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The unusual stories of the 10 worst Canucks skaters of all time

A Stanley Cup-winning All-Star, a Dutch legend, and a magic man are among the ten worst Canucks.
Tim-Hunter-Canada-coach-Jeff-Bassett-CP
Canada Head Coach Tim Hunter gives some instructions during practice in 2018. photo: Jeff Bassett / CP

Not only is there no hockey right now, there are really no sports whatsoever. With little happening in the present, sportswriters have had to look to the past, whether it’s the recent past of the currently-on-hold season, or way, way back into previous decades.

Andrew Stoeten, who covers the Toronto Blue Jays for The Athletic, did the latter, creating fun lists of the ten best and ten worst Blue Jays position players of all time. Stoeten could have done this subjectively, relying on his memory and players’ reputations, but instead went with something relatively objective that led to more surprises and unexpected players popping up in each list. He used baseball’s most frequently used all-in-one metric, Wins Above Replacement (WAR).

Since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I’m stealing this idea to apply it to the Vancouver Canucks.

One of the fundamental difficulties, of course, is that hockey analytics are still in their infancy. Or, I guess since modern hockey analytics started around 2006 or 2007, they’re not in their infancy — they’re in their moody teens.

In baseball, a number of modern advances in analytics can actually be applied in retrospect to the past. Both simple things, like prizing slugging percentage and on-base percentage over batting average, and more complicated statistics, like WAR, can also be applied to players from the past with relative ease, as baseball has always tracked a wide variety of metrics that can be used by modern statisticians.

Hockey, however, has never tracked all that many statistics. From the earliest years of the NHL, we’re lucky to get games played, goals, assists, and penalty minutes. It wasn’t until the mid-30’s that they started to track whether those goals and assists were even-strength or on the power play. Shots and plus/minus were not tracked until 1959, and it wasn’t until 1998 that the NHL started tracking time on ice.

Modern statistics like corsi and expected goals only go back to the 2007-08 season, when the NHL made play-by-play sheets publically available that tracked shot attempts, shot locations, and who was on the ice for each event.

That makes comparing modern-day players to those from the past pretty dang difficult. Any “all-in-one” metric that can be applied to past decades is going to be missing a lot of information. That said, we do have a couple options: Point Shares (PS) and Goals Versus Threshold (GVT).

GVT was developed by Tom Awad of Hockey Prospectus and is likely the better of the two statistics, but I’m going with Point Shares for a couple reasons. One is that GVT isn’t available for recent seasons, as Hockey Prospectus has been taken offline. The other is that Point Shares is more easily compiled from the Hockey Reference website.

Point Shares was created by Justin Kubatko, with the intent of finding how many standings points an individual player contributes to his team. His process and the formulas used to calculate the results can be found on the Hockey Reference site.

I took the Point Shares for every single player that played for the Canucks and calculated their Point Shares per 82 games: in other words, how many standings points they would theoretically contribute over the course of an 82-game season. I limited my search to players that played at least 41 games for the Canucks — half a modern NHL season — and ranked them.

I’ll consider goaltenders separately, as they’re credited with a skewed amount of Point Shares given the outsized role they play for a team. So, let’s look at the worst skaters in Canucks history.

“Worst” is, of course, a relative term. As Stoeten notes, just getting to the top level of your sport means you’re one of the best players in the world. Even the worst players in college or major junior hockey could likely wipe the floor — er, ice — with a pretty good beer-leaguer. All the players I’m about to talk about are or were very good hockey players.

Just not in comparison with the rest of the NHL.

First, a few honourable mentions that made the top-20 worst skaters in Canucks history, but not quite the top-10. Here are a few notable names: Michael Chaput, Byron Ritchie, Ryan Johnson, Steve Staios, Mike Brown, Ron Delorme, and Craig Coxe.

