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The Canucks shouldn’t have any retired numbers and other unpopular Canucks opinions

Twitter was abuzz last week with controversial food opinions. A trending topic kicked off rather innocently by a baseball blogger and analyst , thousands of people jumped into the conversation to declare their hate or love for certain foods.
Pavel Bure looks on as his number is retired for the Vancouver Canucks.
Pavel Bure looks on as his number is retired for the Vancouver Canucks.

Twitter was abuzz last week with controversial food opinions. A trending topic kicked off rather innocently by a baseball blogger and analyst, thousands of people jumped into the conversation to declare their hate or love for certain foods.

It was mostly innocent fun before it took a sour and kind of racist turn towards the end. To be honest, it never interested me all that much. Food is so subjective — what tickles the tastebuds of one person might taste like sour garbage to another — so it’s hard to actually have a debate.

Yes, I like pineapple on pizza and think it provides an element of sweetness and tartness to the flavour profile. Some people think pineapple on pizza is a crime against the very concept of pizza itself. That’s okay: you can eat what you want to eat, I’ll eat what I want to eat and neither of us are wrong to do so.

Controversial opinions about food are inherently self-serving. You’re getting your own opinion out there and maybe finding like-minded souls, but you’re not going to convince anyone else that you’re right. “Pumpkin pie is better than apple pie!” “Nuh-uh, I like apple pie better!” “Okay!”

Controversial sports opinions, on the other hand, can spark conversations for days on end.

When it comes to sports, everything feels a little more objective, and this is particularly true for hockey. At the end of every game (at least since they abolished the tie), there’s a winner and a loser. At the end of every season, one team hoists the Stanley Cup.

We have all kinds of statistics to fuel our “Player X is better than Player Y” debates, whether you want to use traditional stats like goals, assists, and plus/minus, or delve into the minutiae of analytics.

Hockey makes people believe there is a right answer, even if some things still come down to a matter of opinion. If the coach would just put the guy you like in the lineup ahead of the guy you don’t like, your team would win more games. If the GM would focus on getting bigger/faster/more skilled, then your team could win the Stanley Cup.

As a result, controversial hockey opinions — things that most people think are wrong are actually right! — are just a little more fun than controversial food opinions. At least, in my opinion.

So, I went on Twitter and asked my followers for their unpopular Canucks opinions. I got over a hundred responses. Some weren’t as unpopular as the person tweeting them might have thought, some were unnecessarily mean, and some were just plain silly, but here are a few of the best and most controversial.

A couple people suggested variations of this, perhaps suggesting this isn’t as unpopular as some might think. At the same time, suggesting that none of the current numbers retired — not Trevor Linden’s, not Pavel Bure’s, not Markus Naslund’s, and not Stan Smyl’s — belong in the rafters? That’s bold.

The Canucks admittedly have a lower bar than some other NHL teams. What is the criteria for retiring a number? Major awards? A Stanley Cup? Or is it something else, something harder to define?

Stan Smyl played all 13 of his NHL seasons with the Canucks, serving as captain for eight of those seasons, and was beloved by the fans, but he was never among the league leaders in scoring and only led the team in scoring twice. Even in the 1982 run to the Stanley Cup Final, Thomas Gradin led the Canucks in scoring, with 19 points in 17 games.

Smyl didn’t even represent the Canucks at a single All-Star Game. John Garrett went to more All-Star Games than Stan Smyl.

The question is, does any of that matter? If the Canucks felt that Smyl, with his hard work, determination, and longevity, represented the Canucks to such a degree that no one else should ever wear his number, isn’t that enough?

This is an interesting one. Paul Reinhart played just two seasons with the Canucks before chronic back pain forced him into retirement, but those two seasons are two of the best in franchise history among defencemen. Those two seasons lead all Canucks defencemen in points per game, with 57 points in 64 and 67 games.

Reinhart had 39 and 31 points on the power play in those two seasons, which stands first and fifth among Canucks defencemen all time, and clearly first and second when you look at points per game. Reinhart had fantastic speed and puck control and was even used as a forward at times early in his NHL career. He was the quintessential quarterback on the power play, coordinating everything with his playmaking and vision, and popping in quite a few goals of his own.

Here’s the thing. In 1988-89, when Reinhart had 39 power play points, good for 15th in the NHL, the Canucks power play was actually one of the worst in the league: 18th of 21 teams with a 19.0% success rate. The same was true in 1989-90: Reinhart led the team in power play points with 31, but the team as a whole struggled.

Perhaps it’s unfair to place blame on Reinhart for the team’s power play struggles — perhaps he did everything he could given the quality of his teammates — but I find it hard to say that the Canucks have never had an effective power play quarterback since Reinhart when they have since had some of the best power plays in the NHL.

