It could be argued the Vancouver Canucks have been as prominent as any Canadian-based NHL franchise a decade-and-a-half into the 21st century, which speaks as much to Canadian teams' lack of success in winning Cups as it does the Canucks' specific success. Indeed, only four Great White North franchises have made the Cup Finals since 2000--Calgary '04, Edmonton '06, Ottawa '07 and Vancouver '11--all losing, with the Canucks coming as close any of them as they went down in seven bitter, classic games to the Boston Bruins. As would be expected, most of the "great eight" Canucks profiled on this list were key members of that '11 squad that almost went all the way before yielding to Tim Thomas and the B's as they hoisted aloft Lord Stanley for the first time since 1972.
Despite still not taking home the sacred chalice, the Canucks have enjoyed a decent measure of success in the 2000s, with six Northwest Division titles, which includes their near magical '11 season, making it a bigger challenge who to leave off the list of best eight Vancouver players. Likewise, there are more than enough candidates for the bottom seven, which speaks to the unique aspect of pro hockey in which backups of backups of backups all see playing time. But be they poor or be they great, each player on this list has a story to be told, so let's get at it.
15 Best: RYAN KESLER
Kesler's ten-year tour in Vancouver saw him total 393 points as well as being a vital member of the Canucks' Stanley Cup Finals team. Though some lists of this nature might rank Kesler higher, he sits at the bottom of this particular compilation for his demand to be traded from the high-pressure hockey-intense atmosphere Vancouver at the conclusion of the 2013-14 season. Dealt to the Anaheim Ducks, the American-born center later justified turning his back on British Columbia. when he wrote in the Players Tribune that “hockey players have feelings too. Or at least our families do.”
Kesler isn’t the only great Canuck whose tenure with the team ended on a sour note as you’ll read below, but his inclusion on this list is guaranteed by his ten years of mostly superb service in Vancouver. Like many Canucks on this compilation, Kesler’s best season was in their near-Cup season of 2010-11 when he scored a stunning 41 goals and notched a plus-24 rating, which basically equaled his Canuck career mark of plus 25.
14 Worst: ERIK GUDBRANSON
There are some bad plus/minus ratings on the Canucks during this current 2016-17 season, but Gudbranson's is particularly dreadful, presently at minus-14. His plus/minus after his tenure in Florida was a horrific minus-49, so it’s hard to fathom exactly what the Canucks were thinking when they traded for Gudbranson this year and his $3.5 million salary (with an equivalent salary cap hit).
Grudbrandson is an example of a player who shows great promise on the lower levels but can’t fully compete with the best players in the world that comprise the NHL. In the minors he was the Ontario Hockey League’s scholastic player of the year in 2009-10 and he certainly has the size at 6-foot-5, 220 lbs, but Gudbranson is consistently outplayed. He doesn't play like his size would suggest.
13 Best: BRENDAN MORRISON
The centre-car of the Canucks' productive "West Coast Express" line--named for Vancouver’s commuter rail service--that steamrolled the NHL Western Conference from 2002-06, as Morrison--and a pair of lethal wingers to be featured later on this list--that accounted for nearly half the Canucks' total goals in 2002-03. In eight seasons with the Canucks, Morrison amassed 393 points (136 goals, 257 assists). His peak was that same 2002-03 season, with 71 points and receiving the most votes he ever garnered for the Lady Byng trophy, annually awarded to the NHL player demonstrating the best sportsmanship.
His last season in 2007-08 was one of decline with only 9 goals, allowing the Canucks to let the hometown boy--he was born in Pitt Meadows, B.C. -- depart for Anaheim, but Brendan Morrison will always be part of Canucks' lore as one of the engineers of the "Express."
12 Worst: MARC CHOUINARD
After two decent seasons with the Minnesota Wild, Chouinard fell off Grouse Mountain, and gets categorized under the category of worst Canuck players in this century who were “disappointments". Expected to contribute at center, Chouinard only managed a woeful 4 points in 42 games in his one season (2006-07) in Vancouver. Hardly what the Canucks were expecting after Chouinard displayed nice potential during his tenure in Minnesota when he totaled 51 points in 119 games for a mediocre-at-best Wild team in the 2003-04 and 2005-06 seasons (2004-05 was lost to the NHL Lockout).