10 | Ron Stewart, Right Wing, 1971-72, -0.98 PS/82

There are three Rons (and two Robs) on this list, with Ron Delorme coming in at 12th. Evidently, the Canucks should avoid players with three-letter first names that start with R. 

Ron Stewart starts off our list, which might come as a surprise. After all Stewart was a three-time Stanley Cup Champion and played in four All-Star Games. He was renowned for his  all-around game.

“He was one of the best defensive forwards in the NHL,” said Emile Francis, his former coach with the New York Rangers. “He was an excellent penalty killer, one of the best in hockey.”

That may all be true, but by the time he came to the Canucks in their second season in the NHL, Stewart was 39 years old and long past the prime of his career.

Stewart played just 42 games for the Canucks before a trade back to the Rangers, for whom he had played the previous four seasons. That means he barely makes the 41-game cutoff for this list. In those 42 games, he had just 3 goals and 4 points.

While a great player with a storied 21-year career in which he played 1,353 NHL games, Stewart just didn’t have much more to give at 39. His time in Vancouver was essentially just a footnote in his story. He played just one more season in the NHL at the age of 40 before retiring.

As far as I can figure, Stewart holds one peculiar Canucks record. He has the earliest birthday of any Canuck. Unless the Canucks sign a 90-year-old power forward next year, that record will never be broken.

9 | Bryan McSheffrey, Right Wing, 1972-1973, -1.04 PS/82

Bryan McSheffrey had some legendary sideburns. His NHL career, however, wasn’t quite as long as the hair on the side of his face.

The Canucks picked McSheffrey 19th overall in the 1972 NHL Entry Draft after a strong junior career with the Ottawa 67’s. He was coming off 52 goals and 96 points in 61 games when he was drafted, good for 11th in OHA scoring. McSheffrey was the first player in 67’s history to score 50 goals in a season. 

Two future Canucks stars, Don Lever and Dennis Ververgaert, finished ahead of McSheffrey in scoring in the OHA that season.

McSheffrey quickly made his Canucks debut as a 20 year old, appearing in 33 games in the 1972-73 season. While he managed a few points — 4 goals and 4 assists — he got torn apart defensively. 

While plus/minus isn’t the most reliable statistic and the entire Canucks team had a minus rating that season, it’s still alarming to see McSheffrey at minus-31 in just 33 games. That’s sixth-worst on the 1972-73 Canucks (seriously, they were really bad), but the players with worse ratings player more than twice as many games as McSheffrey.

His next season wasn’t as bad. He had 9 goals and 12 points and was only a minus-15. Perhaps with a few more seasons, he could have improved his Points Share enough that he wouldn’t be on his list.

Instead, he was traded to the Buffalo Sabres, where he played just three games. He spent the rest of his (brief) career in the minor leagues before capping it off with two seasons in the Netherlands.

Like Dale Weise many years later, McSheffrey dominated the Dutch league, putting up a whopping 61 goals and 115 points in 36 games in his first season in the Netherlands.

8 | John McIntyre, Centre, 1993-1995, -1.18 PS/82

You’re going to find a surprising number of players from the 1993-94 Canucks on this list. While a great team, the 1993-94 Canucks were a bit top heavy, with an emphasis on grinders and enforcers on the fourth line.

Or perhaps Point Shares doesn’t do justice to John McIntyre’s defensive ability. McIntyre was a go-to penalty killer and faceoff man, playing a tough, physical defensive game and using his speed to get in on the forecheck and throw hits. While he had a reputation for dumb penalties with his previous teams, McIntyre cleaned up his game a bit with the Canucks, mostly staying out of the box.

That said, it’s hard to say whether McIntyre was actually all that effective defensively. Was he a defensive centre the same way someone like Jay Beagle is a defensive centre, in that he played a lot of defence because he can never get the puck out of the defensive zone? For what it’s worth — maybe not much given the unreliability of plus/minus — McIntyre was minus-3 in the Stanley Cup Final against the New York Rangers.

