The Vancouver Canucks honour the West Coast Express line tonight, welcoming Markus Naslund, Brendan Morrison and, yes, Todd Bertuzzi back to the rink they once dominated.
Ed Willes of the Vancouver Province penned this excellent summary:
It’s been, yikes!, 12 years since the Markus Naslund, Todd Bertuzzi, Brendan Morrison line was at its peak. They came together seemingly out of nowhere. For two seasons they were the best line in the NHL. Then, just as quickly, the magic was gone.
We’re aware the popular perception is their reign ended on March 8, 2004, but Bertuzzi was having a miserable season long before the Steve Moore incident. That just left us with those two seasons — another question for another time: why are the Canucks’ golden moments so fleeting? — but they were something to behold in their time together.
Their greatness transcended the numbers. Sure, Naslund was good for 40 goals a season and he and Bertuzzi combined for 201 points in 2002-03. But their real legacy was the excitement they created at GM Place, an excitement that revived the franchise.
The early aughts were the height of the dead-puck era and the Canucks were coming out of a nightmarish stretch in the late ’90s. But for those two seasons, the faithful were treated to the most entertaining team in the NHL. In other cities, the game was joyless and lifeless. But in Vancouver, we had this line that created beautiful hockey on a nightly basis.
They were three disparate talents: Naslund, the elegant sniper; Bertuzzi, the beast with the scorer’s touch; Morrison, the understated setup man. But, like the notes on a great bottle of wine, they complemented each other sublimely.
I have long been a Vancouver Canucks fan. I adored the Linden/Bure era that preceded the West Coast Express. (No, the Keenan/Messier Error that immediately preceded the West Coast Express does not count). And there is no doubting the Sedinery Era that followed is the greatest in franchise history.
Like Willes said, the West Coast express bridged the two eras with exciting, fun hockey. No, the team was never truly a contender like they fancied themselves to be. But for the first time in a decade there was hope for the faithful. Hockey teams - all sports teams - really are in the business of selling hope.
On an individual basis I never truly appreciated any of these three great Canucks.
Naslund was the best of the three, but I am guilty of almost forgetting about him when discussing the greatest players of all time. Realistically he was a really good Canuck player for seven or even eight seasons. I could never warm to the player. Perhaps that says more about me as a Canuck fan - an I'm probably not the only one. A lot of us could not emotionally re-attach ourselves to the team after that whole Keenan/Messier debacle.
Morrison was always the underrated one, as he was not as flashy and did not put up the same point totals as someone on that line had to provide a defensive presence. Nobody appreciated Brendan Morrison enough. Except his linemates and his coaches.
And then there is the brooding bruiser, Todd Bertuzzi. Yes, everyone only thinks of the Steve Moore attack. I remember never liking the guy since junior hockey. I hated the fact that the Canucks traded for him in the first place, let alone they traded Trevor Linden to get him.
Yes he emerged as a bull in a china shop who, at times in the 2001-02 and 2002-03 seasons, was unstoppable. More unstoppable than even Pavel Bure at his best. But I still despised him because, quite simply, he was the most undisciplined player - in more ways than just taking bad penalties - I have ever seen play. And the grumpiest.
So tonight as Canucks fans say thank you, I will say sorry. Sorry I never appreciated any of you the way I probably should have.