Former Vancouver poster boy Linden now happy in checking role
Every great team needs its share of role players to do the dirty work.
For the Vancouver Canucks, one of their locker room leaders and on-ice grinders just happens to be the same guy who was once the poster boy of the franchise.
Trevor Linden never wanted to leave Vancouver the first time around. But after scoring 30 or more goals in six of his first eight seasons with the Canucks, Linden slumped offensively due to injuries and was dealt to the Islanders for Todd Bertuzzi and Bryan McCabe on Feb. 6, 1998. In retrospect, it was a savvy trade by Mike Keenan, whom Linden had a falling out with in his final months in Vancouver due to his decreased production.
Linden looked every bit of a player who was on the wrong end of his career when he scored just 28 goals in 107 games with New York before being dealt to Montreal. Then in 107 games with the Habs, Linden netted only 25 goals, and his dwindling production was clearly a disappointment for a former second overall pick who was just 30 years old. So the Habs unloaded him to Washington, and his career appeared to bottom out when he tallied just four goals in 28 games over parts of two seasons with the Caps.
But Linden returned home like the prodigal son. And it's the second chapter of his career in Vancouver that makes it likely he will be forever known as Mr. Canuck.
When the Canucks reacquired Linden from the Capitals on Nov. 10, 2001, they thought they were just getting a character guy to help build the locker room of a team on the verge of a breakthrough. Sure, they got that, but they've also received a surprising amount of offense from a player who was viewed as being at the tail end of his career. Linden has chipped in with 81 points in 207 games in his second go-round with the Canucks, in addition to helping Markus Naslund shoulder the leadership burden in the locker room.
The Canucks were 6-10-1-0 when they made the deal to bring Linden back to Vancouver, but they closed the 2001-02 season with a 36-19-6-3 record after the Linden trade. All told, the Canucks are 88-44-20-4 in the 156 games since the trade, and the man who captained the team from 1990-97 has played in 146 of those contests.
"When I got here in the middle of November in 2001, we were under .500," Linden said. "We were kind of .500 from that point until Christmas. But the second half of that year was as much fun as I've had in a long time. Then, last year, it was just fun to come to the rink every day. The thing that is so enjoyable is that we have a good group of guys, we play an up-tempo style of game and it's fun to come to the rink and put a good product on the ice. We've been able to win games, and there is nothing better than winning."
After moving to Vancouver as an 18-year-old in 1988, Linden had the burden of a struggling franchise on his shoulders. His 30 goals and 29 assists that season were good enough to finish second in voting for the Calder Trophy behind Brian Leetch.
Linden, Pavel Bure, Cliff Ronning and Geoff Courtnall were the anchors of the Canucks' successful teams from 1991-95, which culminated, of course, in a trip to the 1994 Stanley Cup finals. The '93-94 team was an astonishing 28-0 when Linden scored a goal.
Linden married a local girl in 1995, and when his career sent him on a vagabond journey of the East starting in 1997, he and wife Cristina kept their place in Kitsilano, about 10 minutes west of downtown. Several of Linden's brothers live in the area, and he and his wife plan to stay there after his career is done.
Not that he plans on being done anytime soon.
"I feel like I'm skating as well as I ever have right now," Linden said. "From a physical standpoint, I feel as strong with my skating and shooting as I ever have. I'm just really enjoying playing the game right now."
While Bertuzzi, Naslund, Ed Jovanovski and Dan Cloutier are undoubtedly the four players who make Vancouver go, Linden's leadership contributions and easygoing nature make him a favorite in both the locker room and the stands at GM Place.
After scoring in Friday's 4-1 win at Phoenix, Linden has three goals and three assists this season, helping Vancouver to an NHL-best 16 points through its first 11 games.
Linden is the franchise's all-time leader in goals (281) and ranks second to Stan Smyl in points (650), assists (369) and games played (848). If he doesn't miss time due to injury, Linden would break Smyl's game-played mark shortly after the All-Star break in mid-February.
But in addition to his on-ice accomplishments, Linden has been a star in the community through his involvement with children's charities and community appearances. His charitable generosity was rewarded by his receiving the King Clancy Memorial Trophy for humanitarian contributions in 1996-97.