McIntyre was just 24 when he came to the Canucks, but had already played for three other NHL teams: the Leafs, who drafted him in the third round in 1987, the Kings, and the Rangers. He had chipped in a few points in previous stops, including 24 points in 73 games for the Kings in 1991-92. 

In Vancouver, McIntyre left all the offence for the top of the lineup, managing 3 goals and 13 points in 90 games with the Canucks. In the playoffs, he had one assist in 24 games.

That was it for McIntyre’s NHL career. He played one more season in the AHL with the Syracuse Crunch before hanging up his skates at just 27 years old.

Was McIntyre a great hockey player? By NHL standards, not really, and Point Shares is certainly unkind to him, but even lesser hockey players can fill a role on a great team.

7 | Rob Murphy, Centre, 1988-1991, -1.24 PS/82

Rob Murphy wasn’t supposed to end up on a list like this. Murphy was the first ever pick by Pat Quinn as the Canucks general manager: 24th overall in the second round of the 1987 NHL Entry Draft. As a 17-year-old rookie in the QMJHL, Murphy had put up 35 goals and 89 points in 70 games, good for fourth in the league among first-time draft-eligible players.

Sure, that was no comparison to Pierre Turgeon, who had a whopping 69 goals and 154 points in 58 games, but that’s why Turgeon went first overall and should arguably be in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Murphy, at the very least, was supposed to become a solid NHL forward. He made his Canucks debut as an 18 year old before returning to Junior, then played another 8 games with the Canucks as a 19 year old, before once again bouncing back to the QMJHL.

A 6’3” centre with a strong work ethic, good hands, and a nose for the net, Murphy was expected to help turn around the Canucks that had struggled so mightily in the 80’s. 

Instead, Murphy struggled to adapt to the NHL, with his skating the main issue holding him back. He also wasn’t much of a creative playmaker, using his size in Junior to bull his way to the net to create opportunities for his teammates.

That didn’t fly in the NHL, where he was met by players just as big as he was, with better skating. While he could rack up points in the minors, it never translated to the big leagues.

Murphy played 73 total games with the Canucks, managing just 6 goals and 10 points. Another big, strong centre drafted the next year by Quinn, Trevor Linden, ended up leading the Canucks’ turnaround.

At the 1992 expansion draft, Murphy was left exposed and was picked up by the Ottawa Senators. He had more opportunities for the talent-starved Senators, but still managed just 10 points in 44 games. He played 8 more games for the Los Angeles Kings before he was out of the NHL for good.

At least, as a player. Murphy found a second life in hockey as a scout, eventually working his way up to become Director of Scouting for the Buffalo Sabres. After three years, he was fired in 2017, just weeks before the NHL draft, as part of a sweeping dismissal of GM Tim Murray and his hires. 

6 | Tim Hunter, Right Wing, 1992-1996, -1.44 PS/82

Tim Hunterr was an elite enforcer with the Calgary Flames in the eighties, who could pop in a few goals in between popping faces. He holds Flames records for career penalty minutes and led the league in penalty minutes in multiple seasons. 

By the time he got to the Canucks, Hunter was in his thirties and didn’t have much more to give beyond fighting, veteran leadership, and a little bit of penalty killing. He was also an abrasive presence on the ice, getting under the skin of his opponents. 

The issue was that he didn’t do much of anything at the offensive end of the ice. Hunter had 8 goals and 18 points in 176 regular season games with the Canucks. In the playoffs, he appeared in 46 games with the Canucks without registering a single point.

Hunter certainly had a lot of fans with his penchant for on-ice violence and — shall we say — distinctive facial features. Perhaps the 1993-94 team wouldn’t have been as good without the intangibles provided by his veteran leadership — he had that all-important Stanley Cup ring from his days with the Flames — but, at least according to Point Shares, he didn’t do much on the ice.

