Drafted by the New York Islanders in 1972, “King” Richard Brodeur started his professional career with the Quebec Nordiques of the WHA, leading them to an Avco Cup championship in 1976-77. Once the WHA folded, his rights were transferred back to the Islanders who then traded the 28-year old to the Vancouver Canucks for a 5th round draft pick.
Before Brodeur’s arrival in Vancouver, the Canucks crease had largely been a carousel of mediocrity since the team’s inception in 1970. Glen Hanlon, Gary Bromley, Cesare Maniago, and Gary Smith had all held down the starting position with lukewarm results before Brodeur’s stint. In his first season with the Canucks, 1980-81, Brodeur asserted himself as the team’s uncontested starter supplanting both Hanlon and Bromley. If you remember Glen Hanlon mostly as a career NHL backup, you can thank Richard Brodeur for that.
Get Down with the King
In 1981-82, Brodeur led the Canucks on an improbable Stanley Cup Final run against his former team from New York. Coming into the series the Islanders were heavy favorites and held a 41 point regular season advantage over the Canucks. The Islanders ultimately swept the series to claim their third Stanley Cup championship, but not before the Canucks and Brodeur tested them during the series’ opening two games.
A Mustachioed Gift
Brodeur’s 377 games played and 126 wins with the Canucks ranks him third all-time in both categories. He was awarded the team’s Cyclone Taylor Award for team MVP in 1981, 1982 and again in 1985 and garnered the most three-star selections of any Canucks player from 1980-1986. He was also selected as the team’s representative for the 1983 NHL All-Star Game but was unable to play due to an injury. His then backup and now current Canucks broadcaster John Garrett took his place, forever giving Canucks fans the ability to call John Garrett an NHL All-Star. To me, this gift alone warrants Brodeur a spot in the Canucks all-time top three.
Brodeur left the team late in the 1987-88 season when he was traded to the Hartford Whalers for Steve Weeks. That season, a young 21-year old goaltender stole the crease from Brodeur, making him expendable and instigating the trade. That hot new rookie?
Kirk McLean was drafted by the New Jersey Devils in 1984 and traded to the Canucks in 1987 as one of the first transactions from new general manager Pat Quinn. Quinn stuck his neck out in acquiring two young players in McLean and Greg Adams from the Devils in exchange for the already establish Patrik Sundstrom, but the gamble paid off in spades. When McLean arrived in Vancouver he provided the Canucks with stability that they hadn’t had since Brodeur’s prime in the early 1980’s.
In his over ten seasons with the Canucks, McLean established himself as the team’s very best goaltender up to that point in its history and is arguably still its all-time greatest playoff performer.
While McLean’s legacy was established in the Canuck’s run to the 1993-94 Stanley Cup Final, fans forget that he was already a two-time NHL All-Star and two-time Vezina Trophy finalist prior. If it weren’t for some guy named Patrick Roy, we may very well be talking about Kirk McLean as the Canucks only Vezina Trophy winner. Incredibly, he also finished fourth in Hart Memorial Trophy voting in 1992.
Now, about that ’94 Stanley Cup run: 15-9, 2.29 goals against average and a .928 save percentage. Pretty impressive, but the numbers only tell part of the story. McLean, on a team full of clutch performers, offered up more clutch performances than any other Canuck player. When facing a 3-1 series deficit against the Calgary Flames in the opening round, McLean starred and carried his team to three straight overtime victories. In the final and deciding game, McLean made a miraculous overtime save on Flames’ winger Robert Reichel dubbed “The Save” by Canucks fans. The following overtime, Pavel Bure would seal victory for the Canucks with an incredible breakaway goal.
Heartbreak in Defeat
McLean and the Canucks made short work of the Dallas Stars next before facing the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Conference Final. McLean’s back-to-back shutouts of the Leafs in games three and four of that series were instrumental in the team’s return to the Stanley Cup Final. McLean’s 54-save victory in the series’ first game was arguably the greatest single goaltending performance in Canucks history. But, while the Canucks rallied from another 3-1 series deficit, they ultimately fell short against the Stanley Cup champion New York Rangers in seven games.