Like Gudbranson today Chouinard was bigger than most of his peers at 6-foot-5, 218 pounds, but ultimately didn’t have the heart of a warrior and after he was exposed in Vancouver, his NHL career was finished.
11 Best: TODD BERTUZZI
The most controversial inclusion on this list, Bertuzzi never did too well in the Lady Byng voting, and that's no surprise, due to the right-winger's brutal assault of Steve Moore of Colorado on March 8, 2004 that immediately ended Moore's career and threatened Bertuzzi with actual jail-time. Bertuzzi was gaining vengeance for his fallen West Coast Express line-mate, Markus Naslund, injured at the hands of Moore on February 16 of that year. The entire incident and resulting fallout brought the West Coast Express to a crashing halt.
Even though Bertuzzi did total 71 points in his 2005-06 comeback season, his plus/minus was a dreadful minus-17, with he and Naslund eclipsed as the Canucks’ leaders by a pair of twins you might have heard of who top this particular list. Still, during his eight seasons in Vancouver, Bertuzzi was part of one of the Canucks' all-time great lines, and he definitely merits a ranking here.
10 Worst: BRAD ISBISTER
The final season in Isbister’s 11-year mostly average NHL career was a bummer in Vancouver as the left-winger only managed 11 points in 55 games during 2007-08. This output was a far cry from Mister Isbister’s peak years with the New York Islanders when he scored a respectable 67 goals in 247 games from 1999-2003. And that was his prime.
Maybe Vancouver was expecting the player who totaled 23 points with the Bruins in 2005-06 when they inked Isbister as a free agent. Instead they got a journeyman clearly past his relatively moderate “prime” who only collected 5 points in 2006-07 with the New York Rangers. You have to wonder how Vancouver felt Isbister would improve their lineup, and it turns out they were sadly mistaken.
9 Best: SAMI SALO
Salo made an immediate impact in Gastown in his first season (2002-03) with a solid 30 points. The Finnish defender could be higher on this list if injuries hadn't limited him, as he suffered 40 maladies during his career, which was generally a testament to his willingness to sacrifice life and limb to get his team two points. However, one of his ailments was due to being bitten by the only known poisonous snake in his native Finland.
Salo also gets rated higher because he's a two-way player with a devastating slapshot; in that sense he was like a smaller version of Bruins' active legend Zdeno Chara. Salo was part of the Presidents' Cup winning team in 2011 that came oh-so-close versus the aforementioned Chara and his Big Bad Bruins. In all Salo logged nine seasons in Vancouver with a solid plus-78 rating and 236 points.
8 Worst: JEFF COWAN
The mere fact that Cowan never produced much from his left-wing position in his previous nine seasons with three franchises--including the former Atlanta Thrashers (now Winnipeg Jets)--spoke to his inability to fit in with varying styles. Thus, it’s a mystery why the Canucks imagined Cowan was suddenly going to contribute significantly to their 2006-07 team when they claimed him on waivers from a Los Angeles Kings team that apparently knew better.
And unlike some other Canucks' busts that only played lamely for a season--or even less--Cowan makes this list for actually getting two years--and 88 games too many-- from Vancouver, who only got a paltry 11 points from him in return. Vancouver turned out to be the last stop on Cowan’s tour of taking up space on various NHL rosters throughout North America
7 Best: ROBERTO LUONGO
Here we have the Canucks' greatest goaltender of all-time, let alone the 2000s. It didn't end well for Luongo in Rain City with the ignoble loss of his starting position, but when he first arrived in Vancouver, he was hailed as a savior between the pipes for a franchise that had run through 18 goaltenders since the departure of Kurt McLean in 1997-98. And Luongo did not disappoint, providing instant stability and continuity so vital to a team looking to shift from pretender to contender, appearing in 76 games and winning 47 of them with a stellar goals-against-average of 2.29 in 2006-07.
When Luongo led the Canucks to the 2011 Cup Finals, he paced the NHL with 38 victories before falling to his superior counterpart, Tim Thomas, in Game 7. In all, Luongo won 252 games in eight years in Vancouver, plus 32 postseason victories.
