Zack Kassian's success would help redeem Canucks' sad power-forward legacy

What is it with the Vancouver Canucks and power forwards? The citywide buzz over the last few days about the ferocious play of Zack Kassian is a reminder of just how desperately the team’s fans want to see something fearsome in Canucks colours.

That would appear to go without saying: every NHL team covets the rare combination of skill and edge that a genuine power forward brings. But the Canucks have a long and colourful history of screwups on this subject, and a couple of those fiascos have been pivotal moments for the club.

Despite naming heavyweight Orland Kurtenbach as its founding captain back in 1970, the Canucks haven’t often been the kind of team that anyone would call intimidating. Without a doubt, the roster around the time of their Cup run in 1994 was one of the league’s nastier pieces of work, featuring Tim Hunter, Gino Odjick, Shawn Antoski, Sergio Momesso, and Gerald Diduck. But this is an exception that proves the rule.

For the most part, the Canucks have been a team of Tony Tantis and Markus Naslunds. And not because the club hasn’t been able to track down physically imposing players. Quite the opposite: it has occasionally seemed to go out of its way to avoid them, especially if they have the gall to be local boys.

The Boston Bruins’ legend as one of the hardest-nosed teams in the NHL has been heavily reinforced by two Lower Mainland products: hall-of-famer Cam Neely and Milan Lucic. The first of these was, of course, actually on the Canucks roster at one point, before being moved to Boston in 1986 as part of the worst trade in organization history, for fading centre Barry Pedersen. (To pull off this magical shrinking trick, the Canucks also gave up a first-round pick in the deal, which the Bruins later used to select Glen Wesley, a top-notch defenseman for the next couple of decades.)

The second, Lucic, would’ve been thrilled to play here, having grown up in East Van as a Canucks fan and played three seasons with the Vancouver Giants. But the Canucks took a pass on him in the first round of the 2006 draft (which, to top up the irony cocktail, was held right here at GM Place), so fixed were they on the delicate stylings of Michael Grabner.

The last time Neely and Lucic were in town in an official capacity was to toss around the Stanley Cup while the Canucks looked on. Neely was up in the box as the Bruins’ president. And Lucic… well, you probably noticed him out on the ice. (If the universe was a fair and just universe, Lucic would have been the Canuck to hammer some sense into the likes of Brad Marchand. But the universe is not a fair and just universe.)

In between these two gaffes comes the sad tale of Lucic’s boyhood idol, Todd Bertuzzi, the last true power forward to run over a Canucks opponent. At the top of his game, the dude was unstoppable:

Yet, as you may recall, Bertuzzi ran into a patch of controversy back in 2004, when a certain on-ice incident inspired many observers to place his name on the list of the most evil people ever to walk the earth.

So Zack: good luck to you. We mean it, we really do. And we suggest you call a priest or shaman for advice on how to avoid the strange fate of your ancestors here.

 

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