Note: The summer sucks, so this "Gone Fishing" series will look at all the upcoming contract year players for the Canucks.
He’s why you bother learning to pronounce Örnsköldsvik (Earn'sholds'veek). He’s a mere 21 points shy of toping Trevor Linden as the all time Canuck point producer. And this could be the last offseason where the Canucks can plan on having him stick around.
Welcome to the world of Markus Naslund.
A look back
Markus was drafted by Pittsburgh 16th overall in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft (a class that featured such talent as Eric Lindros, Scott Niedermayer, Peter Forsberg, Brian Rolston, Alexei Kovolov and even your friend and mine Pat Falloon). He would play three seasons with MODO and then some up and down with the Cleveland Lumberjacks (who have a bitchin’ beaver logo) before becoming a NHL mainstay.
The same cosmic forces that pummeled Vancouver for their Neely debacle returned the favor when Pat Quinn managed to trade for Naslund even up in exchange for the fire fighting Alex Stojanov, a guy who was actually picked ahead of Naslund in the same draft.
It took some "issues" with Mike Keenan giving Naslund the Marc Chouinard treatment before he finally began to show his magic. Starting in 1998, Naslund would have his first of six straight 60+ point seasons; he was named captain of the team by Brian Burke in 2000-01, a year in which he helped the Canucks finally make a return to the post season and shake off their collective Keenan/Messier hangover. Over the next two seasons he would put up his best career numbers playing alongside Bertuzzi and Morrison and snag a Lester B. Pearson Award in 2002-03 and was a runner up to the Hart in the same year. What’s not to love?
Things get ugly
Things would take a turn beginning in 2003-04 when, although the team was primed for a shot at some post season destruction, the Naslund/Bertuzzi/Moore incident would cast a cloud over the remainder of the year following Bert’s suspension for Naslund, the Canucks and even the entire league. The lockout didn’t help matters and there was a chance that, following the lockout, Naslund could have signed elsewhere. He eventually returned, inking a three year deal with the Canucks but couldn’t rekindle the offensive magic with Bertuzzi during a shitty 2005-06 campaign.
Bringing in Luongo meant a different approach for the team and for Naslund entirely. For this first time this decade, this team was molded from the backend and not the front. For the Canuck’s captain, it meant new linemates and new expectations for how he could run this team. Although he played in all 82 games in 2006-07, he managed only 60 points, his worst output since 1997-98.
2007-08 and Nazzy
So what is there to expect of Naslund as a Canuck in the final year of his contract? There will be plenty of people who are going to look at the Canucks and, for good reason, see that this team belongs to the twins and Luongo now. For every game in which Naslund doesn’t score or add some assists, there will calls for moving him and his $6 million at the trade deadline to anyone willing to take it. This is a business blah blah blah…and Lowe showed with Smyth last year that, face or no face of the franchise, you’re going to be moved if the numbers don’t work. Period.
This is Naslund’s reality. He may never return to his earlier production levels due in part to the line he played on and how both the game and team have changed. But he is still young enough at 33 and possesses a wrist shot we all know and love (when he actually uses it that is) that would indicate that he could still be a big part of any team’s top six. The question is does he have that drive still and can he do it with the cast of characters that Canucks will likely have come the drop of the puck in October?
The best case scenario for long starving Canuck fans would be to see Linden return, get another guy or two up front and have the core come together under Vigneault like they did last year. With the twins supported by a young core and Luongo playing behind a stacked defense, this team finds some magic in the post season with both Linden and Naslund playing character roles. A Cup is finally won and both Linden and Naslund leave the team on top. Picture perfect.
The worst case scenario is actually one where the Canucks don’t live up to expectations and have to move Naslund to a team that does win it all with him in tow. Or, similarly, Naslund leaves as a free agent so the team gets nothing. Or he simply retires back to Sweden with a trunk full of memories and no Cup to speak of.
Naslund is in the unenviable position this year (that is depending on if you are a glass half full/half empty person) of having to make his stick do the talking moreso then his price tag. He can play himself right into a new contract/extension or he can become part of a numbers game. Face of the franchise or not, the reality of the cap era doesn’t discriminate regardless if you’re Anson Carter, Brent Sopel or the Canucks franchise regular season goals leader.
Like Linden, Naslund's done a lot for this franchise from admitting the team has choked (he was honest, they did choke) to helping restore them to some iota of credibility over the past near decade. I, for one, want him to stick around and get the job done; seeing him in another uniform is unpleasant. Something tells me, however, that I'm in the minority on this.