Gone Fishing...w/Markus Naslund

Note: The summer sucks, so this "Gone Fishing" series will look at all the upcoming contract year players for the Canucks.

He’s why you bother learning to pronounce Örnsköldsvik (Earn'sholds'veek). He’s a mere 21 points shy of toping Trevor Linden as the all time Canuck point producer. And this could be the last offseason where the Canucks can plan on having him stick around.

Welcome to the world of Markus Naslund.

A look back
Markus was drafted by Pittsburgh 16th overall in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft (a class that featured such talent as Eric Lindros, Scott Niedermayer, Peter Forsberg, Brian Rolston, Alexei Kovolov and even your friend and mine Pat Falloon). He would play three seasons with MODO and then some up and down with the Cleveland Lumberjacks (who have a bitchin’ beaver logo) before becoming a NHL mainstay.

The same cosmic forces that pummeled Vancouver for their Neely debacle returned the favor when Pat Quinn managed to trade for Naslund even up in exchange for the fire fighting Alex Stojanov, a guy who was actually picked ahead of Naslund in the same draft.

It took some “issues” with Mike Keenan giving Naslund the Marc Chouinard treatment before he finally began to show his magic. Starting in 1998, Naslund would have his first of six straight 60+ point seasons; he was named captain of the team by Brian Burke in 2000-01, a year in which he helped the Canucks finally make a return to the post season and shake off their collective Keenan/Messier hangover. Over the next two seasons he would put up his best career numbers playing alongside Bertuzzi and Morrison and snag a Lester B. Pearson Award in 2002-03 and was a runner up to the Hart in the same year. What’s not to love?

Things get ugly
Things would take a turn beginning in 2003-04 when, although the team was primed for a shot at some post season destruction, the Naslund/Bertuzzi/Moore incident would cast a cloud over the remainder of the year following Bert’s suspension for Naslund, the Canucks and even the entire league. The lockout didn’t help matters and there was a chance that, following the lockout, Naslund could have signed elsewhere. He eventually returned, inking a three year deal with the Canucks but couldn’t rekindle the offensive magic with Bertuzzi during a shitty 2005-06 campaign.

Bringing in Luongo meant a different approach for the team and for Naslund entirely. For this first time this decade, this team was molded from the backend and not the front. For the Canuck’s captain, it meant new linemates and new expectations for how he could run this team. Although he played in all 82 games in 2006-07, he managed only 60 points, his worst output since 1997-98.

2007-08 and Nazzy
So what is there to expect of Naslund as a Canuck in the final year of his contract? There will be plenty of people who are going to look at the Canucks and, for good reason, see that this team belongs to the twins and Luongo now. For every game in which Naslund doesn’t score or add some assists, there will calls for moving him and his $6 million at the trade deadline to anyone willing to take it. This is a business blah blah blah…and Lowe showed with Smyth last year that, face or no face of the franchise, you’re going to be moved if the numbers don’t work. Period.

This is Naslund’s reality. He may never return to his earlier production levels due in part to the line he played on and how both the game and team have changed. But he is still young enough at 33 and possesses a wrist shot we all know and love (when he actually uses it that is) that would indicate that he could still be a big part of any team’s top six. The question is does he have that drive still and can he do it with the cast of characters that Canucks will likely have come the drop of the puck in October?

The best case scenario for long starving Canuck fans would be to see Linden return, get another guy or two up front and have the core come together under Vigneault like they did last year. With the twins supported by a young core and Luongo playing behind a stacked defense, this team finds some magic in the post season with both Linden and Naslund playing character roles. A Cup is finally won and both Linden and Naslund leave the team on top. Picture perfect.

The worst case scenario is actually one where the Canucks don’t live up to expectations and have to move Naslund to a team that does win it all with him in tow. Or, similarly, Naslund leaves as a free agent so the team gets nothing. Or he simply retires back to Sweden with a trunk full of memories and no Cup to speak of.

Naslund is in the unenviable position this year (that is depending on if you are a glass half full/half empty person) of having to make his stick do the talking moreso then his price tag. He can play himself right into a new contract/extension or he can become part of a numbers game. Face of the franchise or not, the reality of the cap era doesn’t discriminate regardless if you’re Anson Carter, Brent Sopel or the Canucks franchise regular season goals leader.

Like Linden, Naslund's done a lot for this franchise from admitting the team has choked (he was honest, they did choke) to helping restore them to some iota of credibility over the past near decade.
I, for one, want him to stick around and get the job done; seeing him in another uniform is unpleasant. Something tells me, however, that I'm in the minority on this.


Knotwurth Mentioning said...

I disagree completely, actually. I don't think that nearly as many people feel that way... although I certainly don't think he will be worth $6 million if he can't produce more than 60 points.

But the Canucks re-signing their captain for something akin to $3 million and him settling down into a leadership role would be almost as good as your "best-case" scenario. The underspoken part of this entire situation is that Nazzy emerged last year as a solid 2-way forward, a leader for a team finding themselves all over again, and a decent offensive contributor. 60 points isn't anything akin to his days on the MNB line, but it's still not too shabby, considering.

Perhaps you're right in that you and I are in the minority. But unlike a player like Ohlund, who we love and would like to see kept around but seems to have outlived his usefulness, Naslund's evolution into a more subtle player is just fine for me. He's always been a leader with his words... now his play backs up those statements about playing responsibly and looking out for the team. Second-best-case scenario: Nazzy sticks around in Vancouver as our new Trevor Linden as the big T gets ready to retire.

I'd love it if he could rediscover his scoring touch. But if he's slumping midway and Nonis is smart, I'd recommend signing Nazzy to a long-term mid-range contract, so that we don't lose him and also don't have to foot a $6 million bill. And if Naslund is the player he seems to be becoming, he'll take it -- because this team could be winning the Cup soon, and surely leading a team to success is a far more inspirational goal than merely getting another $3 million a season and then falling flat on your face while trying to prove you're worth it!

The Chief Canuck said...

What I don't get is how scott gomes gets 60 points, and is hailed with a $50m contract.

yeesh, I think this vancovuer fans need to sit back and chill out a bit. he led this team compeltely last year, and screwed his own stats to do it.

That's all you can ask for. And he still got 60 points.

Nonis needs to give him a bit of help and he'll bounce back with a 75 point season which is all we should need from him if we can get any goals from anyone else..

Nonis, please help.

Mike said...

I get the feeling (and keep in mind I am not in Vancouver at all so I can only go on papers, 1040 and blogs) that people who follow the team have given up on the guy. They forget that he lost a huge part of his game (Bertuzzi dragging two defenders with him on every rush), did have his own set of injuries in past seasons and got shuffled around from line to line last year in a new defensive-minded scheme. In light of all that, 60 points isn't bad and I know he had like 8 total points in the post season, but in some of those VAN/ANA games, he was the only one out there.

Regardless, I think people see a drop-off of 20-40 points based on his best years and don't think he's worth the money. I think you can explain his value in other ways other then being the sniper he used to be.

Also, he's gone on record that he wants to return to Sweden at some point and raise his kids there. I don't see much more then three years left in him at best (unless he changes his mind).

So I do hope he stays and, to do so, he may be relegated to a one year, $4 million sort of thing. Not really sure, but I hope he can stick around long enough for, as chief canuck said, to get a winger who he can gel with.

And, to top it all off, I am bracing myself for this issue to come up in each and every Vancouver prediction column that I will have to read in a month and a half from now. Ugh