Mark Messier's $6-million win over Canucks brings back memories, all of them horrible
Canucks Sports and Entertainment stated yesterday that the organization “is aware” of a New York–based arbitrator’s recent decision to award former centreman and potato-chip tout Mark Messier US$6 million of the club’s money. The decision comes a full dozen years after the charisma-free hall-of-famer was asked to leave the Canucks’ roster for reasons of general uselessness.
CS&E rounded out its tweet-length statement by saying it has “no further comment on the matter”. So here’s some further comment on the matter. Here’s a whole bunch of it:
Six million dollars is a lot of money, even to someone who’s already earned many times the lifespan salary of the average citizen by playing hockey, promoting snacks, and delighting a nation with his infectious laugh. So that was probably motivation enough for Messier’s pursuit of this payment. The cash was apparently owed to him through some incentive in the five-year contract he signed with the Canucks in 1997, to do with whether the team’s value increased during his stay here.
But it’s remarkable—and truly entertaining (something he almost never was in a Canucks uniform)—that Big Mess would willingly remind anyone of his three seasons in Vancouver. These add up to what is arguably one of the biggest busts ever in North American pro sports. The Canucks paid dearly for their decision to sign Messier, not just with bags of money, but with a chunk of their soul.
Would the mid-’70s Boston Bruins have opened the vault to woo Bob Gainey and Scotty Bowman away from the Montreal Canadiens? Blasphemy. But that’s just what the Canucks did by bringing in the very face of the franchise that had beaten them in the biggest game in Vancouver’s history just three years before. And they weren’t done there: they allowed Messier to humiliate a bona fide local hero by taking the captaincy away from Trevor Linden, and to fix the hiring of Mike Keenan as head coach—yet another key component of the Rangers’ gutting Stanley Cup victory in ’94. Then, as if to reveal it all as a prank cooked up by a Canuck-fan-hating God, Messier proceeded to suck.
Messier’s miserable West Coast sojourn rarely gets mentioned during the many fawning discussions of his status as hockey’s Greatest Leader Ever. That reputation was built largely on two Stanley Cup wins: 1990 in a Gretzky-less Edmonton, backed by a star-studded lineup of Oilers; and 1994 in New York, backed by a star-studded lineup of Oilers. Yes, he played great in both tournaments. And, yes, over the course of his career he racked up astonishing numbers, guaranteeing him a place among the elite in NHL history. But that “greatest leader” tag? If you’re going to push aside the likes of Beliveau and Yzerman and a crowd of other highly qualified candidates, you’ve at least got to acknowledge the chapter in which Messier was given primo money to help a struggling team achieve the modest goal of making the playoffs—and then failed, and then failed, and then failed again, before having his contract bought out. He was sullen, he was divisive, he was dull.
That’s the legend the Canucks bought 15 years ago in this legend-hungry city—and the one they’re still paying for today.