Oh the glory that could have been…
(photo credit unknown)
The fourth in a special summer series, CanucksArmy.com author Patrick Johnston will write whatever comes to mind about a random Canucks hero. What is a hero? Patrick’s criteria is super secret, but maybe, just maybe, if you pay close attention, you’ll figure it out
Alex Mogilny, in my memory, is one of the greatest Vancouver Canucks ever. In reality, looking at the numbers, it’s hard to say. 308 points in 312 games in a Canucks jersey, a third of which came in his only electric season. As skill goes, he was incredible, there are few competitors in answering the question: ‘who would you like to have the puck on his stick at *that* moment for the Canucks?’ What is Alex Mogilny an example of? He’s a reminder of where this team was, the vortex they were in, of what can happen to a talent when the walls are crumbling all around.
The last sports poster I ever bought was of Alex Mogilny. If I’d had enough cash, I’d have bought a Mogilny jersey. This is what I remember. My search today lead me to this recording…
…ah, good ol’ Dan Russell, at his whiny best. Isn’t it great how he makes a statement about Mogilny not getting any heat, everyone else on his show saysotherwise and yet Dan carries on with his commentary? Yep, that’s the Russell I remeber – Dan the Arrogant, who is all knowing and has a radio show to prove it.
Mogilny’s enthusiasm gets raised by the roundtable, but looking back, it seems remarkable how little detachment Mason, Macdonald and company have from the team. These were journalists whose job wasto follow the team, and they clearly cared deeply for the performance at hand. However, they seemed to feel Mogilny’s lack of enthusiasm is a cause of the Canucks’ malaise, and not a symptom. They had lost touch with reality. When you look back at the 98-99 Messier-led team, my god did it ever stink. How they couldn’t notice the larger train wreck is remarkable. Yes, Mogilny was bad, but the team around him was dreadful. How could he be bothered to make an effort when things were as they were?
It wasn’t just the team that year that was bad, it was the whole league. This was the year the clutch-tastic Sabres and Stars met in the final (no, we aren’t going to re-visit Brett Hull and his skate and how rules work); it was so bad that I wasn’t watching hockey much. Given the horrendous state of the team and the game, can you really blame Mogs for not feeling too pumped about playing the game. The Canucks won 23 games that year, the 4th leading scorer was Bill Muckalt…ugh. When we laugh at the current Senators or Oilers (harder with the latter, as, admittedly, there is a modicum of potential there), just remember how bad things were a dozen years ago.
The summer of 1995 was an interesting one for me – my family had actually spent the previous school year living in Lexington, Mass. My dad, a poli sci prof, had the incredible opportunity of teaching at Harvard for a year. Not long after the Rangers had knocked the Canucks off in one of the best regarded finals ever was my family on the road. I spent the succeeding lockout-shortened season trying my best to keep up with my beloved team, preserving the memory of the team that was almost perfection, confusedly watching the lineup turnover with players who I’d forgotten existed. Viewed from afar, the ’95 edition confirmed what was suspected about the team: it had talent but not quite enough to move into true contender status; the ’94 team had been a talented but overachieving squad.
Pat Quinn obviously saw that he had to go in a new direction. Never one to be disloyal to the soldiers who had carried the hopes of Vancouver fans so well over the previous 4 years, the big Irishman figured he could trade away the future for immediate reward. Moving Mike Peca, Mike Wilson and a draft pick for a talent of the level of Pavel Bure was a clear no-brainer. A lethal scoring attack would surely power the Canucks to glory, indeed comparisons to mid-80s Oilers firepower would be thrown about before the season. They would score 278 goals that season (more than our vauted league-leading 2010-11 Canucks), but fire-wagon hockey was not to be the way forward.
I heard about the trade in Halifax. The family was driving home from Boston, but taking an exceptionally long route, heading eastwards before we were to go westwards. (My parents had a remarkable knack for renting our house on one-year leases which did not match up with the lease we’d have on our own rental, thus our lease was up in Lexington a month before our tenant’s lease in Vancouver.) It was amazing news. Here was one of the great players in the game, and he was going to Vancouver. The sky was clearly the limit!
Alex came in, and was everything Canucks fans hoped for. He was the 2nd 50-goal scorer in team history, he back-checked and was, seemingly, a pretty happy-go-lucky guy. Heck he even outshone Wayne Gretzky when the Great One made his debut for the Blues.
That was a pretty good team. They didn’t like playing defence much, but give them the puck, and they were fun to watch. Each season after was a case of diminishing quality. It’s no wonder Mogilny seemed to be going through the motions at the end of it all. Put him in the lineup now, and it’s fair to think that maybe he’d have shown a little more enthusiasm, like he did in 1995-96. Alex clearly had fun playing that year. The years that followed? Not as much.\
The late nineties were a really, really hard time to be a Canucks fan. The excitement of ’94 remained fresh in our minds. Once-great players seemed to have some interest in playing here. But all that came of this was a bitter slide into mediocrity. It’s perhaps a bit unfair that Mogilny is lumped in there, but the truth is, he was part of a team that stunk. Can you blame him for not having been terribly pumped a lot of the time? He was getting paid a lot of money whether the team won or not; even if were to make a remarkable contribution night in and night out, the odds were that a lineup featuring Harry York, Josh Holden and Darby Hendrickson were going to work against his efforts. Remember Mogilny for his moments of magic, not for the horror he was stuck in.