The 2010-11 Canucks had the best power play in the league, with Christian Ehrhoff and Alex Edler manning the points. Does Ehrhoff not count as a “truly effective power play quarterback”? What about the West Coast Express era Canucks, with Ed Jovanovski at the point on the power play? Or Jyrki Lumme in the 90’s?

The argument would be, however, that the Canucks’ power play success was driven more by the forwards in those instances than the defencemen, and that they could have been even more successful with a true power play quarterback at the point. Maybe there’s some merit to that argument.

Now, however, one player might make this argument a moot point: Quinn Hughes is currently fifth in the NHL in power play points, with 13 in 23 games as a rookie defenceman. Perhaps he can be the first truly effective power play quarterback for the Canucks since Reinhart.

You and me both, my friend.

How might Canucks history have changed if Willie Mitchell was named captain in 2008 instead of Roberto Luongo?

Freed of the responsibilities of captain, would Luongo have performed even better in the regular season and playoffs? The Canucks were eliminated by the Chicago Blackhawks in each of the playoffs where Luongo was captain, but beat the Blackhawks the first season that Henrik Sedin replaced him. Coincidence? Probably, but maybe not?

Would giving Mitchell the captaincy have made the Canucks more likely to re-sign him despite questions concerning his concussion? If so, would that have made Mike Gillis less likely to pursue Keith Ballard via trade, allowing the Canucks to keep their first-round pick? Or would it have meant not signing Dan Hamhuis, a major component of their 2011 playoff run?

That last one would have upset our next contributor.

Some people pinpoint the Aaron Rome suspension as the moment that turned around the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, but to my eyes it was the injury to Dan Hamhuis. When he hip-checked Milan Lucic and needed sports hernia surgery as a result, that took the Canucks’ steadiest defenceman out of the lineup.

Does Hamhuis deserve to be among the best defencemen in Canucks history? I’m not so sure about that. To be among the best, you have to contribute at both ends of the ice, in my opinion. He did have one season, 2011-12, when he had 37 points, but he mostly scored in the 20s.

Still, perhaps Hamhuis belongs in the conversation because the Canucks have had a paucity of great defencemen. I’m just not sure I would put him there.

Now there’s a defenceman that definitely does not belong in the conversation of best Canucks defencemen of all time. As cool as it might be to see his long-haired mug up there, no he does not belong in the Ring of Honour.

Brent Sopel played parts of six seasons with the Canucks after they drafted him in the sixth round of the 1995 draft, then came back for part of one more season in 2007 after a trade at the deadline. That’s when Sopel infamously injured his back when he bent down to pick up a cracker, causing him to miss the first game of the playoffs.

The injury forced Rory Fitzpatrick, of “Vote for Rory” fame, into action alongside Lukas Krajicek. The Canucks still won the game in a four overtime classic against the Dallas Stars, a game that long-time Bulies will know also led to the name of Pass it to Bulis.

Okay, this gets into the realm of subjectivity like the controversial food opinions, but I have tremendous love for the Flying V jersey. It was a marvelous oddball, so far outside the box that it wasn’t even in the same city as the box.

Along the same lines, there are plenty of people who don’t like the skate jerseys, even as their return this season has been very popular.

Has the enthusiasm for the skate been fueled primarily by nostalgia? I think that’s fair to say. There are a lot of people with genuine love for them, however, beyond simple nostalgia for the 90’s-era Canucks. The logo and colours have been a popular choice on apparel and hats for years.

But hey, that's why this is an unpopular opinion.

I respect this take. It’s wrong, but I respect it.

I mean, in his second season in Vancouver in 2000-01, he had a worst save percentage than Bob Essensa and Dan Cloutier, and their save percentages were both under .900.

Of course, he then went on a fantastic run with the Los Angeles Kings after the Canucks traded him, nearly keeping the Canucks out of the playoffs. Then he carried the Kings to the second round, where they lost in seven games to the eventual Stanley Cup champions, the Colorado Avalanche, who had swept the Canucks in the first round. So, uh, maybe the Canucks should’ve kept Potvin?

Now we’re getting spicy. Batch wasn’t the only one who came with this take, but it’s definitely a controversial one. There are a lot of Canucks fans eager for the team to bring back the 6’8” defenceman, as he showed some intriguing upside in his all-too brief 79 games with the Canucks before heading back to the KHL.

At the same time, there are a lot of indicators that Tryamkin isn’t quite up to snuff as an NHL-caliber defenceman. As much as his smooth skating impressed fans, particularly given his stature, he gave up a lot defensively that he didn’t give back at the offensive end of the ice.