Linden's leadership extends beyond the Vancounver community or the Canucks' locker room to the approximately 700 active NHL players in his role as the president of the NHL Players' Association. Linden will likely be in the news quite a bit over the coming year, as he will be the face and spokesman for the players in their cooperative effort with union head Bob Goodenow in the collective bargaining agreement negotiations. While Linden's typical attitude toward the media is outgoing and cordial, he grew a bit terse when asked about the status of the CBA negotiations.
"I don't have any comments really, because there is nothing going on," Linden said. "There are no negotiations right now. Since the start of the season I haven't said anything about it because it's pointless right now. I don't want to take away from what's going on with our group. We've got a good team and people are really excited about our team so I don't want to get into that stuff because there's nothing to say about it."
After spending much of last season on the second line with Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Linden is playing right wing on the Canucks' third line with Magnus Arvedson and Matt Cooke. The trio joining the Sharks' 2001 line of Scott Thornton, Mike Ricci and Niklas Sundstrom as one of the best third units in recent memory. As the Canucks' energy unit, Linden and his linemates spend most of their night matched up against the opponent's top players, a role not many former offensive-minded players would likely accept so readily.
"I've always been kind of a guy who has enjoyed being recognized as a two-way guy," Linden said. "I don't know that I've ever been a top offensive guy, though I think on certain teams I was pushed into that role, like when I was in Montreal and New York. We are the type of group that likes to forecheck and we are all pretty good at doing that, so we've been asked to check other teams' top lines, which is something that I enjoy. It's been a good challenge and it's been a pretty good fit for me."
And he has been a good fit for Vancouver, too.
Pumping up the Preds' power play
The Nashville Predators made a bold gamble by trading away power-play specialist Andy Delmore and his 18 goals to the Buffalo Sabres this summer. But Preds general manager David Poile told me in early September that "given a chance, I think Marek Zidlicky could be a real good replacement for Delmore."
He had no idea how right he would be.
The 26-year-old Czech native leads NHL defensemen with 10 points on two goals and eight assists, and all but three of Zidlicky's points have come on the power play.
Zidlicky was part of the Mike Dunham deal last Dec. 12, though he finished the 2002-03 season with HIFK Helsinki before signing with Nashville in July. Playing in the Finnish Elite League last year, he led defensemen with 47 points and finished fifth overall in scoring.
Like Delmore, Zidlicky has a great shot from the point. But unlike the departed one-trick pony, Zidlicky has a clue about what to do in his own end and isn't a liability to the Predators late in games.
Meanwhile, Delmore has no points in 10 games for Buffalo this season and was scratched for the first time Thursday.
Throwing down the gauntlet
NHLPA president Bob Goodenow wanted to outline his stance on the labor negotiations to some of the game's top agents, so he summoned them to a Wednesday meeting in Toronto to brief them on where his group stands.
Among the powerful agents in attendance were J.P. Barry, Pat Brisson, Larry Kelly, Don Meehan and Rich Winter. The result of the meeting was a reiteration of the union's stance that it will accept a salary cap under no circumstances. According to the Ottawa Sun, most of the agents came away impressed with the NHLPA's presentation and arguments against instituting a salary cap.
And the NHL's apparent unwillingness to budge from its demands for a hard cap could be the wedge that continues to drive the two sides away from the bargaining table in the near future.
The Capitals' win over the Thrashers on Friday may have temporarily saved the job of Washington head coach Bruce Cassidy, but he shouldn't get too comfortable because he is likely still on a short leash. Unless the Caps turn it around and start a winning streak soon, firing Cassidy may be the only way for general manager George McPhee to save his job. And if McPhee does survive the likely impending changes, he will step up his efforts to trim payroll and build for the future by dealing some of their high-salaried players like Peter Bondra, Sergei Gonchar, Jaromir Jagr, Olaf Kolzig and Robert Lang. ... Eric Lindros was hoping to return this weekend, but he is still experiencing pain in his left shoulder and is riding the bike to stay in top shape. ... Brian Leetch is also getting closer to a return, and his transition back into the lineup should be seamless since he's been practicing with the team. ... Atlanta may be losing interest in Mike Comrie with the impressive early play of Marc Savard, but Florida and New Jersey are possible destinations for the holdout Oilers star. ... Pierre Lacroix's contract extension with the Avalanche is believed to be for $2 million per season for three years. His flirtation with leaving hockey to manage Celine Dion's career probably upped the price, but Avs owner Stan Kroenke ponied up to keep the league's best GM in Denver for another three years. ... The Thrashers shot down rumors that Dany Heatley might hold his first news conference this weekend.
