Coach: Harry Neale/Roger Neilson
Captain: Kevin McCarthy/Stan Smyl
First Round Draft Pick: Garth Butcher
Leading Scorer: Thomas Gradin
Playoff Result: Lost in Stanley Cup Final
The 1981-82 season was one of the most memorable in team history. The team continued their slow improvement, finishing with a 30-33-17 record. Finally, the franchise was able to assemble a group of players to play together for multiple years, and grow together. The team was led by the likes of Stan Smyl, Thomas Gradin, Curt Fraser and Darcy Rota up front. Their top defencemen were Kevin McCarthy and Harold Snepsts. The team was short on skill but had a lot of gritty players with character.
Once again Harry Neale was the coach of the team, until he got into a fight with a fan in a game in Quebec City late in the year and was suspended 10 games.
Assistant coach Roger Neilson took over behind the bench and the team never looked back. Neale decided to keep Neilson in charge and the team got on a hot streak. They swept the Calgary Flames in the first round for the franchise’s first ever playoff series win. They got lucky in the second round, as the Los Angeles Kings (24-41-14) upset the Edmonton Oilers (48-17-15) in the “Miracle on Manchester” series. The Canucks dispatched the Kings in 5 games and moved on to the conference final against the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Blackhawks had also found a way to upset some teams on their way to meet the Canucks but were no match the boys from Vancouver. The Canucks dusted them off in 5. Their only loss in the series resulted in a Roger Neilson protest and what is now known as towel power.
So it was then off to the Stanley Cup for this Cinderella team. They played the powerhouse New York Islanders, who were in the middle of their Stanley Cup dynasty. The Canucks were overmatched and lost in 4 straight games. Despite this, the Canucks were viewed as heroes back home, and gave fans by far the best season in the existence of the franchise.