Sunday, 3 May 2009

Pretty Good, Eh?

Those were some pretty impressive games today, eh? The triple overtime thriller that was ended by a laser of a wrist shot off Todd Marchant's stick started the day off right. And the day's playoff games were capped off by the "Cardiac 'Canes" doing what they do best: winning when everyone thought they were down and out. Honestly, the NHL Playoffs have been everything they've been billed to be, but the bigger news today came out of New York City. General Manager Glen Sather held exit interviews today for the New York Rangers to officially close the 2008-09 season for the Blueshirts, and it was reported that Markus Naslund, unhappy with his production and feeling he's lost a step, informed Sather that he will be retiring.

So what does that mean for the Swede? Is he good enough to crack the Hall of Fame? Is he one of the best Swedes to lace up the skates in the NHL? Will he pull a Dominik Hasek and go home to play? All of the following is personal opinion and speculation, but here's Hockey Blog In Canada's thoughts on Markus Naslund's career and his future.

First, let's look at his achievements. Naslund was drafted in the first round at 16th overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991. That was the same draft that produced players such as Eric Lindros (1st), Scott Niedermayer (3rd), Peter Forsberg (6th), and Alexei Kovalev (15th).

While it was expected that the Modo graduate would eventually step into the same mold as a Forsberg or Sundin in terms of production, it actually took Naslund five years after his full season in 1994 to establish himself as a bonafide first-line winger. Having toiled for long enough in the IHL for the Cleveland Lumberjacks, Naslund was dealt by the Penguins to the Vancouver Canucks on March 20, 1996 for tough guy Alek Stojanov who, ironically, was drafted in the 9th spot of the 1991 Entry Draft. The 1998-99 season saw Naslund light the lamp 36 times for the Canucks, breaking his previous high of 21 goals. He also broke the 60-point barrier as he ended the season with 66 points, eclipsing his previous high of 52 points.

Naslund continued to build on his solid 1998-99 campaign, posting 418 points over the next five seasons, 191 of those points being goals. Naslund broke the 40-goal barrier in three consecutive seasons when he posted totals of 41, 40, and 48 from 2000 to 2003. 2002-03 was Naslund's best NHL season when he posted 48 goals and 56 assists for 104 points. That season also earned him the Lester B. Pearson Trophy, awarded annually to the most outstanding player in the NHL as voted by members of the National Hockey League Players' Association.

After spending 13 games with Modo in the Swedish Elite League during the 2004-05 NHL Lockout, Naslund returned to the Canucks in 2005. His production, having posted 84 points in 2003-04, slipped to 79 points, but he was virtually the same player. He scored two less goals and three less assists, but played in two more games. This prompted some members of the Canucks and the media to question Naslund's value in terms of his salary cap hit in seeing his production slip. However, the Canucks defended their captain as they worked to keep the high-scoring Swede in Vancouver.

However, losing power forward Todd Bertuzzi after his misguided choice of actions with Steve Moore showed that Naslund was indeed missing an ingredient of his game. No longer was there someone on Naslund's line to draw the ire of bigger, tougher defencemen, and Naslund's production paid for it. The 2006-07 season saw Naslund score only 60 points, and the 2007-08 season saw him slip to 55 points - hardly good enough for the money he was being paid. With that, the Canucks and Naslund were both eager to allow the Swede to head to free agency with the Canucks hoping he could be signed for less money.

Unfortunately, the New York Rangers and Glen Sather came calling with a truckload of greenbacks, and dumped a two-year, $8 million deal at Naslund's feet. Naslund happily signed, and began preparations for life in the Big Apple. Moving in was easy for the Swede as he was surrounded by stars such as Chris Drury, Scott Gomez, Wade Redden, and Henrik Lundqvist. He was given the an alternate captain's "A" as well, a sign of his respected leadership from his days as captain in Vancouver. It also provided him the chance of opening his season in Europe, something he hadn't done since he was with Modo in 1993.

Whether it was his legs or simply his age catching up to his body, Naslund was nowhere near the player that Sather had gambled on. His 24 goals and 20 assists were the lowest point total in his career since the 1997-98 season, his second in Vancouver. His 24 goals were average for the last three season, but nowhere near the output he experienced before the lockout.

At 35 years old, Markus Naslund has decided that he no longer can compete in the NHL, and is retiring from the game. So where does that leave him? What does his future hold?

Well, he will most likely return to Sweden. Naslund is still held in high regard in his home country after having represented Sweden a number of times on the world stage. He has won two bronze medals and a silver medal at the IIHF World Hockey Championships, and two silver medals in 1992 and 1993 at the World Junior Hockey Championships. He still holds the record for most goals in one tournament at the World Juniors with 13 goals-scored in 1993. He has also graced the cover of Electronic Arts' NHL 2005, an accomplishment for the top-tier NHL players. He has played in five NHL All-Star Games, being voted as First Team NHL All-Star three times. He holds the Vancouver Canucks' records for most games-played, goals, assists, points, game-winning goals, and the single season record for most points by a left winger. Heck, he even met Queen Elizabeth! Not a bad list of accolades right there, if I do say so myself.

But is it enough to get him in the Hockey Hall of Fame? His career totals of 395 goals and 474 assists would suggest that it isn't enough. He didn't win a Stanley Cup, and hasn't single-handedly rewrote any record books outside of the Canucks' franchise. Personally, I can't see him cracking the Hall of Fame.

So what of Naslund? Well, this writer feels that Naslund's career was a solid one. It wasn't spent lighting the lamp all the time, and there was some definite heartbreak in Vancouver, but his charitable causes in that city have helped to make fans' lives better. Not everything in one's career can be measured with goals and assists, and the biggest assists sometimes come off the ice.

Markus Naslund wasn't the greatest player in NHL or Canucks' history. But he was pretty damned good as a Canuck. At the end of the day, as long as he's happy, who are we to question that?

Enjoy your retirement, Mr. Naslund, and may the days pass by happily with your wife, Lotta, and your three children: Rebecca, Isabella, and Alex. I enjoyed watching you as a Canuck, and even got to meet you in an Earl's Restaurant in Winnipeg during a Canucks' training camp. You're a stand-up individual and a classy guy, Mr. Naslund. You deserve the best in your retirement.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

1 comment:

Sage Confucius said...

I'm still hurting from that loss yesterday. I did not have my Zetterberg jersey on and will not make that mistake again.

I don't know all that much about Naslund so I can't really speak to his credentials. I am wondering what the Queen thought of the smell of hockey players though. :)