1998 to 2004 – The Brian Burke Era

1998-99

Coach: Mike Keenan/Marc Crawford
Captain: Mark Messier
First Round Draft Pick: Bryan Allen
Leading Scorer: Markus Naslund
Playoff Result: Missed Playoffs

A new era was ushered in before the start of the 1998-99 season. Brian Burke was hired as new general manager of the Canucks and a lot of changes were coming. Pavel Bure refused to play for the Canucks, despite having one year remaining on his contract. He sat out until January before Brian Burke traded him, Bret Hedican and Brad Ference to the Florida Panthers for Ed Jovanovski, Kevin Weekes, Dave Gagner and Mike Brown. Jyrki Lumme signed with Phoenix in the offseason. Garth Snow was now their starting goalie and Alex Mogilny continued to underperform. Mark Messier was now 37 years old, and a shadow of his former self on the ice.

Although the Canucks were terrible once again, finishing last in the west for the second consecutive season, there was some reason for optimism. Twenty-five year old Markus Naslund had a breakout season, leading the team in scoring. They also had a very good young defence corps, consisting of Mattias Ohlund (21), Ed Jovanovski (22), Bryan McCabe (23) and Adrian Aucoin (25).
Mike Keenan’s reign of terror was also over in Vancouver, as he was replaced by recent Stanley Cup winner and former Canuck, Marc Crawford.

1999-2000

Coach: Marc Crawford
Captain: Mark Messier
First Round Draft Pick: Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin
Leading Scorer: Markus Naslund
Playoff Result: Missed Playoffs

The Canucks missed the playoffs for the fourth year in a row in the 1999-2000 season, but it was a year that had a lot more direction from management than years previous. Andrew Cassels was signed as a free agent to give the second line some help. Brian Burke continued to put his stamp on the team, making a series of trades that sent Bryan McCabe to Chicago and allowed the Canucks to draft Daniel and Henrik Sedin. The Sedins would spend one more season in Sweden before making their debut in the NHL.

While Messier was still on the first line, the rest of the roster was filled with young players with potential that were starting to show signs of improvement. At age 26, Markus Naslund once again led the team in scoring. Todd Bertuzzi (age 24) had his first 25 goal season. Other youngsters such as Peter Schaefer, Ed Jovanovski, Mattias Ohlund, Steve Kariya and Harold Druken showed potential. Burke traded away veteran Alex Mogilny to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for 24 year old Brendan Morrison and 23 year old Denis Pederson, adding to the team’s youth movement.

Burke also tried to bring stability to the goaltending position. He acquired Felix Potvin from the New York Islanders in exchange for Kevin Weekes, Dave Scatchard and Bill Muckalt. Potvin was decent after joining the team, going 12-13-7 with a .906 SV%.

The Canucks didn’t make the playoffs, but they played well down the stretch, with their young players leading the way. Finally there seemed to be a plan in place, and something to look forward to for Canucks fans after years of turmoil.

2000-01

Coach: Marc Crawford
Captain: Markus Naslund
First Round Draft Pick: Nathan Smith
Leading Scorer: Markus Naslund
Playoff Result: Lost in 1st Round

The 2000-01 season presented a changing of the guard for the Canucks, and that change was largely Swedish. Mark Messier had left as a free agent, which meant the team needed a new captain. Markus Naslund was named as team captain, during training camp in Stockholm, Sweden. The #2 and #3 overall draft picks from the 1999 entry draft, Daniel and Henrik Sedin, were also ready to make their NHL debut.

Still, not much was expected of the Canucks, but they were a pleasant surprise. The Canucks got off to a great start, despite poor goaltending from their number one goalie, Felix Potvin. Potvin was eventually traded away to the Los Angeles after the Canucks acquired Dan Cloutier from Tampa Bay in exchange for Adrian Aucoin. But it was unheralded “Backup Bob” Essensa who stole the show. At age 35, Essensa finished the year with an 18-12-3 record and was a fan favourite.

With less than 20 games remaining in the season, the Canucks looked poised to breeze into the playoffs until their number one centre, Andrew Cassels, and their top player, Markus Naslund, both suffered season ending injuries. The loss of their new captain Naslund was particularly crippling, as he was having a career year. Naslund had 41 goals in 72 games and appeared to be relishing his new role as captain. Without Naslund and Cassels, the Canucks struggled mightily, but were able to clinch a playoff spot with two games remaining in the season.

Undermanned and overmatched, the Canucks faced the eventual Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche in the first round and were promptly swept.

