By Josh Plummer
During an NHL season that's more like a marathon than a sprint, the ageless Trevor Linden is nearing the halfway mark and gradually picking up the pace.
Relegated to fourth line duties at the start of the season, Linden has seen a resurgence in his ice-time and overall production in December, giving Vancouver fans a glimpse of what they've grown accustomed to during his on and off 15 seasons with the Canucks.
"I made it clear that I wasn't coming back because I felt anyone owed me anything," said Linden after signing his one-year contract last summer. "I wanted to play because I felt I could contribute and make a difference. I understand with the CBA you get paid on performance and I said to Dave I expect to be sitting in your office next year and asking for a raise."
If Linden keeps up this performance - his expectations may come true.
Linden's ice-time in December has increased nearly 50 per cent to over 13 minutes a game since the start of the season when he was averaging just over nine minutes and only 14 shifts a night. Saturday night against the Wild - Linden saw 13:19 of ice and on Tuesday that number climbed to 14:20.
He scored in both games - and Vancouver fans have to go way back nearly three years to January of 2004 for the last time Linden scored in consecutive games.
Linden is the latest forward to benefit by playing with the Sedin Twins on the Canucks second power-play unit.
"It's been fun," says Linden about playing with the Sedins. "I have to admit, initially I wasn't very comfortable just getting spotted in there and I can see now, just with spending some time with Daniel and Henrik, they pretty much understand where we want people to be." LEADING THE PACK
Don't be too surprised if his words sound like a coach teaching X's and O's because if a moment's worth of insight is worth a lifetime of experience, then Linden should be known as a Jedi Master.
Linden's role with the Canucks has been to provide his wealth of experience and valuable leadership to a club searching to establish a new identity as a stingy defensive team with the ability to score goals when called upon.
"You need leaders in the room to know when to press the button and when to not," said Willie Mitchell when asked about Linden's presence in the locker room. "I think he's got a pretty good pulse on the team and the things that are needed within the team for us to be successful."
Linden's recent increased role with the club is a far cry from where he was back on October 18th against the Edmonton Oilers. For the first time in his 18-year NHL career, Linden watched from the sidelines as a healthy scratch.
"This is a first," admitted Linden in October after being told he wasn't playing. "Ten years ago, I probably would have said no (to sitting out). Five years ago I would have said no, but this year I knew it was a possibility."
But in typical Trevor fashion, he didn't sulk about his view from the press box or his decreased playing time. Instead, he continued to fulfill the role he'd been given and showed his versatility when the injury bug started to make its way throughout the line-up. STEPPING UP
Injuries to forwards Matt Cooke, Josh Green, Taylor Pyatt, Tommi Santala and Rick Rypien have given the 36-year-old Linden more ice-time - but Alain Vigneault points out there's more to Linden's recent successes than just more minutes.
"Any time a player plays more and contributes more, it's easier for him to lead," said Vigneault. "But with a guy like Trevor Linden, who has been around so long, just by being himself, he has that power to influence players to do the right thing."
Linden's right-handed presence on the far post has added a new wrinkle to an overall lackluster Canucks power-play. Setting up beside the net in anticipation of a cross-ice pass for a wicked one-timer or a loose rebound means the opposition has to defend more than just the Sedin slap pass in the slot.
Vancouver's man advantage has improved to 23rd in the league- far better than last week's lowly 27th position. They've scored 10 goals in their last 34 attempts.
"Ever since we started using him on the power-play he's shown some good things and hopefully he'll keep it going for us," added Vigneault.
Whether or not Linden can continue to increase his pace for the remainder of the season remains to be seen - all that matters right now is that he was there when his team needed him most and he'll continue to be there down the stretch and hopefully into the playoffs.