Brendan Morrison, Markus Naslund and Todd Bertuzzi
Brendan Morrison, Markus Naslund and Todd Bertuzzi form perhaps the most dangerous line in the game today.

For Canucks, the line is fine
By Shawn P. Roarke |
April 11, 2003

When it comes to the Vancouver Canucks' top line -- power forward Todd Bertuzzi, sniper Markus Naslund and playmaker Brendan Morrison -- the total package is much greater than the sum of its parts.

Separately, the trio was no great shakes. In fact, each is on his second NHL team. Together -- as they have been for the last 15 months -- they form perhaps the most dangerous line in the game today.

In fact, through 73 regular-season games, Vancouver's top line has scored 107 of Vancouver's 230 goals this season, accounting for a staggering 47 percent of the Canucks' offense in the 2002-03 season.

The line has everything coaches seek when pairing personnel together. Vancouver's top line has size in Bertuzzi, who is 6-foot-3, 235 pounds. It has creativity in Morrison, who is a shifty natural passer that takes more pleasure in setting up goals than scoring them himself. And, it has offensive firepower in Naslund, a natural goal scorer with a hair-trigger release.

"They just seem to know where each other is instinctively out there," said Canucks coach Marc Crawford. "That's dangerous when you've got talented players at the top of their game. It's really a thing of beauty."

It may be beautiful to Crawford, who put the unit together in early January of last season to spark the team's miracle recovery from a poor start that culminated with the team's second-straight playoff berth after a four-year drought. It also might be a sight to behold for Vancouver's fans, but is a nightmare for opposing players and coaches.

In Depth: Todd Bertuzzi

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"They have a driving force in those guys," Detroit coach Dave Lewis said. "Those three guys are as dangerous a line as there is in the game."

Yet, they don't even have a nickname.

Most great lines in hockey have a nickname. Detroit's "Production Line," Buffalo's "French Connection," and Boston's now politically incorrect "Kraut Line" are legendary examples. More recently, Philadelphia's "Legion of Doom" and New Jersey's "A Line" jump to the forefront of catchy names. Not so with Bertuzzi and pals.

Still, even without the catchy moniker, Vancouver's go-to line has the respect of teammates and critics alike.

"That label (of being an elite line) is humbling," Morrison told reporters recently. "There are a lot of great lines. Each one of us brings something special."

Those special things, however, seem to flourish best in the framework of the whole the three players combine to make.

Bertuzzi was considered a bust with the Islanders before blossoming into the game's most-feared power forward. Naslund struggled with Pittsburgh before being dealt to Vancouver in a lopsided deal that netted the Penguins Alex Stojanov. Morrison's playmaking skills generally remained dormant in New Jersey's defense-first system before a trade for Alex Mogilny provided a wakeup call.

"I don't think any of us had come into our own until we were given the opportunity in Vancouver." Morrison said.

Each found his groove with the Canucks, generally before they were thrown together as an unit.

For Bertuzzi, it was finding a comfort level with what he could do with his body and identifying those areas of offensive ice space that he could generate the most damage from.

"It was just a matter of using my assets to allow me to develop into the player I needed to be in order to be successful in this League," Bertuzzi said.

Brendan Morrison, Markus Naslund and Todd Bertuzzi
"I think we have a consistency in our line -- and sometimes that is difficult to develop or maintain, and that is why we stay together." - Todd Bertuzzi
Naslund, who joined the Canucks in 1996, has watched Bertuzzi develop his on-ice game since the power forward arrived as a gangly, out-of-control wrecking ball during the 1997-98 season.

He has been amazed at the strides Bertuzzi has made in his six seasons with the Canucks.

"I think he simplified his game a bit and doesn't waste as much energy chasing the puck and doing all those other things that can get him in trouble and wear him down," Naslund said. "He's gradually picked up things to help his game and worked them into his attack and eventually just put it all together."

Bertuzzi's personal development was replayed as the line came together as a dominant unit. They picked up things that could help them on the ice and eventually put them together to be successful.

"I think we have a consistency in our line -- and sometimes that is difficult to develop or maintain, and that is why we stay together," says Bertuzzi.

Although the style each plays contributes to that chemistry, most of the bonding comes from the fact that each player cares about the welfare and success of his two linemates.

"I'm going to do everything I can to help Todd because he's a good player and I want to see him get the recognition he deserves," says Naslund.

As he approaches the 50-goal mark this season and chases the Maurice Richard Trophy as the League's top goal scorer, Bertuzzi is finally getting the recognition Naslund craves for him. But, Bertuzzi, keeps passing the accolades off as deftly as Morrison sets up his two linemates with crisp tape-to-tape passes.

"I'm confident in myself," says Bertuzzi. "But I'm confident because I play with outstanding, unselfish linemates."