In the KHL, his play has stagnated after an All-Star season in his first year back in the KHL. After 25 points in 51 games in 2017-18, he has just 16 points in his last 68 games, and reports of his defensive play aren’t particularly positive.

Could Tryamkin still come back to the NHL? Sure. The Canucks seem interested in bringing him back. Should Canucks fans expect Tryamkin to be anything more than a third-pairing defenceman? Probably not.

Mike Weaver! I respect a deep cut.

Weaver played just one season for the Canucks, 55 games in 2007-08. As an undersized defenceman that didn’t provide a lot of offence, it was hard for him to get much love, but the dawn of advanced statistics came right as he started with the Canucks, and the analytics suggested he wasm, in fact, pretty darn good that season.

His isolated impact heatmap from HockeyViz for that 2007-08 season shows that he helped make shots more dangerous for the Canucks and less dangerous against them.

Mike Weaver heatmap

Is it unpopular to say Weaver was very good? I mean, he finished the season with one point, an assist, in 55 games, so I guess it’s mildly unpopular.

Now there’s some controversy.

Can you imagine the uproar if the Canucks had started Cory Schneider in Game 6 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals right after Roberto Luongo had posted a shutout in Game 5? We wouldn’t have had to wait until after Game 7 for there to be riots.

The justification for this take is that Luongo had struggled in Boston, already giving up 12 goals in Games 3 and 4. They had already tried it earlier in the playoffs, with Schneider replacing Luongo for Game 6 against the Chicago Blackhawks. That, however, came after the Blackhawks beat Luongo and the Canucks 5-0 in Game 5.

Stephen went on to suggest that even if Schneider lost Game 6 in Boston, Luongo would come into Game 7 with a “chip on his shoulder,” but I’m not so sure it would work like that. Starting Schneider over Luongo after a shutout would have been a slap in the face.

Still, I was looking for a controversial take and that’s a doozy.

In my opinion, this isn’t even controversial. Sundin was very good in his brief stint with the Canucks, even putting up 8 points in 8 playoff games. Ryan Kesler also credited Sundin with challenging him to take his game to the next level and be more than just a checker.

Sundin may have been a controversial signing at the time, but he had both a short-term and long-term impact for the Canucks.

There’s an alternate history. Imagine if Pavel Bure wasn’t kicked out of Game 3 of the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals. At the time, Bure felt that he didn’t deserve the five-minute major and game misconduct for his high stick on Jay Wells that broke the New York Rangers defenceman’s nose.

Brian Burke, then the NHL’s Senior Vice President, agreed with the call, though he chose not to suspend Bure.

The game was tied 1-1 when Bure was kicked out; the Canucks went on to lose 5-1. Would they have won Game 3 with Bure? Perhaps. He led the playoffs in goalscoring and had just scored his first goal of the series. Maybe if the Rangers had to worry about Bure counter-attacking with his speed, they would have been less aggressive offensively.

A win in Game 3 would have put the Canucks up 2-1 in the series. That means they wouldn’t have had to battle back from a 3-1 deficit to force a Game 7. Perhaps their 4-1 win in Game 6 would have meant Trevor Linden hoisting the Stanley Cup in Vancouver instead playing (you know he’ll play) one more game in Madison Square Gardens.

Speaking of Linden…

Controversial at the time, the Trevor Linden trade has become more appreciated in subsequent years. Mike Keenan traded Linden to the New York Islanders for a huge haul, getting Todd Bertuzzi, Bryan McCabe, and a third-round pick.

Bertuzzi went on to become a central figure on the West Coast Express, McCabe was decent in his one-and-a-half seasons in Vancouver, and the third-round pick was used on Jarkko Ruutu, who quickly became a fan-favourite agitator for the Canucks.

What’s intriguing is what this trade became over time. McCabe was a key component of Brian Burke’s wheeling and dealing that led to the Canucks drafting both Daniel and Henrik Sedin. He traded McCabe to the Blackhawks for the fourth overall pick, flipped that pick for first overall, then made a deal to switch picks with the Atlanta Thrashers for second overall so both Sedins could come up to the stage at the same time.

Meanwhile, Bertuzzi was eventually traded for Luongo, giving the Canucks the true number one goaltender that they had lacked for years. Without the Linden trade, the Canucks don’t go to the 2011 Stanley Cup Final.

That makes the Linden trade one of the most impactful in Canucks history. But that doesn’t make it the best trade in Canucks history. I don’t think we can include the long-term ramifications of the trade, like it leading to both Sedins and Luongo, when assessing it. On its own, it’s still a fantastic trade, but does it truly compare to Alek Stojanov for Markus Naslund? I don’t think it does.

I think we’ve got time for one more.

You’re out of your gourd, Morissette.

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