After Pavel Bure left in a huff and before the Sedin twins rose to prominence, the West Coast Express line captured the imagination of left coast hockey fans.
Though the West Coast Express-era Canucks never achieved a level of playoff success to match their artistry and dominance in the regular season, and were involved in perhaps the darkest chapter in Vancouver Canucks history, they’re still remembered fondly in the lower mainland. And next Monday they’ll be honoured at Rogers Arena when the Canucks host the Buffalo Sabres.
Naslund, Bertuzzi and Morrison will be honoured prior to next Monday’s Canucks game, the club has announced. They’ll also take part in a local charitable initiative and face the local press on Monday morning.
“Nazzy, Bert and Mo formed one of the best lines in the NHL for years,” Canucks president Trevor Linden is quoted as saying in a team release. “As a teammate it was thrilling to watch them compete every game with their combination of speed, skill and power. We’re excited to have the West Coast Express back at Rogers Arena to celebrate their legacy with Canucks fans as one of the best line combinations in franchise history.”
The line itself was something of a mishmash in its construction, as all three members were acquired by the organization via trade.
Before he turned in three consecutive 40 goal seasons, the line’s designated sniper Markus Naslund was a Pittsburgh Penguins cast off, and an occasional healthy scratch in the early part of his Vancouver Canucks tenure. Brendan Morrison was an unassuming college player, acquired from the New Jersey Devils in the Alexander Mogilny deal. And Todd Bertuzzi was a highly-touted power winger who battled inconsistency early in his career, acquired from the New York Islanders in the Trevor Linden trade.
The line’s underdog status was a major part of their appeal. Though all three were highly touted prospects at one time or another, when the West Coast Express line was first assembled, it was widely thought that the club would merely tread water until the arrival of the Sedin twins. Instead, the West Coast Express turned the team into a way-ahead-of-schedule contender. Burke’s early Aughts Canucks teams never delivered on that promise, but they were always entertaining to watch.
“It was obviously something special playing with those two…” Bertuzzi said of his time with the West Coast Express back in 2010. “It was fun hockey back then, we played a pretty exciting brand and more than anything it was that brand of hockey we brought to the city, the style of play that we did, it was entertaining for everyone.
“Those are still good memories.”
Though the memory of the West Coast Express era was marred by the ugly Bertuzzi-Steve Moore incident, nothing gets the Rogers Arena faithful hyped up quite like a Bertuzzi appearance on the jumbotron (his prerecorded message elicited perhaps the biggest cheer during the night Naslund’s number was retired). I’d expect the atmosphere on Monday night to be ramped up far beyond that which you’d usually expect from a regular season game against the Sabres in mid-December.
Edit: This article originally stated that the Brian Burke regime acquired Morrison, Bertuzzi and Naslund via trade. That statement was factually incorrect and has been amended.