VANCOUVER – In the end it was a dental appointment that convinced Trevor Linden he was ready to retire after 19 years in the NHL.
The one-time Vancouver Canucks captain, and perennial fan favourite, had been searching for a sign that would tell him when the time was right to walk away from the game he loved.
Getting his teeth fixed was the answer.
“I spent several hours, and several days, in a dentist’s chair getting all my teeth fixed that over the 20 years took a beating,” Linden said, flashing a near perfect grin Wednesday.
“Once you do that as a professional hockey player, you know you’re probably not going to get back on the ice again.”
There were no tears as Linden, 38, announced his retirement to a room filled with media, some Canuck management and teammates, family and friends. The decision came 20 years to the day the Canucks selected him second overall in the 1988 draft.
“It’s been fantastic for me,” said Linden. “I’ve been able to be a professional athlete for 20 years. I’m very thankful for that. It’s just the right time.
“I think when you get to a point where mentally . . . you feel you’ve got everything you could, it’s time to look to other things. I am looking forward to what is around the corner. That’s a good thing.”
Linden spent 16 years in a Canuck uniform. He became the face of the franchise, not only for what he did on the ice, but because of his community involvement and charity work.
For him, taking time to visit sick and dying children was just part of the responsibly of being a professional athlete.
“I think the obligation of a professional athlete is to be responsible and make a difference,” he said. “It’s a great gift we have and to make a difference is not difficult to do.
“I think it’s the package you want any player that came to the organization to have.”
The six-foot-four, 215-pound Medicine Hat, Alta., native played 1,382 NHL games with Vancouver, the New York Islanders, Montreal and Washington. Linden scored 375 goals, added 492 assists and collected 867 penalty minutes. He also had 34 goals and 65 assists for 99 points in 124 playoff games.
Linden ended his 16 seasons with the Canuck as the franchise’s all-time leader in games played (1,140), assists (415) and his 318 goals are second only to captain Markus Naslund.
Once the backbone of the Canucks scoring attack, Linden took on more of a defensive role later in his career.
During the last two seasons it became evident coach Alain Vigneault considered Linden expendable. He was a healthy scratch for 23 games last season where he scored seven goals and five assists in 59 games.
Team owner Francesco Aquilini and new Canuck general manager Mike Gillis both attended the news conference but left without answering any questions from the media.
It had always been assumed Linden would remain with the Canucks in some sort of management position.
“We’ve had those conversations,” he said. “For me, we will continue having them.
“To get perspective on anything you need to kind of distance yourself a little bit. For me that may be the best thing. Time will sort things out where my heart lays and where I see my future going. To be able to do that you need to step back a little bit.”
Extremely popular in Vancouver, Linden said he has no political ambitions at the moment
Linden leaves the game without winning a Stanley Cup. He came close in 1994, leading Vancouver to Game 7 of the final before losing to the New York Rangers.
“You kind of know that when you are going through it, it may be the only chance you have,” Linden said. “It’s not something I dwell on.
“I think that certainly I would have loved to be part of a championship team here in Vancouver. I can say I preformed as well as I could and tried to do what was right.”
Linden also was head of the NHL Players’ Association during the bitter 2004-05 lockout season. He drew the wrath of fans who felt the players were greedy and later was criticized by some players for the agreement reached with the league and his support of Ted Saskin, the union’s former executive director.
Canucks centre Brendan Morrison praised Linden for his cool demeanour during the turbulent times.
“Everybody was looking to him for answers,” said Morrison. “I think he handled it well. At the bottom of his heart he was trying to do the right thing at all times.
“I don’t know if many other guys could have handled it as well as he did.”
Linden led the Medicine Hat Tigers to consecutive Memorial Cup titles and also was a member of Canada’s Olympic hockey team at the 1998 Nagano Winter Games.
Asked what his career highlights were, Linden listed being drafted, beating the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1994 conference final and being part of the 1998 Olympic hockey team.
But his fondest memory might be the outpouring of emotion from a sellout crowd at GM Place in his final game as a Canuck in April.
“There are a lot of hall of fame, superstar players that have played baseball, football, basketball, hockey . . . and don’t get that type of reception for their last game,” he said. “I feel very overwhelmed and truly blessed.”