In my mind, the name I always associated with Trevor Linden was Buck Williams. Growing up as a Nets fan in Jersey, I saw Buck was a rebounder who got his nose dirty, a working class hero and a beacon of class even when the teams he played on weren't worth a damn. He was a superstar to the local fans; nothing more than an admirable pro and a solid citizen to the rest of the NBA. But ask (the few, the proud) the Nets fans who personified what they wanted out of their team for an entire decade, and it was Buck Williams.
I think Trevor Linden personified the same virtues for Vancouver Canucks fans, even if, like Buck, he never reached the level of League-wide fame of his peers.
As Linden finalized his retirement today, the regrettable truth is that this should have happened last summer. Despite age and expectations, Linden was the hardest working and most effective player for the Canucks during their historic playoff run in 2006-07. Yet that led to a painful "will they or won't they" contract drama, followed by a forgettable final tour of duty. None of this diminishes the impact of his farewell; it just frustratingly mucks up the sports cliché narrative.
There's no denying Linden's place in recent hockey history: One of the few players who embodied a franchise through service and character. "There will be better players, but possibly not a better person. And no athlete here will be able to match the enduring strength and personal nature of Linden's bond to this city and its fans," wrote Iain MacIntyre of the Vancouver Sun in a definitive review of Linden's accomplishments and value.
Here's some footage of Linden's farewell press conference today, the 20th anniversary of the day he was drafted:
The tributes have been pouring in from puckheads around the world. We begin with J.J. Guerrero of Canucks Hockey Blog, who crossed paths with Linden during nine years working at GM Place:
Trevor was the kind of guy who would take the time to be with people, to be with his fans, to be with the kids at Canucks Place and BC Childrens Hospital. In this era of prima donna professional athletes, Trevor was nothing but a consummate pro. It's a shame that he never got to win the Stanley Cup; however, for many fans, not only in Vancouver or Metro Vancouver but all over this province, he's already a winner.
Over the years, it was never a surprise to see groups of children in the Canucks locker room after practice. Almost always, Linden was the one playing tour guide. And he always did it in a way that put the kids-many of them with special needs-at ease, as if they were hanging out with a friend rather that the most-celebrated athlete this city has ever seen.
"It's obvious how much he's loved in this city," Canucks captain Markus Naslund said of his long-time teammate on the final night of the season. "I wish we could have helped him out and made it a more fun evening, winning the game and getting him a goal. But it says a lot how much he's meant to this city and to this organization the way that the fans treated him."
We figured the boys at the KB would be in mourning today, but they managed to put together a rather wonderful visual tribute to Linden that completely ignores his time with the New York Islanders. (Can you blame them?) Mirtle offers his take, grounded in rather uncomfortable reality about Linden's place in NHL history:
It's fitting that his retirement announcement this afternoon comes exactly 20 years from the day he was drafted, because for that long, he's been the face of a franchise that had always longed for one.
Unfortunately, it's also fitting that Vancouver's hero was never one for a larger audience. Linden never won a major NHL award, played in only two all-star games and, despite skating in the 32nd most games in league history, isn't anywhere to be found in the record books.
Waiting for Stanley isn't sure if Linden will go the Steve Yzerman route and come back in a managerial role for the Canucks, even if that's what the fans would love: "As fans, we want to see him behind the bench, being the great leader that he is, or up in the cushy GM box in GM Place, orchestrating a competitive team. That would be our wish, wouldn't it?"
Perhaps that wish is made because of unfinished business. Linden played 1,382 regular season games and 124 playoff games without every drinking from the Stanley Cup. And 1994 still stings like a bitch.
It feels like he should be somewhere in the organization if and when the Canucks ever find their way back to glory.
Because any Canucks team that does will undoubtedly share the work ethic, determination and class that Trevor Linden personified.