That leadership, however, led Hunter to become a coach after his playing career. He was an assistant coach for many NHL teams for 14 seasons before heading to the Moose Jaw Warriors in the WHL to become a head coach. He has also coached Team Canada at three World Junior Championships, winning one gold and one silver medal.

5 | Ron Ward, Centre/Defence, 1971-72, -1.50 PS/82

Ron “Magic” Ward may have had a legendary nickname, but his one season with the Canucks was eminently forgettable.

The nickname likely came from his wizardous ability with the puck. His stickhandling was evidently incredible, but it wasn’t matched by his skating, which was once described as like “watching a duck walk on ice.”

Ward had been a defenceman in minor hockey in the 60’s, back before Bobby Orr revolutionized the position with his smooth-skating rushes up the ice. Perhaps that explains his lack of skating ability. Still, the Toronto Maple Leafs liked his skill with the puck and signed him to a contract, assigning him to the Tulsa Oilers of the CPHL.

That’s when Ward converted to centre, eventually leading the CPHL in scoring  with 85 points in 67 games for the Tulsa Oilers as a 23-year-old  in the 1967-68 season. He then went to the Rochester Americans in the AHL, put up 35 goals and 78 points in 73 games and was named the AHL rookie of the year.

Unfortunately, there was little room for Ward with the Toronto Maple Leafs and, when he did get a chance, he didn’t capitalize. He played just 18 games with the Leafs, managing one assist.

The Canucks then took a chance on Ward in the 1970 expansion draft. After another season in Rochester, Ward actually got a chance to play with the Canucks, albeit not always at centre, where he had been so successful in the minors. 

Instead, Ward was frequently back on defence and got minimal minutes. He finished the season with just 2 goals and 6 points in 71 games, a disappointment for the magic man. 

That was it for Ward’s NHL career, but he quickly proved himself in the fledgling professional league that was starting up to challenge the NHL. Ward jumped to the World Hockey Association (WHA) for its inaugural season and became one of its early stars, racking up 51 goals and 118 points in 77 games for the New York Raiders, good for second in WHA scoring.

Unfortunately, the instability of the WHA wreaked havoc on Ward’s career. The Raiders’ original owners defaulted and the WHA took control of the team. When New York real estate tycoon Ralph Brent bought the team after their first season, he acquired Andre Lacroix, the only player that outscored Ward in that first season.

Ward actually ended up back in Vancouver, playing for the Blazers in their first season, but was just as bad with the Blazers as he was with the Canucks: he had no goals and just two assists in 7 games before bouncing around to the Los Angeles Sharks and Cleveland Crusaders that season. Apparently Vancouver was cursed for Ward, as he went on to success in Cleveland for two more seasons.

4 | Ronnie Stern, Right Wing, 1987-1991, -1.78 PS/82

Unlike some of the other players on this list, Ronnie Stern had a pretty solid and productive NHL career, playing 638 career games and tallying 161 points.

It’s just that the worst years of his career came with the Canucks.

The Canucks picked Stern in the fourth round of the 1986 NHL Entry Draft. He was already 20 years old, but was coming off two strong seasons as captain of the Longueuil Chevaliers in the QMJHL. He could skate, had finish in front of the net, and was known for his toughness.

Stern wasn’t huge at a flat 6’0”, but he didn’t back down from anybody, not even the terrifying Bob Probert. He had 39 fights in 97 games with the Canucks across four seasons. That’s a fight every two-and-a-half games.

 

The trouble was that Stern didn’t provide anything else when he was on the ice. The Canucks were badly out-scored whenever he was on the ice and he wasn’t able to chip in much offensively, with 5 goals and 11 points in those 97 games. Unlike with a couple of the other players further down this list, it wasn’t one bad season, just consistent overall badness.

Then he got traded to the Calgary Flames for Dana Murzyn. In Calgary, Stern became more than just a one-dimensional enforcer. He was a grinder, getting in on the forecheck with his speed, and battling for the puck.

