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: Missed playoffs
Coach: Hal Laycoe
Leading Scorer: Andre Boudrias (25-41-66)
As Canucks seasons go, 1970-71 hardly ranks among the most memorable for on-ice accomplishments. However, that season was notable as the Canucks' inaugural season in the National Hockey League. And for that reason, it lands at #8 on our list of Top 10 Canucks seasons.
After expanding from six to 12 teams in 1967, the NHL awarded its 13th and 14th franchises to Buffalo and Vancouver, both of which started play in 1970. Prior to the 1970-71 season, the two teams competed in a "wheel of fortune" event to determine who would select first in the 1970 NHL entry draft. A different spin of the wheel could have dramatically altered the course of Canucks history - the Sabres won the contest and, therefore, the right to select star prospect Gilbert Perreault. Perreault would go on to enjoy a Hall of Fame career and lead the Sabres to a Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 1975. The Canucks actually thought they had won the spin when NHL Commissioner Clarence Campbell misread the winning number as 1 instead of 11. The Canucks management celebrated excessively until everyone realized the mistake:
The Canucks' consolation prize with the second overall pick was Dale Tallon, a serviceable defenseman who never met the lofty expectations of NHL scouts, and who would play just three seasons with the Canucks before being traded to the Chicago Blackhawks (Tallon later became the Blackhawks General Manager and oversaw their dramatic run to the Stanley Cup in 2010, tormenting Canucks fans in the process). Tallon's numbers with the Canucks were quite good (44 goals and 137 total points over 222 games), but he will always be compared by Canucks fans to what could have been had Vancouver been able to select Perreault.
The Canucks held training camp in Calgary, which seems really weird until you remember that the Calgary Flames did not yet exist (nor did the Edmonton Oilers). I am curious whether the Canucks became "Western Canada's team" for a few seasons in the 1970s, or whether everyone outside BC just cheered for the Toronto Maple Leafs or Montreal Canadiens like they had previously. To be honest, it was probably the latter. The Canucks of the 1970s did not exactly light the NHL on fire. However, this bizarre ceremony for the Canucks 1970-71 "Yukon Night" promotion (which actually includes a live Husky dog being given to captain Orland Kurtenbach) suggests that the Canucks may have garnered some support from outside the province:
The Canucks history did not begin promisingly, as the team fell 3-1 to the Purple and Yellow (the Los Angeles Kings). A bright spot, however, was Barry Wilkins scoring the first goal in franchise history on this pretty spin o' rama off the point:
Not bad, eh? Other season highlights included whooping the California Seals 11-5 and defeating the Toronto Maple Leafs on a Hockey Night in Canada national broadcast. Let's watch and listen (JIM ROBSON!!!!!) to that Leafs victory, shall we?
The team held up decently through December, going 14-20-3 before the new year. But in January they slumped to a 1-10-2 record and then went 9-16-3 to close out the season with just 24 wins and 56 points.
New captain Orland Kurtenbach was actually stringing together solid point-per-game season before he was lost to injury. He finished the season sixth in team scoring with 21 goals and 53 points in just 52 games. In addition to Kurtenbach and Tallon, other notable names from that 1970-71 team include leading scorer Andre Boudrias, Wayne Maki, Bobby Schmautz, and Pat Quinn. Goalies Charlie Hodge and Dunc Wilson shouldered most of the load between the pipes. While Hodge had a respectable 15-13-5 record, Wilson sported an abysmal 3-25-2 record. Guess there was no goaltending controversy that season.
Overall, the 1970-71 season produced mediocre to poor on-ice results. But as the inaugural season of the Canucks, it is highly significant to the team's history and thus deserves its spot on this list.
#10 - 1988-89
#9 - 2011-12