Over the coming weeks and months, I will be counting down the Top 10 Canucks seasons of all-time. The list is based on a combination of team success and the significance of the season to the Canucks' history. The list was arbitrarily made by me, so feel free to share your own thoughts and debate my selections in the comments section. See the bottom of this post for links to the previous seasons in the Top 10.
Result: Lost in second round to Anaheim Ducks (4-1)
Coach: Alain Vigneault
Leading Scorer: Daniel Sedin (36-48-84)
Awards: Jack Adams Trophy (Alain Vigneault); Second All-Star Team (Roberto Luongo)
On June 24, 2006, shortly after a disappointing non-playoff season for the Canucks, GM Dave Nonis pulled off a blockbuster trade that would shape the Canucks' fortunes for the next six years. The Canucks shipped out Todd Bertuzzi, who in 2005-06 had struggled to regain his form following his suspension for his attack on Steve Moore, backup goalie Alex Auld, and solid-yet-unspectacular defenseman Bryan Allen for all-star goalie Roberto Luongo, d-man Lukas Krajicek, and a 6th Round draft pick (which turned out to be Sergei Shirokov).
Today, with so much controversy and frustration surrounding Luongo's tenure in Vancouver, it can be difficult to remember how monumental this trade was for the Canucks. For the first time ever, the Canucks had a truly world class goaltender between the pipes. Yes, Richard Brodeur was great on an underdog 1982 team and Kirk Mclean had some excellent seasons, but neither goalie was ever considered among the best in the game for an extended period of time. Suddenly, with the addition of Luongo, the Canucks (for whom Dan Cloutier's goaltending had been an Achilles Heel in various playoff runs) seemed like a legitimate contender in the Western Conference.
Fans were ecstatic and could not wait to see how the Canucks would perform with Luongo between the pipes, the Sedins emerging as strong offensive contributors, and Markus Naslund and Brendan Morrison still playing solid hockey. Although they lost spectacular (if mercurial) d-man Ed Jovanvski to free agency, the Canucks brought in BC native Willie Mitchell, who brought a solid and steadying presence to the Canucks blueline.
The Canucks did not disappoint in the regular season. The team narrowly beat out the Minnesota Wild to capture its first Northwest Division crown since 2003-04, the season before the lockout. The Sedins continued their upward trend in points, settling into the point-per-game range: Daniel had 84 points in 81 games, while Henrik totaled 81 in 82 games. Although Naslund's point production continued to slide, he still contributed 24 goals and 60 points - however, the Canucks' offensive mantle had clearly been passed to the Sedins. Meanwhile, Kevin Bieksa emerged as a force on the blueline in his first full season with the Canucks, putting up an impressive 42 points.
And then there was Luongo. The new goaltender had a sublime season, finishing with a record of 47-22-6, earning five shutouts, and posting a 2.28 GAA and .921 SVP. While these were fantastic numbers, they left Luongo second in Vezina Trophy voting behind Martin Brodeur (48-23-7, 9 shutouts, 2.18 GAA, .922 SVP). Luongo also finished second in voting for the Hart Trophy, losing out to Sidney Crosby. He did, however, earn a second All-Star Team berth.
Luongo wasted no time in making his presence felt in the season open, backing the Canucks to a 3-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings and allowing Jim Hughson to try out a phrase that would become commonplace on CBC broadcasts over the next six season:
Luongo continued to wow Canucks fans with brilliant saves like these:
Another season highlight was the surprising (and brief) emergence of grinder Jeff Cowan as a scoring threat. Cowan was picked up off waivers in December, and in March went on a four game scoring binge in which he netted six goals. Cowan enjoyed a brief period of folk hero status amongst Canucks Nation, and earned one of the all-time most memorable Canucks nicknames, Conan the Brabarian, thanks to this incident:
When the playoffs began, the Canucks held the third seed, pitting them against the Dallas Stars. The Stars actually had a higher point total (107) than the Canucks (105), but finished behind the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks in the hyper-competitive Southwest Division. It looked like it would be a very competitive series, and on that count it did not disappoint. Game 1 ended tied 4-4 after regulation, sending the game to overtime. Star goalies Luongo and Marty Turco then went into lockdown mode, barring the doors for the first three overtime periods. Turco finished the game with 39 saves, while Luongo made a remarkable 62 stops. Finally, at 18:06 of the fourth overtime, this happened:
I don't remember exactly what time that game ended, but I do know that in Toronto it was in the wee hours of the morning. I actually had to leave the bar at around 2 AM because it was closing and come home to continue watching the overtime. The next day at work was rough, but I was buoyed by the fact that the Canucks had won. The game entered the record books as the sixth longest NHL contest of all-time.
Following that epic first game, the Canucks took two of the next three games before the Stars stormed back to force a Game 7. The middle five games of the series were goaltending duels between Luongo and Turco: the combined score in these games was 7-4 for the Stars, including Turco shutouts in Games 5 and 6. However, in Game 7 the Canucks struck four times and won the game 4-1. The game was closer than the score line indicates, however: Trevor Linden got the winner seven minutes into the third period before the Canucks added two late empty net goals to seal the victory. Here are the highlights:
The Canucks moved on to play the Anaheim Ducks, who featured the imposing blueline tandem of Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger. Vancouver went down swinging in five games to the physical Ducks, although the series was perhaps closer than indicated by its length. Other than a 5-1 Ducks blowout in Game 1, each game in the series was decided by one goal. Three of the games were decided in overtime, with two of those taking double overtime to solve things.
The series was decided in double overtime in somewhat bizarre fashion. First, at the start of the overtime period, backup Danny Sabourin took the nets without explanation. Luongo was nowhere to be seen. Sabourin held the fort, making five saves in three and a half minutes, until Luongo returned from what was eventually revealed to be an extended washroom emergency. Then, on the winning goal, Luongo was caught looking at the ref for a penalty and was beaten by a harmless-looking point shot. It was an odd end to an otherwise very successful season for the new Canucks goaltender. While the Canucks hit the golf course, the Ducks would continue to roll through the playoffs and capture the Stanley Cup.
The 2006-07 season was somewhat of a watershed one for the Canucks. It saw the Sedins clearly establish themselves as the team's top forwards and the beginning of the end of Naslund's career with the Canucks (the next season would be his last in Vancouver). It was also the start of the Luongo era in Vancouver, an era that saw the most consistently great goaltending in the franchise's history and that, sadly, appears to be at its end. Finally, it was notable as Alain Vigneault's first season as head coach. AV captured the Jack Adams for leading his overachieving team to the Northwest Division title, the second coach in team history to do so (after Pat Quinn in 1991-92). All in all, there were a lot of great moments and performances and as a result the season lands at #6 on our list.
#10 - 1988-89
#9 - 2011-12
#8 - 1970-71
#7 - 2002-03