While he was never going to rack up points, he became a consistent producer from the fourth line, averaging 10 goals per season for the Flames. He even had three hat tricks in his career. That made him far more valuable than the average enforcer and he became a leader for the Flames, even wearing an A in the 1996-97 season.

Stern finished up his career with two seasons with the San Jose Sharks, both of them better than any of his seasons with the Canucks.

3 | Rob Flockhart, Right Wing, 1977-1979, -2.10 PS/82

It must have been a treat for Rob Flockhart when the Canucks drafted him in the third round of the 1976 NHL Entry Draft. Flockhart was a BC boy, born in Sicamous. He played his junior hockey with the Kamloops Chiefs before he was drafted, with an impressive 51 goals and 98 points in 72 games in his final season with the Chiefs.

Incidentally, Flockhart was selected one pick before a player that would go on to be a Canucks legend: Thomas Gradin.

A skilled forward who was frequently among the top scorers in the minors, Flockhart could never translate that ability to the NHL. Across three seasons with the Canucks, he played in a total of 55 games, scoring one goal and three points.

His longest stint with the Canucks was in the 1977-78 season, when he played 24 games, but managed just one assist. Only Sid Veysey, who played just one game, had fewer points than Flockhart.

You have to give him credit for one great game, however. In his final season with the Canucks, the 1978-79 season, Flockhart had just two points: his only goal and an assist. Both came in the same game, a 5-3 loss to the New York Rangers. That’s right: the guy with just three points with the Canucks had a two-point game.

Flockhart played just 12 more games in the NHL, putting up 4 points in 12 games with the Minnesota North Stars.

His younger brother, Ron Flockhart, on the other hand, was far more successful in the NHL. The younger Flockhart played in 453 games in the NHL and had 328 points. His best season came with the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1980-81 season, with 33 goals and 72 points in 72 games. 

Really, Rob Flockhart was just starting the Canucks tradition of having the lesser brother, like Steve Kariya, Fedor Fedorov, Jordan Subban, and Daniel Sedin.

2 | Shawn Antoski, Left Wing, 1991-1994, -2.34 PS/82

The Canucks selected Shawn Antoski 18th overall in the 1990 NHL Entry Draft, which would have caused riots in the Canucks fanbase if modern understandings of the draft were around at the time. Antoski was 20 years old and had just scored 25 goals and 56 points in 59 OHL games.

Just imagined a 20-year-old winger who scored at a sub-point-per-game pace in Major Junior getting selected in the first round in a draft in today’s era. Madness.

It was the second first-round pick the Canucks had that year, selected Petr Nedved second overall. Immediately after Antoski, teams picked Keith Tkachuk, Martin Brodeur, and Bryan Smolinski. The Canucks could have left the first round of the 1990 draft with Jaromir Jagr and Tkachuk. Instead, they drafted Nedved and Antoski.

At the time, however, Antoski’s towering size at 6’4” and strong skating made him a tempting prospect for the Canucks, who prized his ability as a forechecker and fighter. The trouble was that he couldn’t do much else. 

Antoski definitely fought a ton, with 18 fights in the 1993-94 season and 19 in the 1995-96 season. Unfortunately, he had just one goal and three points in 70 games with the Canucks across five seasons. He was a part of the 1993-94 run to the Stanley Cup Finals, but he was, by Point Shares, easily the worst player on that team, with a -1.4 PS during the regular season.

That said, Antoski was still fun to watch at times, barreling around the ice with his speed and crushing players against the boards. If he had any hands and hockey sense at all, he could have become a pretty good player.

Alas, he did not. Antoski was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers early in the 1994-95 season and played another 115 NHL games before a devastating car accident left him with a depressed skull fracture, ending his career.

Now Antoski is a mental health advocate, founding Fear Nothing in Belleville, Ontario, to help those with mental health issues.

