A look at the Vancouver Canucks’ All-Decade team for the 1980s
This is part of a series detailing the all-decade team for every NHL franchise for the 1980s. The all-time teams were compiled using a mix of skill, longevity and statistics; it is not necessarily the best, most memorably or most talented players. Instead, this is the list of players by each position who had the best numbers over a prolonged period (i.e. at least three full seasons between 1980-81 and 1989-90) during the regular season. A complete list is available here.
Team: Vancouver Canucks (1980-81 to 1989-90)
280-398-122, .426 WIN PCT, 2,804 GF vs. 3,151 GA, -347 Diff, 6/10 Playoff Appearances, 0 Stanley Cups
The Vancouver Canucks were a pretty brutal team to cheer for during the 1980s. They didn’t have a single .500 season; in fact, their best win total was 33 in ’88-89, and their highest points total was 77 in ’81-82 (they year they somehow made it to the Stanley Cup Finals, where they lost to the powerhouse New York Islanders). The Canucks averaged 30 wins and 75 points in each of the first four seasons in the decade… and then got worse. In five of the next six seasons, they lost 41 games or more; four times they won 25 games or less, and three seasons saw them finish with 59 points. They made the playoffs the first four seasons of the 80s, but then made it just twice in the final six seasons. While they did made the Finals in 1982, each of their five other playoff appearance resulted in a first-round exit. The Canucks’ win percentage of 42.6% was brutal, ranking them 17th out of 21 teams. Their offense was their Achilles heel; they averaged just 3.51 goals for per game (only New Jersey/Colorado was worse). Their defense was actually respectable, allowing an average of 3.94 goals per game (ranked 12th). But they were undone by their woeful offensive, with a -347 goal differential ranking 17th for the decade. That 1982 run aside, they must have been a very painful team to root for during the 1980s.
Left Wing: Petri Skriko (452 GP, 167-198-365, -83, 213 PIM, 17 GWG)
Petri Skriko is one of those players I had a soft spot for as a fan, although I’m never quite sure why. He must have been on one of the first hockey cards I owned or something. Skriko had a good run for the Canucks, spending six seasons in Vancouver during the 1980s. The middle four seasons were his peak; he had four 30-goal seasons, scoring 60+ points each time (including two in the 74-78 range). His +/- was typically quit weak, but he did have two seasons in the -4 to -3 range (although he was still -83 overall on a weak Canucks team). He was a fixture on the powerplay, potting 9-12 goals per seasons over a four-year span. He also had a brilliant year on the penalty kill in ’86-87, scoring six short-handed goals (out of the 10 he had in the decade). He also managed to chip in a healthy 17 game-winning goals, 10% of his total.
Centre: Thomas Gradin (457 GP, 147-277-424, -40, 236 PIM, 20 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Patrik Sundstrom
A big shout-out to Patrik Sundstrom. After a 46-poitn rookie campaign, he exploded for 38 goals and 91 points, before settling into the 66-71 point range over the next three seasons. But Gradin had a slightly better run, and he was just a little stronger in terms of his +/- and game-winning goal totals. Thomas Gradin was a fixture in Vancouver for six seasons. He twice hit the 86-point mark, and had three other seasons in the 64-78 point range. He had four seasons of 48+ assists, and five 20+ goal seasons (including two years of 30+ goals). He managed to have two seasons with positive +/- rating, although he was a fairly ugly -57 over his final four years combined. Still, he did contribute on the powerplay (including 23 PPG between ’82-83 and ’83-84), and 14% of his goals were game-winning goals (20).
Right Wing: Tony Tanti (531 GP, 250-220-470, -55, 489 PIM, 29 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Stan Smyl
I have no doubt that Stan Smyl is the sentimental favourite, given that the played the entire decade in Vancouver. Hell, I’m not even a Canucks fan, and I still know who he and Harold Snepts are. Smyl was Mr. Canuck until Trevor Linden showed up. He had six straight seasons of at least 24 goals and 62 points, including a high of 38 goals and 88 points in ’82-83. His totals then dropped off over the final four years of the decade, until he managed just one goal and 16 points in 47 games during the ’89-90 season. He ended up with 215 goals and 543 points in 712 games, but he had 100+ PIM in eight of the 10 seasons during the 80s. But his +/- was ugly at -94, and he only had 17 game-winning goals. It’s a shame that a certain infamous trade with the Bruins took place though, because a youngster by the name of Cam Neely might have been able to make a name for himself with the Canucks instead of the Bruins.
