The Bright Side to the Mark Messier Story

JAN 10 1999 -- VANCOUVER, BC -- Vancouver Canucks captain Mark Messier prepares to leave the bench for the ice during a game againist the Dallas Stars in NHL action at GM Place. Canucks won 2-0. Province staff photo by Gerry Kahrmann [PNG Merlin Archive]
JAN 10 1999 — VANCOUVER, BC — Vancouver Canucks captain Mark Messier prepares to leave the bench for the ice during a game againist the Dallas Stars in NHL action at GM Place. Canucks won 2-0. Province staff photo by Gerry Kahrmann [PNG Merlin Archive]
Let me forewarn, er, myself – this is kind of a taboo topic to be on. However, it’s one we’ll need to end up coming to eventually.

I choose to let go of what Mark Messier did. Granted, 99.99% of my memories happen during or after the West Coast Express era. And granted, most if not all Canucks fans would like to see him in a position constantly in the position he’s in here. And granted, again, his signing resulted in the trading of fan-favourites Trevor Linden and Gino Odjick, among many others. But it’s been 15 years since the so-called “bad” man left, and I, for one, choose to give up the animosity towards him that automatically comes with being a Canucks fan.

So where do we start?

The truth in this whole matter is that he just wasn’t fit for the contract he was given. Mark Messier was a great leader at times during his career (Six Stanley Cups, Two as team captain), but he had also completed 19 seasons of gritty NHL play – not to mention one year in the WHA – before he came to Vancouver’s team. Was that worth $6,000,000? Not in hindsight, but to Canucks’ management at the time, it was brilliant. Here was a multi-time Cup champ who had been a Point-Per-Game all but three seasons in a long and storied career signing with a team that, while stacked, was underachieving and needed a jumpstart.

Unfortunately for the Canucks and their fans, Messier was not the same player he was before, nor did he seem to put in enough effort. Player after player was traded as the Canucks dug their way to the bottom of the league in the three seasons Messier existed on the team.

What people need to know is that his first season on the Left Coast was the beginning of the end. Messier never again reached PPG levels, and in his first season back with the New York Rangers, he took more PIMs than he did in any season with the Canucks and had the worst +/- rating (-25) of his career. Messier was obviously declining. And thank God for that.

If Messier had never been signed, Linden, Odjick, Bure, Mogilny, and others wouldn’t have been traded at the times they were. The Canucks wouldn’t have sunk so far so fast, and they never would have gotten in a position to draft the Sedin twins. As far as the West Coast Express era, the Luongo era, the 2011 Cup run, and currently the Jim Benning era goes, you can imagine what they’d be like without the Sedins – if they’d even have existed at all. The Canucks might not even be in Vancouver today if it wasn’t for the signing of Messier. Even Markus Naslund claimed to have benefitted from playing with him.

Don’t get me wrong – it was a tough era for Canucks fans everywhere, and still is painful to look back on for a lot of us. But when you see all the great things that came out of it, à la the domino effect, it really makes me want to appreciate all that Mark Messier did (or didn’t do) for this franchise.

If people choose to hold a grudge against Mark Messier, that’s perfectly understandable. But that bubble helmet deserves at least some smiles.

But Messier was, and still is, a legend. He’s helped out every team he played for – it just so happens that his involvement with the Canucks didn’t end in them winning a Cup. While his stat lines with Vancouver may have been some of the worst of his career, the benefits of his being on the Canucks are still felt on the team today. If we can remember him not for how he played, but for what his tenure here brought to the team, we might be able to look back at the late 90s with a sense of gratefulness, rather than a sense of shame.

… You know what… screw Mark Messier.

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