The worst Canucks Captain Ever

Thomas Drance
November 11 2011 01:25PM

If you ask most Canucks fans the salient question "who was the worst captain in team history?" few hesitate. The answer is clear: #11 Mark Messier, hands down, we can all go home now. The Canucks have had 13 captains in their history and many (most) of them were forgettable (Chris Oddleifson), or were a misguided selection in the first place (Roberto Luongo? Really?). Still, Messier takes the cake. To describe his tenure as Canucks captain as inglorious, pathetic or a trial of faith is probably underselling how hard it was to watch the team from 1997 to 2000.

Yes, Mark Messier is a legend, a hall of famer and a five time Stanley Cup champion. But by the time he got to the Canucks he was washed up like a severed foot on the shores of the lower mainland (joke blatantly stolen from my blogwife). Messier is a man so revered for his "leadership" abilities that the NHL named an award for quality leadership after the guy. An award for leadership! Go repeatedly hit your head against a wall until you think an award for leadership makes sense, then please let me know how many times it took. Sadly, Messier never demonstrated much of that "intangible" skill-set in his time in Vancouver.  Instead Messier was a limp-fish in three seasons as a Canuck, the kind of limp-fish that might be enjoyed by one Troy McClure.

In case you've somehow forgotten, you may remember Messier from such heartbreaking moments as the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals, or from the entirety of his underwhelming and frankly depressing Canucks tenure. Alternatively you may remember him from that annoying series of Lays potato chip commercials where he'd mock hopeless humps for their lack of self control at hockey rinks across rural Canada.

Sure, Messier's Canucks tenure was a joke, but at least there are some fun historical oddities to revisit and poke fun at. For example, Mark Messier scored on his first Canucks shot while making his Canucks debut in a game against the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, that was played in Tokyo. The Canucks opened their season that year with two games in Japan in the lead up to the 1998 Nagano Olympics. They split the two games, on their way to a disappointing last place finish in the Pacific Division (25-43-14).

It was nice that Messier got to play a couple of games in Japan that season, because he was famously left off of the 1998 Olympic team in favour of the infamous Rob Zamnuer - who I notice has no leadership trophy named in his honour. To this day, there are malicious whispers about how Messier's personal conduct during his Canucks tenure were responsible for this particular snub.

Fairly or not, (and mostly it's not fair), I associate Mark Messier with most of the worst aspects of my personal history as a Canucks fan: the Linden trade, the Bure trade, the Iron Mike era... Most unforgivably, I associate his tenure with the ditching of the spaghetti plate, black, yellow and red skate logo that I grew up with (and still love). I still think the Canucks should go back to those colours, partly because pale-blue is often the colour of loser sports teams (Hotspur, the Texas Rangers, the Canucks, the Maple Leafs, the Buffalo Bills), but also also because black, red and yellow is the colour of the Vancouver skyline at night...

Now you may not be able to tell from what I've written thus far, but among Canucks fans, I am probably Mark Messier's biggest defender. I can't help it, I love the guy! My first post at Canucks Army detailed a meeting with Markus Naslund outside the Canucks locker room, after a game in which he was a healthy scratch. It was this same day that I met Messier.

Like any Canucks fan born in the late 80s, I was mostly excited to meet Pavel Bure, but meeting Bure in person was a disappointment frankly. I know Bure was a private individual and certainly I don't begrudge him that in hindsight, but he refused to sign his rookie-card because of contractual obligations, or whatever, and generally wasn't altogether that friendly to a 10 year old star struck kid. As if I'd ever have sold a signed Bure card...

Mogilny on the other hand was imperious and totally unkind, I don't think I quite realized it at the time. Mostly, I was just stoked to have his autograph, but my Dad still hates on Mogilny any time his name comes up because of the way he acted on that particular occasion. The stand out dudes for sure, were Naslund and Messier. As my dad tells it, Naslund basically came and introduced us to several other players following Mogilny's brusqueness. It's a major reason Naslund's number hangs from the rafter, he was clearly a good guy, who "got it". Messier wasn't quite at that level of friendliness but he was a class act, friendly, warm and jovial. I don't remember the particulars of our conversation but I got him to sign my jersey and came away really impressed with him...

I've always thought adult autograph seekers who harbour bitterness towards athletes whom aren't entirely friendly to them when they're bothering them for a signature are kind of pathetic. Like the Occupy Luongo dudes, it's just sad. Once you're able to buy alcohol, it becomes a bit indecent (in my opinion) to get all star struck about having a stranger scribble something on some random piece of team-branded crap you own. When you're ten though, that stuff sticks with you, and the way Messier treated me when I was a precocious, impressionable, little fellow earned him a lot of points. That's what a captain does, right? Partly, but also he's supposed to win games and use his legendary "leadership" capabilities to power a team to the postseason at least once in three years...

My personal affection for the guy, and my appreciation for what he accomplished during his career doesn't obscure the fact that Messier's tenure as the team's captain was an unmitigated disaster. The Moose is a giant in NHL history, he's an all-time great, but to Canucks fans he'll always be remembered differently: the guy who cheap-shotted Linden, broke our hearts in 94, then performed like a dunce during his Canucks tenure...

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Thomas Drance lives in Toronto, eats spicy food and writes about hockey. He is an NHL News Editor at theScore, the ex-managing editor of CanucksArmy.com and an opinionated blowhard to boot. You can follow him on twitter @thomasdrance.
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#1 Marc
November 11 2011, 01:56PM
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Sorry to quibble. Six-time cup winner. Remember that sixth time, eh? That was fun.

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#2 Hoggiedude
November 13 2011, 08:26AM
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The only thing good thing that came out of the Moose time here was that we got the twins.

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