A knee surgery in early 1996 slowed McLean down and he was eventually supplanted by rookie Corey Hirsch for the 1995-96 playoffs. McLean continued to split starts with Hirsch and then Arturs Irbe until new Canucks general manager Brian Burke traded him to the Carolina Hurricanes along with Martin Gélinas, in exchange for Sean Burke, Geoff Sanderson and Enrico Ciccone in 1998.
When he was dealt, McLean left Vancouver as the team’s all-time leader in games played, wins and shutouts. Most importantly, he’s still remembered as the team’s all-time leader in playoff wins (34) and playoff shutouts (6).
If the additions of both Brodeur and McLean breathed new life into the Canucks, the addition of Roberto Luongo was like an adrenaline shot in the heart. In the nearly ten years following McLean’s departure the team had become, in the words of former general manager Brian Burke, “a goalie graveyard”. In order of succession: Garth Snow, Felix Potvin, Kevin Weekes, Bob Essensa, Dan Cloutier and Alex Auld all saw significant time as the team’s starting goaltender. Woof.
From the moment Luongo was acquired along with Lukas Krajicek from the Florida Panthers in exchange for Auld, Todd Bertuzzi and Bryan Allen, he made a statement in Vancouver. When asked why he chose uniform number 1, the number McLean had made famous in Vancouver, Luongo simply stated, “well…it kind of says it all, doesn’t it?”
Indeed, in Luongo’s first performance as a Canuck he showed that he was number 1 with a remarkable glove save on Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg. It was quite possibly the best save any Canucks goaltender had made in the preceding decade. The graveyard was no longer a concern.
That season, 2006-2007, Luongo dragged the Canucks back into the playoffs, putting up a remarkable 47 wins, a 2.28 goals against average and a .921 save percentage. Those statistics earned him a Vezina Trophy nomination, as well as a Hart Memorial Trophy nomination and a Lester B. Pearson Award nomination. His 72-save performance against the Anaheim Ducks in game five of the Conference Quarterfinals rivals McLean’s aforementioned 52-save performance from the 1994 Stanley Cup Final as the single greatest performance from a Canucks goaltender.
Luongo followed up that sparkling first season as a Canucks with seven more, establishing all-time team records for wins (252) and shutouts (33), while also leading his team to six division titles, two President’s Trophies and a trip to the Stanley Cup Final. He also established many of the team’s single season records during his stint in Vancouver, including most wins in a season (47), most shutouts in a season (9) and lowest goals against average in a season (2.11).
Despite the personal accolades, some questionable performances in the 2009-10 and 2010-11 playoffs will forever cast a shadow on Luongo’s legacy in Vancouver. There’s no denying that both the Chicago Blackhawks and the Boston Bruins wreaked havoc on Luongo’s mental game and created an obstacle that was seemingly impossible for the goaltender to overcome. Having said that, Luongo backed his team to within one victory of a Stanley Cup championship by posting two Stanley Cup Final shutouts. Couldn’t handle the pressure? He won Olympic gold in Vancouver…in overtime. Some perspective is required when discussing Luongo’s legacy in Vancouver, after all.
A Mixed Legacy
When all was said and done with respect to Roberto Luongo as a Canuck and he was sent back to the Panthers in exchange for Shawn Matthias and Jacob Markstrom, he had smashed almost every goaltending metric in the team’s record books. His 33 career shutouts are more than second-place Cloutier’s and third-place McLean’s totals combined. He represented the team at three NHL All-Star Games, won the William M. Jennings Trophy, won two Cyclone Taylor Awards for team MVP and and earned the most three-star selections of any Canucks player from 2007-2011. He was also, however misguided, the team’s captain from 2008-2010.
However history ultimately remembers the career of Roberto Luongo remains to be seen. He ranks fourth in all-time career NHL wins, trailing only Hall-of-Famers Martin Brodeur, Patrick Roy and Ed Belfour. Throughout his entire career, and certainly during his time as a Canuck, Luongo has made a strong case to be included alongside the NHL’s all-time greats. However, one thing is for certain, he is without a doubt the best goaltender in Vancouver Canucks history.