A look at the most beloved blue-collar blueliner to ever suit up for the Vancouver Canucks.
Similar to the fine work nucksandpucks is doing counting down the top seasons in franchise history, over the coming weeks I will be profiling the top 10 Canucks draft picks of all-time. Researching this series has taken me down some dark alleys, such as the Wikipedia page of the team's draft history. Truthfully though, for a franchise often criticized for its performance at the draft, the Canucks have had their share of gems over the past 42 years...they just didn't always hold on to them for very long. Players on this list were selected based on both their impact on the franchise and their contributions to the game of hockey in general, with slightly more emphasis given to the former.
#8: Harold Snepsts from Edmonton, Alberta
Drafted: 1974, round 4, 59th overall
Seasons with the Canucks: 10.5
Reason for Leaving: Traded to the Minnesota North Stars after the 1983-84 season, Harold signed back with Vancouver as a free agent in 1988, but was traded again the following season to the St. Louis Blues.
Harold Snepsts is the guy who never should have made the NHL, much less a list like this. Heralded (see what I did there...) for his immense work ethic and team-first attitude, he's one of the most popular players to ever pull on a Canucks sweater. A four time recipient of the Babe Pratt trophy as the team's best defenseman, Snepsts was also named to two NHL All-Star games; an impressive accomplishment for someone with his modest skill set.
Snepsts' style of play was wholly unremarkable, but it carried him to over 1,000 career games in the NHL, 781 of which were with Vancouver. Never known as an offensive force, Snepsts' best statistical season came in 1978-79, when he put up 7 goals and 31 points. But the season he would be remembered for, along with the rest of that Canucks team, is 1982.
Together with goalie Richard Brodeur, Snepsts was the backbone of the Canucks defense while Stan Smyl and Thomas Gradin ran the show up front, carrying a ragtag group of loveable losers all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. While Snepsts would make a terrible turnover to Mike Bossy that would cost his team game one, it was a testament to his popularity that upon his return to Vancouver, he was showered with support rather than boo's from the Canucks faithful. Unfortunately, that support couldn't will the underdog to a win over the mighty Islanders, and they were swept in four games. Still, 1982 was the Canucks organization's first flirtation with real success, and Snepsts was a big part of that.
After the 1983-84 season, then-GM Harry Neale drew the ire of Canucks fans when he traded Snepsts to the Minnesota North Stars. How could he trade the team's all-time leader in games played and penalty minutes, not to mention possibly the most popular player in franchise history at the time?
Like Trevor Linden 14 years later, there is no record of what happened to Snepsts after he was traded by Vancouver. No one really knows where he went or what he did; we can only assume it was a very dark chapter in his life. What we do know is this: he eventually came back.
Signing as a free agent prior to the 1988-89 season, Snepsts was now a little older and a little slower, but fans loved him just the same. What little offensive instincts he possessed in his younger days had by now abandonded him completely, but he still had value as a depth defender and mentor. The homecoming only lasted a little over a year, as Snepsts was dealt to the St. Louis Blues as they prepared for a playoff run. Snepsts would play his 1,000th NHL game with the Blues the following season, retiring in the summer of 1991 after 17 seasons playing in the best league in the world.
On March 14, 2011, Snepsts became the fourth member of the Vancouver Canucks Ring of Honour encircling the crowd at Rogers Arena. Walking out with 30% more mid-section and 100% less moustache, HARRR-OOOLD was showered with the type of appreciation that he was so accustomed to during his years in a Canucks sweater:
Here's a great retrospective on Snepsts' career from Squire Barnes. I love the story that Stan Smyl tells about throwing a hit on Snepsts in his first training camp:
Just look at how Snepsts poses in his interview. What a boss.
Harold Snepsts is the living embodiment of the idea that hard work can take you anywhere. I have a theory on why he was so popular amongst fans: aside from possessing a tireless work ethic, Snepsts was lanky, balding, a poor skater, and had a moustache that would have given Dave Babych a run in Movember donations. He looked like somebody's dad. When you watch a guy like that out on the ice contributing — even, at times, excelling — it makes the National Hockey League feel like a place not just reserved for the supremely talented: it makes it seem somewhat within reach.
But that's just a theory. HARRR-OOOOLD! HARRR-OOOOLD!
Previous entries in the Top 10 Canucks Draft Picks series:
10. Patrik Sundstrom