I didn’t hear until late last night (ferry trip plus Mark Knopfler concert kept me away from sports news), but yesterday longtime Canuck Markus Naslund signed a two-year deal with the New York Rangers for what works out to $4 million a year:
“It wasn’t hard to keep playing because I knew a few weeks after the season I wanted the chance to play again and maybe redeem myself and play the way I know I can play,” Naslund said last night from his home in Ornskoldsvik.
I’m glad to see the backside of Naslund (as, I’m sure, were many Vancouverites when he was walking around town). Don’t get me wrong–he could play. In his prime he had a Brett Hullesque release from the slot, cunning hands around the net and terrific outside speed. Also like Hull, he has that ability to sneak into the bare patches of defensive coverage to make room for a shot. He had three forty-goal seasons here in Vancouver, and was obviously a key component to the team’s success during his tenure. For a couple years, the West Coast Express line of Naslund, Morrison and Bertuzzi was the best in the league.
Still, his production has been systematically tailing off in recent years. He may enjoy a boost with a more attacking-style team and a more capable centre, but that was never going to happen in Vancouver. The team hasn’t had the personnel for the past two or three years. Last year the Canucks paid Naslund $6 million for 25 goals from Naslund last year, which was about 15 goals too few.
Naslund was never the kind of player I really admired. His commitment to defense was, at best, spotty and he was reasonably timid on the ice. Mike Keenan’s decision to hand Naslund the captaincy after Messier left was a brilliant tactical decision, but I think its effectiveness has long been exhausted. Naslund always struck me as too cool to be captain. It was hard to imagine him getting angry at his teammates for underperforming, or standing up for them physically on the ice.
It’s a common pattern as players age: they don’t necessarily want to decline in the same city where they rose to prominence. I’ve enjoyed watching Naslund over the years in Vancouver, but his expiry date had, for me, already passed.
If I have the Swedish correct, the title of this post means
“we’ll miss you, Naslund”, “I love you, Markus”. Cue the cheesy tribute video: