Trevor Linden lost a Cup and a captaincy to Mark Messier. But his two run-ins with ‘The Moose’ aptly illustrate what made him a great hockey player and one of the NHL’s all-time best citizens.
The announcement of Linden’s retirement will bring an outpouring of emotion from the Canucks family and hockey world at large.
What likely isn’t on its way is an invitation to the Hall of Fame. Linden, the second overall pick in 1988, was never truly an offensive force in the NHL and the only major individual award on his shelf is the King Clancy Trophy for humanitarian of the year.
And you know what? I bet the generation of kids who’ve benefited from Linden’s prodigious and generous donations of money and time over a 19-season career couldn’t care less how many pucks he put in the net.
His best season was a solid, but not off the charts, 80-point campaign in 1995-96. But this guy’s got one of the best points-to-profile ratios in hockey history because he was a tireless two-way player who treated every person he met outside the rink like a teammate.
His finest moment on the ice was when, for the only time in his NHL career, Linden became a point-a-game player by popping 12 goals and 25 points in Vancouver’s 24-game drama that was the 1994 playoffs.
In the final contest of that spring, Linden watched Messier and the Rangers skate off with the Cup following a Game 7 victory at Madison Square Garden.
Three years later in 1997, Linden was handing over the captaincy of the Canucks to the man who’d helped engineer the most gut-wrenching loss of his life.
Thank you sir, may I have another.
But Linden, who’d been made the youngest captain in Canucks history at age 20 in 1990, decided he was all for Messier wearing the ‘C’ if that’s what was truly best for the team.
That whole process didn’t reflect well on Vancouver management at the time, but it certainly speaks to Linden being the classiest guy ever to wear a Canucks uniform.
Linden is so indelibly linked to Vancouver it’s odd to contemplate the fact he did suit up for three other teams during his NHL career. There was always something fundamentally unnatural about Linden in Isles, Habs and Caps colors; like a hockey sweater with buttons down the front of it.
Linden is a western boy – a Medicine Hat kid who led his hometown Tigers to two Memorial Cups before embedding himself in the fabric of Vancouver’s sports community.
He came along just when the Canucks needed a new leader after Stan Smyl hung up his sweat-soaked jersey.
Now, nearly 20 years later, Vancouver must let go of Linden. No doubt there’ll be a constant reminder of his achievements once his No. 16 is raised to the rafters. Fans can take comfort in that. And Linden should extract immense pride in knowing he’s set the bar for how a hockey player should carry himself even higher than that jersey will hang.
Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears every second Friday.
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