6 Worst: JORDAN SCHROEDER
Yet another Canucks' center added to this list that failed to produce during his stint, though at least Schroeder has the excuse of being undersized by today’s standards at 5-9, 184 pounds. This choice gets filed under “dumb draft decisions”, as Schroeder's two years in Vancouver saw him only muster 15 points in 56 games before he went shuffling off to Minnesota, not missed by Vancouver. Schroeder was inexplicably picked in the first round (22nd overall) in the 2009 NHL Draft, which means the Canucks passed on center/winger Marcus Johansson, wisely chosen at number 24 by the Washington Capitals.
The dangerous Johannson--in the midst of a breakout season in 2016-17-- already has 263 career NHL points, while Schroeder has but 34. Ouch, Vancouver. Yet another draft day mistake.
5 Best: MARKUS NASLUND
Naslund was the most dangerous train-car of the West Coast Express, and the highest ranked member of that line on this list. The Swedish left-winger’s cumulative plus-2 was unimpressive, but his 12 years and 756 points in B.C. must be recognized, including his peak season of 2002-03 in which he played all 82 games, racking up career highs of 48 goals and 56 assists in the process.
He also had his best playoff run that year with the Canucks, totaling 14 points in 14 games. The former number one pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins (1991, 16th overall) was stolen by the Canucks for Alek Stojanov. Who's Stojanov? Exactly. Naslund wasn’t there for the franchise's 2011 Cup run, but his offensive explosiveness set the stage for a style of play that would define Vancouver for years to come.
4 JAN BULIS
A player should have a pretty good idea his stint with a given franchise was a bust when the team's announcer calls him "dumb". And that's just what happened to Jan Bulis when former Canucks' radio/TV color commentator Tommy Larschied declared on-air: “Let’s face facts, Jan Bulis is just a dumb hockey player.”
Bulis was a regretful free-agent signing by the Canucks as the Czech center suffered from the “good every other year” syndrome; and coming off a solid 20 goal/20 assist, 40 point season for the Montreal Canadiens, Bulis was destined to disappear in B.C. as he only managed 23 points in 79 games, nearly the entire season.
Yet unlike most of the mediocrities that pepper this list, at least Bulis’ unorthodox style of play has earned him a cult following from viral videos (like his "piggyback" penalty) to a blog, so he lives on thanks to hardcore hockey geeks.
3 Best: DANIEL SEDIN
Ranked as the number four all-time player in Vancouver history by TheProvince.com, the only Canuck he trails in prominence in the 21st century was also born six minutes before him (see below). Still, it's hard to imagine Daniel Sedin taking a backseat to anyone when the chips are down in an NHL game. The second overall selection in the 1999 NHL Draft, Sedin notched his 600th assist--all with Vancouver--on January 2 of this year on Sven Baertshci’s power play go-ahead and ultimately deciding goal in the Canucks' victory over arch-rival Colorado.
Daniel Sedin will go down as one of the great playmakers in NHL history and was an indispensable cog in the Canucks’ drive all the way to Game 7 of the 2011 Cup Finals, notching 20 points.
2 Worst: DAVID BOOTH
Booth gets bumped up (or down) this list due to all the baggage he carried during three seasons in Vancouver. It got so bad for Booth he still has "nightmares" about playing for stern taskmaster John Tortorella including the shouting match that originated between player and coach when “Torts” didn’t notice that Booth was actually early for a particular team meeting, not late as the coach assumed, as reported by TheProvince.com
Tortorella even once said that Booth is a “weird dude”. Tortorella was probably perplexed by Booth’s dedication for rigorous offseason hunting sessions that may have been prioritized over his hockey health. Booth had ankle and groin injuries that hampered his production in Vancouver, but the players who truly aspire to greatness don’t put themselves at risk imitating Ted Nugent. The left-winger only managed 51 points in three seasons in Vancouver.
1 Best: HENRIK SEDIN
Henrik is elevated ahead of his identical twin due to his status as team captain and being the all-time Canucks points leader, which he achieved February 15, 2013. He's one of the game’s renowned centres. At the time of this writing, Sedin sits on the very precipice of 1,000 career points, with 999, including 767 assists and 232 goals. His peak came between the 2009-10 and 2011-12 seasons when he led the NHL in assists during all three campaigns, forcing teams to focus on Sedin and free up other Canucks such as his brother.
But Henrik is still at it even as we publish this list, even though his team is in need of a serious rebuild. Henrik Sedin is not only the greatest Vancouver player of the 2000s---he's the greatest Canuck ever, period.