Naslund quits and Canucks win.

markus_naslund13

Well, the two are not really related, at least not directly.

Canucks’ ex-captain Markus Naslund has called it quits Monday night, after 15 seasons in the NHL. Perhaps one of the most-liked Canucks in recently history, Naslund provided scoring power and leadership to a young Canucks team for almost a decade.

But I couldn’t stop asking myself, what will prompt the Ranger’s scoring leader (excluding trade-deadline acquisition Antropov who already has 21G 25A before joining NY) to decide to retire after only one season?

Naslund had a decent season, with 24 goals and 22 assists. At 4-million per season, he is out-performing both 7-million-dollar-centerman Gomez and Drury. He was respected by the organization and the players, naming him Alternate Captain to Chris Drury. He finally found that anonymity he so desired after a decade of spotlight and burden. Naslund also mentioned numerous times that he enjoyed playing hockey in the Big Apple, so why the sudden desire to retire?

Officially, his reason is that he feels that he has underperform, to the point that he feels unacceptable. But perhaps the main reason is the Rangers’ failure in the post-season which hammered in the final nail.

It’s rather sad to see Naslund end his career this way, especially to a genuinely nice guy, who’s had so much to be proud of, quitely enter into the night without the cheers and acknowledgement he deserves.

Participated in the All-Star Game 5 times, and named to the first All-Star team in three consecutive years (2002, 2003, 2004), Markus Naslund is perhaps one of the best player ever dressed for the Canucks. He holds Vancouver’s franchise career-record for Hat-tricks (11), points (756) and Goals (346), third overall in career-assists (410) and games-played (894).

Naslund had his highlight year during the 2002-2003 season, when he had his first and only +100 points season. He scored 48 goals and 56 assists for 104 pts, another franchise-record for single-season points by a left-winger. He also won the Lester B. Pearson Award that year, which is the best NHL player voted by the NHLPA, and he is the only Canucks ever to win this award.

However, it might have been an even-better season, and perhaps it was a foreshadow of things to come for Naslund and the version of the Canucks under his leadership. Entering the very last game of the season in 2002-2003, at home for the 82nd game, the Canucks holds the Northwest Division Title, and Naslund was the league leader in points and goals, making him so-close to become the first Canuck ever to win the Art Ross Trophy and the Rocket Richard Trophy.

As fate has it, the Canucks loss that game to a weak Los Angeles Kings team. In doing so, Vancouver lost the Division title to the Colorado Avalanche, whom played a high-scoring game that night, which gave enough points and goals for Peter Forsberg and Milan Hejduk to defeat Naslund for the Art Ross and the Rocket Richard Trophies respectively.

That single game killed the confidence and the momentum for a Canucks’ team which had the leagues’ best forward line in the WCE line. That was the year most commentators in Vancouver predicted the team to most likely to win the Stanley Cup. That was the year the Canucks won the first series against the St. Louis Blues, but failed to finish off the Wild despite having a 3-1 series lead. (Sound familiar…hope not!!)

It all points to that one thing, the failure to finish. The Canucks was so close, and Naslund was so close, but it wasn’t close enough.

After that, Naslund will continue to lead the Canucks in various aspects of the game for many years, during which the WCE line was still feared by most teams. That will change completely after the Steve Moore incident.

Most will agree that Bertuzzi’s hit on Moore destroyed two players’ career that night. Steve Moore no longer played hockey for any NHL team, and Bertuzzi is only a fraction of his former self after the assault charge and numerous stops in Florida, Anaheim and now Calgary.

But it also severely damaged Naslund’s career. The entire incident started out with Steve Moore trying to injure Naslund, and it ended with a quick playoff exit for a Canucks team thought to be Cup-bounding. Facing the charges against his best friend, Naslund wasn’t able to focus on what he was supposed to do, and that is to lead the team. And it seems that ever since then, the Canucks locker room was divided, and Naslund’s leadership questionable.

With Bertuzzi traded, and the arrival of Vancouver’s saviour in Roberto Luongo, Naslund’s role changed. He is no longer the face of the franchise, or the beloved leader he once was. This decline in his role and responsibility definitely affected Naslund’s will to win, and is shown by his rapid decline in his point production.

Of course, this led to his exit when his contract expired last season. He told everyone that he longed for anonymity so he can quietly focus on doing the thing he loved most and that’s playing hockey. But deep down insider, maybe the reason he left the team was because he felt the team no longer needed him.

I guess he thought that a change of scenery will help him regroup and re-focus, but it takes much more efforts for a long-time team captain to get adjusted to a new team, just look at Sundin or in fact any long-time Captain who’s been traded.

The reason why Naslund isn’t able to play like he used to is simply because he’s no longer the center of the team. It’s a very different game if you are leading the play versus supporting the play. That extra pressure you put on yourself to not let your teammates down, because you know everyone is depending on you may be the difference between success and failure. That extra step, that extra shot, that extra play, always make the difference.

So, maybe the reason for Naslund’s retirement is not because he can’t perform, but simply because he knows he can’t go back to being the center of the team like he was to during his golden era with the Canucks.

IF, I’m only saying IF the Canucks can go far in the playoffs this year, and IF they are able to win the Cup, the first year without Naslund, what will that say?? Can Naslund take this as a NY Ranger?? Maybe, it is better to leave earlier than later.

Yet, like I said, I am sad with the way Naslund has to end his career like that. In New York, nobody cares about a 35-year old free-agent retiring, especially after a first-round defeat in the playoffs. No body will remember Naslund played for the Rangers many many years from now. But in Vancouver, Naslund will forever be a Canuck. Just imagine if he’d retire last year, or he signed back with us and decide to retire this year after we’ve won the cup??

Doesn’t the all-time point-leader, 8-year team captain deserve something better from his fans? Shouldn’t the Canucks community at least do something to show our appreciation? Maybe, but surely not now, not when the entire focus of the club in on beating the Chicago Blackhawks and continue the quest for the Ultimate Glory. (As I wrote this, we’ve just defeated the Blackhawks to take a 2-1 series lead!!)

But in case nothing happens, I just want to say something to our favorite captain:

“Markus, thank you for your 12 years with us, you are by-far my favorite captain of all-time. We were so close to winning it all with you, but I enjoyed watching you play even if we really didn’t win anything. I know that Vancouver misses you, and I always thought that you will retire as a Canuck, and in my heart, you did retire as a Canuck.

Here’s to Vancouver’s Favorite Son from Sweden, I hope you will enjoy playing hockey back home, because you’ve always wanted to do that. Who knows, maybe we will see you again sooner, rather than later. But if you do decide to make a comeback, do it with us.

Good luck on whatever you do and Godspeed, Markus!”

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