Vancouver Canucks, Season in Review.

By Kirk Pedersen

Well, this season for the Vancouver Canucks was one of new beginnings. The Canucks embarked on a new journey when they set up shop in Sweden for the 2000-01 Training Camp. The NHL was all buzzing about the heirs to the Canucks future, Daniel and Henrik Sedin. The Twins had become a staple for new, hopeful beginnings in Vancouver.

The Camp began on an up-note as Markus Naslund was chosen by coach Marc Crawford as his new Captain. Reporters in Vancouver openly questioned this decision, they figured that Markus was a good few years away from taking a serious leadership stance on a young hockey club. This stance was most likely taken because Naslund had demanded a trade out of Vancouver only two short years previous to this season, and was almost traded, to Anaheim of all teams.

Going into Camp, the Canucks signed free-agent Johan Davidsson, I guess I figured he’d be a fixture on the Canucks lower third or fourth lines this season, possibly replacing Matt Cooke. Boy was I wrong. Davidsson stayed in Sweden after Cooke had his best camp to date, solidifying his spot on this team for the forseeable future. A lot of players, namely Artem Chubarov and Josh Holden, stayed back in Vancouver to work out at 8-Rinks Ice Arena, instead of going to Sweden with the rest of the gang.

After a few days in Sweden, the Canucks defeated MoDo and Djugarden and headed back home to start the exhibition season. After a rather poor exhibition season, the Canucks embarked upon their thirtieth campaign to a chorus of high expectations. Having narrowly missed the playoffs the year before, the Canucks were looking to improve upon that, and live up to General Manager Brian Burke’s promise, and make the play-offs.

The season began with a bang, as the Canucks got off to their customary fast start, being led by new Captain Markus Naslund, who was shaking off all criticism’s and bad press after Crawford’s decision to make him captain by leading by example, and playing up to his true potential, the potential that the Penguins saw in him to make him a first-round pick. It was all seeping through, and we were harvesting the benefits of it.

Midway through the season, the Canucks began to cough and sputter, but they were always able to stay in fifth or sixth, with their highest placement all season being in a tie for fourth. The team called up some reinforcements to combat injuries to Denis Pederson and Jason Strudwick. Those reinforcements turned out to be players whom the Canucks will see in their future for years and years to come: Jarkko Ruutu and Bryan Allen.

Allen started to look like the Defenseman that the Canucks wanted to build around when they selected him fourth overall in the ’98 Entry Draft out of the OHL. He played a mean, physical style, even got a bit of powerplay time. Overall, Coach Crawford was slowly bringing along the youngster, only giving him ten to fifteen minutes per game, to nurture him, but not tire him out. Ultimately, the decision was to send Allen back to Kansas City, where he could play 25 minutes per game, instead of 10-15 with the Big Club.

Jarkko Ruutu came in the Linden trade in 1998 (at that time, he was a draft pick, a third rounder), who came with Bryan McCabe and Todd Bertuzzi. Both of them would become fixtures in the Canucks future (McCabe in the way that he, and the aid of a first-rounder) landed us Henrik Sedin. Ruutu, the hard-nosed left winger, came over in the 1999-2000 season, but for the second time. (He spent 1995-96 playing for Michigan Tech, a fine hockey school.) Ruutu looked timid in his first season with Syracuse, but soon after, eased into his exciting style of play, and had a good call-up with the Canucks in the late-season. Ruutu had a great call-up this season, and a good playoff, solidifying his future as a Canuck.

The Canucks had an amazing run until one fateful day in March, when all Canuck fans took a collective gasp for breath. Captain Markus Naslund, the heart and soul of the young team, was hit awkwardly by Sabres Defenseman Jay McKee, and fell strangely on his tibia, and hobbled off the ice, being supported by teammates. Retrospect tells me that the Canucks could have given up at that moment. But the team proved that they had a lot of heart, but another crushing blow came no more than a few days later. The Canucks best playmaker, centre Andrew Cassels was skating behind the Minnesota Wild net, when a falling Cam Stewart submarined him. The play was completely accidental, but the hit left another mark on the Canucks season, one that Cassels would not recover from this year. He would have been a huge component in the Canucks attack, had they gone farther in the playoffs, he might have played.

In the future, the Canucks prospects look as good as any NHL team. With guys like Brandon Reid, Rene Vydareny, Jarkko Ruutu, Bryan Allen, Nathan Smith, Thatcher Bell, and many many others, the Canucks future looks to be very rosy.