1 | Alek Stojanov, Right Wing, 1994-1996, -2.91 PS/82

Am I absolutely tickled pink that such a key part of Canucks history ended up at number one — the worst Canucks skater all-time by Point Shares? Yes, I am.

Alek Stojanov is remembered by Canucks fans for just one reason: he was part of arguably the most lopsided deadline deal in NHL history.

Before that, Stojanov was a highly-regarded prospect. The Canucks selected him seventh overall in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft, immediately after the Philadelphia Flyers picked Peter Forsberg and before the likes of Brian Rolston, Alexei Kovalev, Markus Naslund, and Ray Whitney. 

Prior to being drafted, Stojanov had 25 goals and 45 points in 62 games in the OHL — numbers that would never get someone drafted in the first round now, but, when combined with his massive 6’4” frame, had scouts in the early 90’s drooling, envisioning the next Bob Probert. It didn’t hurt his draft stock that he was one of the few players that got the better of Lindros in a fight in junior.

Stojanov steadily improved, to the point that he scored 36 goals and 71 points in just 49 games in his final year in the OHL and immediately made an impression in the AHL with 4 goals in 4 games after the end of his OHL season. He seemed to be on his way towards a solid NHL career.

Unfortunately, a shoulder injury that required surgery decimated his first professional season, limiting him to just four AHL games. Some argue that his offensive game never recovered. He did, however, go on to play for the Canucks, playing 62 games across two seasons and tallying just one point, an assist.

By Point Shares, Stojanov’s -2.0 PS in 1995-96 is the worst season in Canucks history and it’s not particularly close. In fact, the 1995-96 season has three of the six worst seasons by a Canuck by point shares: Stojanov, Tim Hunter at -1.7, and Gino Odjick at -1.3. The 1995-96 Canucks were often more concerned with beating up their opponents than actually beating them, Alexander Mogilny’s 55 goals and 107 points notwithstanding. 

While Stojanov held his own as an enforcer, with 14 fights in the 1995-96 season, he wanted to be more than just a “tough guy.” Meanwhile, Markus Naslund found himself playing minimal minutes with the Pittsburgh Penguins, stuck behind luminaries like Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Ron Francis, Petr Nedved, and Tomas Sandstrom. He asked for a trade.

The Penguins saw a potential power forward in Stojanov that would balance out their skill-heavy lineup, while Naslund was expendable. In Vancouver, there was a little reticence to give up Stojanov, with the Cam Neely trade still fresh in the memory of many fans, but they were willing to take a chance on the inconsistent Naslund. 

It worked out pretty well for Vancouver. Naslund turned into one of the best players in franchise history: he was a captain of the Canucks, a three-time First Team All-Star, won the Ted Lindsay Award, and had his number 19 jersey retired by the team.

Stojanov was stunned.

“I’m going home to Ottawa to get my head screwed on,” said Stojanov to Iain MacIntyre at the time. “I can’t even think of anything to compare with this. Some of the best times in my life were here. I love Vancouver. I didn’t want to leave. It’s a great bunch of guys and I’ll miss them all. But life goes on. I wanted to stay here for 10 years.”

Stojanov, meanwhile, played a total of 45 games with the Penguins, putting up two goals and six points. Any chance he had of becoming more than a tough guy was derailed by a serious car accident. Though he toiled in the minors for several years after, he never played in the NHL again.

It’s hard to blame Stojanov for his disappointing career. He never would have been drafted in the top-ten without the 90’s obsession with size and never would have played 58 games for the Canucks in 1995-96 without the era’s supposed need for heavyweight enforcers. He had the potential to do more than just fight if not for his serious injuries. 

Like so many of the “worst” players in the NHL, Stojanov had the potential to be something more, even if he could never match the heights of Naslund’s career. Instead of being the protagonist in his own story, he was relegated to a footnote in someone else’s, which isn’t fair: everyone deserves to be the main character in their own narrative. Wherever he is now, I hope that’s exactly how he views himself.