enjoyed strong rookie seasons with the team (those three would end up forming one of the best lines in club history). Ron Sedlbauer led the team in scoring with 40 goals and only 16 assists (pass the puck Ron!).

Gary Bromley was their starting goalie, displaying the best mask in Canucks history:


1979-80

Coach: Harry Neale
Captain: Kevin McCarthy
First Round Draft Pick: Rick Vaive
Leading Scorer: Stan Smyl
Playoff Result: Lost in 1st Round

It was much of the same story once again for the Canucks, having a sub-par regular season and bounced quickly in the playoffs. They were a young team, lead by Stan Smyl (21), Thomas Gradin (23), Curt Fraser (21) and Kevin McCarthy (22). After eight productive years with the team, Don Lever was traded to Atlanta midway through the season in a trade that saw Darcy Rota and Ivan Boldirev come to Vancouver.
One of the most popular players in team history, Tiger Williams, was acquired (that’s good). Williams was acquired in a deal that sent 20 year old Rick Vaive the other way. Vaive would go on to have three 50 goal seasons with Maple Leafs and score more than 400 NHL goals (that’s bad).

Glen Hanlon established himself the starter in Vancouver, taking the reigns over from Gary Bromley.


1980-81

Coach: Harry Neale
Captain: Kevin McCarthy
First Round Draft Pick: Rick Lanz
Leading Scorer: Thomas Gradin
Playoff Result: Lost in 1st Round

The Canucks continued their slow improvement behind their core group of young players and almost finished above .500 for the first time in five years. Another building block was acquired when the Canucks traded for ‘King’ Richard Brodeur from the New York Islanders. Bobby Schmautz was re-acquired and had a nice final year of his career, putting up 61 points. One of the most underrated players in team history, Rick Lanz played his first year as an 18 year old. One of the greatest Canucks of all-time, Thomas Gradin, led the team in scoring for the first time.

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