That being said, Tony Tanti is more than qualified for his spont on this list. He is Vancouver’s equivalent of Rick Vaive; a talented player on a bad team who doesn’t get a ton of respect from modern fans. Vaive is also, somewhat ironically, an ex-Canuck. After being acquired from Chicago, Tanti got his legs under him in ’82-83. Then he exploded. In the five-year span from ’83-84 to ’87-88, he scored 39-45 goals per year and scored at least 72 points four times (including a high of 86 in ’83-84). He was a beast on the powerplay, scoring 14-20 powerplay goals per year (102 of his 250 goals for Vancouver in the 1980s were PPG). He was also strong in the clutch considering the team’s weak win-loss record, with 29 of his goals winning the game for Vancouver (12% of his goal total). He managed to keep his +/- at respectable levels, finishing in the -9 to +5 range five times in eight seasons. And despite my not overly liking the Canucks, Tanti was also one of my favourite players during the 1980s.
Defense: Rick Lanz (417 GP, 56-171-227, -81, 331 PIM, 6 GWG)
Lanz was a strong offensive defenseman for the Canucks. While he was inconsistent and had durability issues, he hit some respectable totals. He had three seasons of 10+ goals and 48+ points, including highs of 18 goals and 57 points in ’83-84. His +/- was negative six times in seven years though, indicating that his play in his own end could have used some work. He helped run the Canucks powerplay though, scoring 14 PPG in ’83-84 and 11 in ’85-86. Not an overly physical player he only had two seasons of 50+ PIM), but then that likely wasn’t what was asked or expected of him during his time with Vancouver.
Defense: Harold Snepts (367 GP, 13-65-78, -11, 692 PIM, 3 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Doug Lidster
As with Smyl, Snepts was a heart-and-soul-type player who is still fondly remembered by Canucks fans. His +/- was balanced overall, which was a little deceptive; he had three of six seasons during the 1980s in the -3 to +3 range, and then had a very good year (+22) offset by two weak ones (-17 and -19). But still… being -11 despite playing six years for the Canucks is no small feat. He actually had two tours with the Canucks; after the ’83-84 season he was dealt to the Minnesota North Stars. After a three-year stint with the Detroit Red Wings, he returned to Vancouver as a free agent and played another 98 games at the end of the decade. He wasn’t an offensive presence; his role was to make opposing player regret invading the Canucks’ end of the ice (and he had three seasons of 150+ PIM). Doug Lidster may have had more offensive flair (five seasons of 28+ points, including a high of 63 in ’86-87), but Lidster was very weak defensively (-104 in 451 games, including -35 during his 63-point season), so Snepts gets the nod. Plus who doesn’t love saying the name “Snepts”?
Goalie: Kirk McLean (146 GP, 52-74-16, 5 SO, 3.44 GAA, 0.882 PCT)
Honourable Mention to Richard Brodeur
As with Smyl, I acknowledge that Richard Brodeur may be the sentimental favourite of Canucks fans’ due to his run to the finals in 1982. But his stats don’t justify picking him over McLean; his GAA was typically north of 4.0, he only had one season with a positive W-L record (20-18-12 in ’81-82), and his save percentage was typically in the .855 to .873 range. Those are pretty ugly figures. McLean became the #1 goalie in ’87-88, taking over from Brodeur. While he struggled in his first season (11-27-3), e improved quickly; he was stellar in ’88-89, going 20-17-3 with a 3.08 GAA and a .891 PCT. He also represented Vancouver in the 1990 All-Star Game. McLean was rounding into the form that made him a hero in Vancouver during the 1990s, and by the end of the decade he had already established himself as the best goalie in franchise history (a title he may still hold, depending on your view of Roberto Luongo’s place in Canucks’ lore).