Their all-time leader in games played and former captain was introduced as president of hockey operations Wednesday.
Picked second by the Canucks at the 1988 NHL Draft, Linden played 16 of his 19 NHL seasons for Vancouver before retiring in 2008 and having his No. 16 retired. He walked away from the game for six years but never left the city and never stopped cheering for the Canucks.
"I came to Vancouver 26 years ago. I've never left," Linden said. "I love this city. It is my home and the Canucks have always been a big part of my family.
"Part of the reason you love the game as a player is because you love the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. It becomes addictive, and part of the reason I am back is the chance to win and do something special here."
Linden returns to the Canucks in a role that makes him responsible for all hockey operations, including coaching and scouting staffs, player procurement and development, and minor league affiliations and operations. He replaces Mike Gillis, who was fired as general manager and president Tuesday, one day after the Canucks were eliminated from Stanley Cup Playoff contention for the first time since Linden retired.
"We believe in Trevor's leadership abilities," Canucks chairman Francesco Aquilini said. "His 20 years of NHL experience, including seven as team captain … offers a very special skill set, one that will positively shape the direction of this club in the future."
Linden faces some difficult decisions, some of which include former teammates.
First is hiring a general manager, who he will then meet with to decide on the future of coach John Tortorella, who was hired last summer and has four years remaining on his contract.
Linden hopes to have that general manager in place before the 2014 NHL Draft, which will be held June 27-28 in Philadelphia, but wouldn't discuss potential candidates or desirable attributes.
"I have a profile of a manager I like and now it's about putting a candidate list together, and that's a critical path," Linden said. "Gaining permission to speak to certain people can be a challenge, so that's what will affect timing."
Linden met Tortorella briefly for the first time Wednesday morning. The coach has been criticized for a system that doesn't fit the Canucks' skilled but aging core group of players, but Linden was non-committal about style of play, stressing that responsible defensive play doesn't have to come at the expense of goals.
Linden said he had ideas why the Canucks struggled this season, especially offensively, but didn't "think the time is right to get into it." He wants to first meet with the coaches and players after the season ends Sunday.
"The timing of this allows me to fully evaluate the coaching staff," Linden said. "I look forward to sitting down with players and understanding the ins and outs of their issues and their seasons. Next week is going to be critical. Any sort of coaching decision will be made in due time after a thorough evaluation."
Considered a Canucks icon long after he retired and turned his attention to private business ventures that include a fitness chain bearing his name, Linden knows how he is seen in Vancouver will change with his new job.
The legacy that came with captaining the Canucks for seven seasons and leading them to Game 7 of the 1994 Stanley Cup Final against the New York Rangers, when he scored both goals in the 3-2 Game 7 loss, is on the line.
Linden no longer will be seen solely as the player who had six 30-goal seasons with the Canucks. His 318 goals, which rank second to Markus Naslund, no longer matter. Nor do his 733 points, which trails Naslund, current captain Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin.
"I've been like the backup quarterback the last few years," Linden said. "Everyone loves the backup quarterback because he hasn't made any mistakes yet. I fully recognize what I am getting into, but I wouldn't want it any other way."
Linden, who also played for the New York Islanders, Montreal Canadiens and Washington Capitals before being reacquired by the Canucks in 2001, knows there are people who will question his readiness because he hasn't worked in hockey since retiring.
"My experience comes from playing, no question," said Linden, who was president of the NHL Players' Association for eight years. He mentioned other former players who made similar moves to the front office in recent years.
"I look at colleagues, whether Joe Sakic [Colorado Avalanche executive vice president of hockey operations] or Steve Yzerman [Tampa Bay Lightning general manager] or Cam Neely [Boston Bruins president], who I have spoken to the last few days," Linden said. "You need to surround yourself with good people. It's about building a good team not only on the ice but off the ice too. There will be changes, but I intend to surround myself with good, thoughtful, independent thinkers. That's how we will make the right decisions."
A number of those changes will involve former teammates and friends. Five players were with the Canucks when Linden played his final season, including the Sedins.
"It's impossible to get into that today but I like this core because there are good people there, and they are character players and they deserve the right to be where they are," Linden said. "Having said that, at this juncture there needs to be a full evaluation of how we get better and what that looks like."
No matter how it ends up looking, there will now be a familiar face in charge.
"You don't play 20 years in the National Hockey League and spend your whole life in hockey and not have it in your DNA," Linden said. "I always kind of thought I would be back. I never wanted to work for another organization."
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