The Hall of Fame will enshrine its excellent class of 2003 on Tuesday, as Grant Fuhr, Mike Ilitch, Brian Kilrea and Pat LaFontaine are immortalized at the Hall in Toronto. ... The Lightning blew a chance to become just the ninth team to start the season with seven wins in a row. Only the 1993-94 Maple Leafs (10), the 1934-35 Leafs (8) and 1975-76 Sabres (8) have started a season with more than seven consecutive wins. ... The Canucks have scored first in all 11 of their games this season and are just two games away from breaking the NHL record of 12 set by the 1985-86 Philadelphia Flyers. The Bruins have an NHL-leading six straight wins on the road, but are just 0-2-1 at home. ... After a 14-game winless streak in Los Angeles, Vancouver has won two in a row there against the Kings. ... While most of the attention in the ceremony department on Tuesday was directed at Patrick Roy's celebration in Denver, the Sabres honored longtime enforcer Rob Ray in a pregame ceremony that same night. ... Todd Bertuzzi has a 10-game goal drought since scoring on opening night. ... Sharks center Vincent Damphousse is scoreless in his past 17 games. ... Florida's Byron Ritchie ended a 36-game goal drought on Thursday. ... Former NHLers Ron Duguay, Jim Paek and Garry Unger are all coaching in the WHA2 in its inaugural season. Paek is leading the Orlando Seals, Unger is behind the bench for the Alabama Slammers and Duguay is coaching the Jacksonville Barracudas. ... The Mighty Ducks are auctioning off autographed, game-worn third jerseys from their Oct. 19 game against the Bruins to raise money for the American Red Cross to assist in the fire disaster relief efforts in Southern California. ... The JD Power Major Market Sports Report found that the averaged household income for NHL fans was $73,858, the highest of the four major sports. And the NHL also has the youngest fans, with a 38.8 years of age average, coming in below the NBA's 40.0. ... Several NHL franchises have purchased National Lacrosse League teams in recent years to fill their buildings for a few additional arena dates each year to help offset the recession. The Flyers (Philadelphia Wings), Sabres (Buffalo Bandits), Avalanche (Colorado Mammoth), Sharks (San Jose Stealth) and Coyotes (new franchise yet to be named) all own teams, while the Mighty Ducks lend marketing support to the Anaheim Storm. The Calgary Roughnecks, Toronto Rock and Vancouver Ravens also share buildings, but not ownership groups with NHL teams.
If you want to read a typical fluffy autobiography, Phil Esposito's book isn't for you. Esposito decided to set it all out on the table when he wrote Thunder and Lightning: A No B.S. Hockey Memoir with famed sports author Peter Golenbeck.
The Hall of Famer dishes on crazy times with his Bruins teammates, his disdain for his trade to the Rangers, his extramarital dalliances and how the Lightning's Japanese ownership group set the franchise back several years.
Many of the tales are too racy to discuss here, but suffice to say, Espo and Bruins teammates Wayne Cashman, Bobby Orr and Derek Sanderson knew how to win games on the ice and play hard off it.
Thunder and Lightning is one of the best sports books in several years, and it is certainly comparable to Jim Bouton's famed 1970 baseball expose Ball Four as far as offering a true portrayal -- warts and all -- of life as a professional athlete. Even if you aren't a fan of Espo, Thunder and Lightning is worth your time for the humorous insights from one of the game's best players and most unique characters.
Jon A. Dolezar covers the NHL for SI.com.