From the first drop of the puck in that inaugural game against Los Angeles back in 1970, the Vancouver Canucks have searched for an identity. Role players and guys nearing the end of the line have always been the order of business for this club. Sure, they have tried the superstar route with players like Pavel Bure, Mark Messier, Alex Mogilny, Markus Naslund, and Roberto Luongo to name a few, but have always met with just varying degrees of success.
And despite these “star” players, there are only two which have had the honor of having their numbers lifted to the rafters at GM Place. They are Stan Smyl and Trevor Linden. Funny, neither one were ever considered a superstar.
In the NHL, 1988 was the year of Mike Modano. The Minnesota North Stars first overall pick was all the rage, a sure thing they said, and he has had an amazing career and is a sure bet as a Hockey Hall of Fame inductee when his career finally comes to a close.
However, despite the arguments that surrounded his talent level, the lanky kid from Medicine Hat who was selected with the very next pick had the heart of a lion.
From the first moment he slipped on that sunshine yellow jersey ( remember them?) he had the weight of the world heaped on him.
Trevor Linden was born on April 11, 1970 in Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada. As the second overall selection, even with many doubts, Vancouver was in for a treat.
Against most peoples better judgment, Linden made the team that first year when many believed he could have used some more seasoning in the minors. But like a trooper he took the bull by the horns and would instantly provide leadership to the organization. Something he was known to do throughout his entire 19 year career.
He finished second in Calder voting that year, losing out to an amazing defenseman by the name of Brian Leetch.
Linden was the new savior, the one who would change the face of the franchise. The team had retooled their front office and brought in Pat Quinn in a controversial move from Los Angeles. He would, for many years, be the father figure for young players learning the ropes of the pro game.
For the next ten seasons, Trevor Linden would be the face of the franchise and even through a nasty contract dispute in 1993, he came out of the other side loved; an accomplishment not many players can earn.
Number sixteen, of course, saved his best for the 1994 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Linden played like a man possessed.
Constantly injured and often fatigued beyond belief, he was able to still lead this team to a place they never thought imaginable.
Playing the final series against the New York Rangers, Captain Canuck had a broken nose, a slightly separated shoulder and cracked ribs. Injuries which he never made mention of until after the playoffs were completed.
The site of him sobbing in the corner after the final whistle blew to end the game and with Mark Messier, not Linden himself skating around with the Cup told you all you needed to know about Trevor Linden; especially on that night. Devastation spilled across his face. Not just for personal reasons, but for the team and the city of Vancouver who so desperately needed something to believe in.
After the excitement and the joy of the Stanley Cup run, things went South in Vancouver, longtime GM Pat Quinn was let go in 1998, and on the most fateful day in Canucks history, February 6th 1998, the unthinkable happened, Trevor Linden was traded!
Linden was sent to the New York Islanders for Todd Bertuzzi, Bryan McCabe and a 3rd round pick (Jarkko Ruutu). On the surface this deal was a slam dunk for the Canucks. They a brought in a young talent and were going in a different direction under the iron fist of Mike Keenan, but the ship he was trying to right would end up sinking instead.
Linden toiled for a season and a bit on Long Island before moving onto Montreal then to Washington. None of it seemed right, Trevor belonged in Vancouver, he had become the face of not only the franchise but the community, and to see him bounce around from team to team was disheartening. It is interesting to note, that the entire time he was away from Vancouver, the team never once made the playoffs in his absence. Another telling sign of Trevor Linden.
I still remember picking up the paper the morning of Remembrance Day (very fitting) and the headline stating Trevor Linden was once again – “home”. He had been re-acquired by Vancouver from the Washington Capitals and it was a simple deal which only cost a couple of draft picks.
However, price was not of concern because Trevor Linden was home as Captain Canuck.
Though his skills had declined, his heart grew in the time he was away. He was very appreciative of all he had in Vancouver, possibly even more from his original days as a Canuck. He played whatever role they threw at him, no longer worrying about having to put the team on his shoulders. They had Naslund and Bertuzzi to take care of those situations.
Interestingly enough, upon his return, the Cancuks also returned to the playoffs. The legend of Trevor Linden had vacated for a while but it was far from dead.
Linden would become the head of the NHLPA during the worst labor dispute the league had ever witnessed. He would see his name dragged through the mud for giving into owners demands. In essence he saw the stupidity of the situation and made concessions, something that if not done, may have permanently damaged the league for years to come. Linden bent a little to save the game; to put hockey back on the ice and in our living rooms. Every player earning a paycheck today should be grateful because even though they may not have received all they had fought for, they got their livelihood back.
On June 11 2008, exactly 20 years from the day he was drafted, Trevor Linden announced his retirement.
To understand his impact within this community and especially on the Canucks, you had to live here. Never has there come a player who meant so much to one organization. He has been a supporter of the BC Childrens Hospital, donating his time to every cause he could. Linden did most of it without any media attention at all because that’s just the way he is. To this day he visits sick kids regularly and never asks for anything in return.
Trevor Linden may not have been a superstar and will never make the Hall Of Fame but, his number 16 jersey hangs prominently in the rafters for good reason.
The man accomplished his tasks. He saved a franchise through hard work, dedication and a heart of gold. He saved the game we loved by putting it back on the ice. He competed for his country in the Olympics and he left the game on his terms, never regretting the fact he had never won a Cup or any major award. Linden was gratified simply by being a part of the Vancouver Canucks organization.
I personally can not think of a player more deserving of the honor of having his number hang for eternity.
Not a superstar nor flashy; simply put, he was Trevor Linden.