The Vancouver Canucks are the NHL franchise playing in Vancouver, BC. They entered the league on May 22, 1970, as one of the NHL's earliest expansion teams after the Original Six era. They have been to the Stanley Cup Finals twice, but have never won the championship.
The first Canucks game was on October 9, 1970; they lost. The first few seasons were, as usual for an expansion team, rather unimpressive. NHL history was made when in February 1971, the Boston Bruins scored three goals on the Canucks in a mere 20 seconds. By 1975, the Canucks had achieved success, finishing first in their division and advancing into the playoffs, where they were promptly finished off by the high-flying Montreal Canadiens.
The Canucks finally won a playoff series in 1982, defeating the Calgary Flames. What followed was an unbelievable stroke of good luck, with the Canucks, backed by hot goaltender 'King' Richard Brodeur, defeating first the Los Angeles Kings then the Chicago Blackhawks to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals! The championship hopes of the team were dashed by the New York Islanders in four games straight. It would be over a decade before the Canucks were able to top this performance. During this playoff season, coach Roger Neilson created a Canucks playoff tradition which persists to this day. After a particularly bad call by the referee, he picked up a white towel and waved it in imitation of a white flag of truce. This gesture was adopted by the fans, and any Canucks home game during the playoffs will find the majority of the spectators waving white towels.
After their amazing playoff run, the Canucks returned to mediocrity for several years afterward. In the late 80s, a changing of the guard took place for the team, beginning with the hiring of Pat Quinn as head coach in 1987 and the acquisition of goalie Kirk McLean, and continuing with the drafting of Trevor Linden in 1988 and hiring of Igor Larionov in 1989. The Canucks returned to the playoffs in 1989, and have some reasonable first-round success against the Calgary Flames, who would beat the Canucks in Game 7 and go on to win the Stanley Cup.
In 1991, more major events occured. First, longtime Canuck stalwart Stan Smyl retired, was appointed as Assistant Coach, and had his number (12) retired by the team. So far, he is the only player in team history to recieve this honour. Second, Pavel Bure, the "Russian Rocket" was drafted. He would go on to win the Calder Trophy as the NHL's best rookie, after helping take the Canucks to their most sucessful regular season yet. In the same season, Pat Quinn would recieve the Jack Adams Trophy as NHL Coach of the Year.
The Canucks would continue improving until the hallowed 1993-94 season. Mention 1994 to any longtime Canucks fan in connection with the team and he or she will certainly either smile or wince. Smiles for the spectacular play which led the team to the Stanley Cup Finals. And winces for the seventh-game, one goal loss of the Cup to the New York Rangers. Not to mention the riots in downtown Vancouver which followed the loss.
After that last-minute loss, Pat Quinn stepped down as head coach, staying on as franchise president and general manager. Rick Ley was hired as the new head coach. The team had moderate sucess in the 1994-1995 season, and the next year they moved from the traditional venue of the Pacific Coliseum to the brand-new (and branded) General Motors Place. Significantly larger and more comfortable than its predecessor, GM Place was immediately nicknamed "The Garage" by Vancouverites. During another season where the team did less than they probably should have, Rick Ley was fired and Pat Quinn stepped in as head coach. A new coach, Tom Renney was hired during the summer.
Larger changes began to happen in 1997. First, the team unveiled a complete change of their image; a new logo, new colours, and a new uniform design to go with the other changes. Next, the team signed aging great Mark Messier away from the New York Rangers. Then, in November, both Tom Renney and Pat Quinn were ousted in favour of the infamous "Iron" Mike Keenan. Ironically, the coach and captain of the Canucks were then the same as the coach and captain of the 1994 New York Rangers who beat the Canucks to win the Cup. In his two years in Vancouver, Keenan dismantled the old Canucks, trading away well-known players like Kirk McLean and Trevor Linden. When the team continued to slide through 1998, despite the influence of "Iron Mike" and the personnel changes, new general manager Brian Burke replaced Keenan with former Colorado Avalanche coach Marc Crawford.
1999 was the beginning of the construction of the current Canucks team. Swedes Daniel and Henrik Sedin were drafted in the 1999 first round, and other key members of the current Canucks slowly started arriving. Slowly, the team recovered from their slide. The departure of Mark Messier in 2000 and the return of Trevor Linden in 2001 were major personnel events preceding the 2001-2002 season. The 2001-2002 Canucks started off with a fairly poor first half of the season, and then rocketed forth after the All-Star break and the Olympic break to finish the season leading the league in goals and coming off several extended winning streaks. Their playoff hopes were dashed, however, by the Detroit Red Wings in the first round. The Wings would go on to win the Stanley Cup.
The 2002-2003 season may have been the greatest season in team history. They were at the top of the league standings a few times over the year, and were on top of their division for much of the year. The young, inconsistent team of the last few years finally cohered and played great hockey for most of the regular season. A few poor games at the end of the season put them behind the Colorado Avalanche in their division going into the playoffs, dramatically decreasing their seeding. For the first few games of their first-round series against the St. Louis Blues, they seemed lost like they were in last year's playoffs, but they rallied to win their first playoff series since 1995. The second round pitted them against newcomers the Minnesota Wild, who had just come back from a 3-0 deficit against Colorado. The Canucks had a lot of momentum coming from the St. Louis series, winning the first three games. Then the Wild became the first team in NHL history to come back from two consecutive three-game deficits, winning the series in seven games and ending the Canucks's season.
Soon, the new NHL season will begin. Hopefully the Canucks will continue their momentum and make a serious Cup bid this year. It's frustrating being a fan of one of the oldest teams in the NHL which has never won the Stanley Cup, in addition to frequenly performing as less than the sum of its parts. Nevertheless, it could be worse; they've done better than the Chicago Cubs!
Sources: canucks.com and my somewhat vague memory (please note that I only have first-hand experience since about 1986)
This writeup is copyright 2002-2004 D.G. Roberge and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs-NonCommercial licence. Details can be found at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd-nc/2.0/ .