If there’s one thing that can be said about Vancouver and the Canucks, it’s that they definitely do things a little differently on the West Coast. And it didn’t get much different than two gangly teens from Örnsköldsvik, Sweden, drafted #2 and #3 overall by then GM Brian Burke in 1999. He made a draft floor trade to ensure he’d get both of them, and forever changed the fortunes of this franchise in the process.
The Canucks were a mess at that time, and what Burke pulled off on draft day to make this happen remains one of the greatest draft day deals of all time. The 1998-99 Canucks were shockingly bad considering their lineup. Mark Messier, Markus Naslund, Alexander Mogilny and Todd Bertuzzi were able to manage just 23 wins, finishing 3rd worst in the league that season and ending with the 3rd overall pick. Amazing how that used to work before the draft lottery and the Edmonton Oilers screwed things up for everyone, eh?
Burke had been lukewarm on the Sedins at best, but it was the Canucks top European scouts and a Canucks legend in his own right, Thomas Gradin who refused to let up on his enthusiasm for the red-haired twins from his home country. But they’d need to make a deal in order to get them both, and so in the hours leading up to the draft, Burke went to work.
First, he send Bryan McCabe and their first round pick in the 2000 Entry Draft to Chicago for the 4th overall pick. The Tampa Bay Lightning had the first overall pick, and the Atlanta Thrashers were picking #2, so Burke sent that fourth overall pick to Tampa Bay, along with two third round picks. They then offered the #1 slot to the Thrashers on the condition they didn’t pick either Daniel or Henrik, and the rest is history.
The start of their NHL careers wasn’t instantaneous, as they returned to Sweden for one more season with Modo, where Hank led the team in scoring, Danny finishing in 2nd, 2 points behind. And in the 2000-01 season, they were ready to make their NHL debuts. A dark cloud had lifted from the team, as first Mike Keenan was fired as head coach, and then Mark Messier left to return to Rangers, having succeeded in his mission to further humiliate the Canucks. And as Daniel and Henrik started their careers, the building blocks for the first era of a dominant Vancouver Canucks squad was falling into place. They had Naslund and Bertuzzi, and on defence Mattias Ohlund and Ed Jovanovski were improving the Canucks play on the back end. The team acquired Brendan Morrison, paving the way for the West Coast Express, which would become one of the most dominant lines of the era in the league. And you need look no further of their impact than the fact that they helped the Canucks do what Messier couldn’t: make the playoffs.
It’s both amazing and frustrating to look back at that first season, where the Sedin brothers showed the hockey world what it would only begrudgingly admit towards the end of their careers, preferring to trot out narratives from out of town media: Daniel and Henrik were far tougher than they looked, and took the kind of abuse and punishment that would break some players. It was a tall order to have to take on the powerhouse Colorado Avalanche in the first round, and while the Avs swept the series, this was the first time we got a true look at what we had in Daniel and Henrik, and the experience of going to war in the NHL postseason was extremely beneficial to them going forward.
The Canucks continued to make changes, and while their second season seemed a bit like a setback for Daniel, having scored just 9 times after a 20 goal rookie campaign, they continued to grow into the North American pro game. The Canucks made the post-season again, this time drawing another tough lot in the Detroit Red Wings. This series was famous for Brian Burke’s epic rant against the one-sided officiating in the series.
In part 2, we’ll look at the glory days of the West Coast Express, and how that allowed the Sedins to develop, and the passing of the torch from Markus Naslund to Daniel and Henrik as they took over the leadership group.
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