"There could be no finer representative not only of the NHL, but of professional athletes anywhere."
-- NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman
Linden combined his considerable on-ice skill with an award-winning commitment to the community. He may have came up short in his efforts to lead the Canucks to the Stanley Cup — he scored their only goals in a 3-2 loss to the New York Rangers in Game 7 of the 1994 Final — but when he retired last spring after 19 NHL seasons, he left as a winner in the eyes of Vancouver fans.
Linden's contribution to the team and the city was honored Wednesday when the Canucks retired his No. 16 prior to their game against the Edmonton Oilers. Earlier in the day, the main entrance and reception area for guests entering GM Place was renamed Gate 16 in honor of his number.
Linden was surprised to have his number hoisted onto the building. The ceremony was held outside, in heavy falling snow, and attended by his wife Cristina, father Lane, mother Edna and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.
"It's an incredible honor," the 38-year-old said. "I'm totally caught off guard. It's very special for sure. To have a place at GM Place in perpetuity is incredible. I'm somewhat shocked and overwhelmed and a bit speechless for sure."
Linden became known as "Captain Canuck" after the team gave him the "C" in 1991-92, when the then-21-year-old became one of the youngest captains in League history. His No. 16 is only the second to be retired by the Canucks. Stan Smyl's No. 12 is the other.
"For a player it's extremely special," said Linden, whom the Canucks selected with the No. 2 pick in the 1988 Entry Draft. "It's often the most special moment in sport.
It's really an amazing day."
Bettman praised Linden not only as a player, but as an ambassador for hockey.
"There could be no finer representative not only of the NHL, but of professional athletes anywhere," Bettman said.
Linden was head of the National Hockey League Players' Association during the labor dispute which resulted in the cancellation of the 2004-05 season.
Bettman said the two "worked together through some difficult times" and said Linden "demonstrated extraordinary leadership and extraordinary courage."
Linden played 1,382 NHL games with the Canucks, Montreal Canadiens, New York Islanders and Washington Capitals. He had 375 goals and 492 assists for 867 points.
He spent 16 years as a Canuck and said Vancouver always was his home.
"That happened very quickly," he said. "It was very easy."
Linden also became known locally for his charity work, something he said team ownership encouraged.
"Part of your duty was to contribute off the ice and in the community," Linden said. "That was something that was stressed early in my career. It was never a burden. It was always something I enjoyed. Once you start getting involved in the community it becomes home."
The NHL has recognized his off-ice contributions. In 1997, the League gave him the King Clancy Memorial Trophy, which is awarded to the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made noteworthy humanitarian contributions to his community.
Earlier this year, he received the Foundation Player Award, given each year to a player who makes a significant contribution to his community.
In addition to leading the Canucks to the 1994 Final, he led the Medicine Hat Tigers to back-to-back Memorial Cup titles and was a member of Canada's Olympic team at the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan.
For years, hockey was the biggest part of Linden's life. Since retiring he's spent time mountain biking, skiing and enjoying life with his family.
"I am trying to figure out what works best for me," he said. "I've promised myself I would take a year or two and try and figure out what area is best for me.
"I love the game but I want to make sure that's the place I want to be. I'm not sure of that yet."
Material from wire services was used in this report.