2001-02

Coach: Marc Crawford
Captain: Markus Naslund
First Round Draft Pick: RJ Umberger
Leading Scorer: Markus Naslund
Playoff Result: Lost in 1st Round

With Bob Essensa gone in the offseason, Dan Cloutier was anointed as the team’s new starting goalie. Peter Schaefer was involved in a season long contract dispute and Brian Burke famously offered to “drive him to the airport”. Early in the season Todd Bertuzzi received an automatic 10 game suspension for trying to break-up a fight between Ed Jovanovski and Scott Parker of the Colorado Avalanche.
For the first time in four years, the Canucks headed into a season with expectations, and it appeared to cripple them. The team began the season terribly without Schaefer and Bertuzzi. By Christmas, the playoffs appeared to be a pipe dream.

With the Canucks struggling, interest in the team wavered, that was until Brian Burke brought Trevor Linden home. Burke pulled off a deal in November to bring Trevor Linden back to the west coast. The deal brought new found excitement to the organization but failed to help on the ice, at least initially.

After some inspirational words from Brian Burke midway through the season, the Canucks got on a roll. They were the best team in the league in the second half of the season and managed to sneak into the playoffs. Markus Naslund went from star to superstar, and Todd Bertuzzi was right along with him. Naslund put up 90 points and despite only playing in 72 games, Bertuzzi put up 85 points. Brendan Morrison was their centre and the ‘West Coast Express’ was born.

The Canucks reward for finishing in 8th place in the conference was first round matchup with the President’s Trophy winning Detroit Red Wings. The red hot Canucks won the first two games of the series and were tied 1-1 in the second period when Nicklas Lidstrom’s goal from centre ice changed the series. Dan Cloutier’s confidence was shattered and the Canucks lost the next four games. Still, the season could only be viewed as a success and a building block for the future.

2002-03

Coach: Marc Crawford
Captain: Markus Naslund
First Round Draft Pick: No pick (traded for Trevor Linden)
Leading Scorer: Markus Naslund
Playoff Result: Lost in 2nd Round

The Canucks picked up from where they left off to start the 2002-03 season. The Canucks were in first place in the Northwest division for much of the season. Markus Naslund won the Pearson Trophy as the MVP as voted by the players. Todd Bertuzzi had established himself as the best power forward in the game and Ed Jovanovski was an all star defenceman. For the second year in a row, the ‘West Coast Express’ had established itself as the best line in the NHL. Dan Cloutier was also enjoying his finest season as a pro. Their blueline was bolstered by the acquisitions of Sami Salo and Marek Malik. Despite all of this, the regular season ended on a sour note. Markus Naslund famously admitted that the Canucks choked, losing the last two games of the regular season and giving the Northwest division crown to the Colorado Avalanche.

The Canucks faced the St Louis Blues in the first round and overcame a 3-1 series deficit to win the series in seven games. The second round proved to be much different. Facing an inferior opponent in the form of the Minnesota Wild, the Canucks blew a 3-1 series lead and lost the series in seven games. It was a bitter pill for the Canucks to swallow, and other than their Stanley Cup final losses, the most crushing defeat in team history.

2003-04

Coach: Marc Crawford
Captain: Markus Naslund
First Round Draft Pick: Ryan Kesler
Leading Scorer: Markus Naslund
Playoff Result: Lost in 1st Round

The 2003-04 season went much the same as the 2002-03 season. The team was in a close race with the Colorado Avalanche all season long with most of the same team as the year before. Dan Cloutier was posting the best numbers of his career and many of the Canucks young players were coming into their own. The Canucks were a legitimate Stanley Cup contender until one incident changed this group forever.

On March 8, 2004, responding to captain Markus Naslund being hit weeks earlier, Todd Bertuzzi ended the career of Steve Moore with a punch to the head. The punch was a cheap shot and earned Bertuzzi a season ending suspension.

Despite the Bertuzzi suspension, the Canucks went on to win the Northwest division. In the playoffs the Canucks played the Calgary Flames and lost in a thrilling seven game series. Dan Cloutier injured himself in game 3 of the series and was never the same. Markus Naslund wasn’t 100% in the playoffs due to the hit from Steve Moore, and was never the same since. Todd Bertuzzi was never able to return to his form again either. Even though this group of players would remain intact for one more season, the best days of the Marc Crawford led Canucks were in the past. Brian Burke was fired by Canucks ownership at the end of the season and was replaced with assistant general manager Dave Nonis.

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