He’s too cool of a customer to need shades, but hiding behind sunglasses might be a good idea for the veteran these days.
When the Canucks were officially eliminated from the playoffs late last week, the hockey focus on the West Coast shifted to Linden and the widespread belief that he’ll hang up his skates this summer.
The fate of the 19-year NHL workhorse, who has amassed 867 career points (375-492-867) in 1,382 games, alongside 99 points (34-65-99) in 124 playoff games, is now the topic of debate across the province, and the rest of Canada. Will he stay? Or will he go? It’s a question only Linden can answer, and it’s not one he’s about to rush into.
“I need to digest a little and take some time,” said the 37-year-old during locker clean-out day at GM Place. “It’s been a difficult week; it’s been a hard week with a rollercoaster of emotions. I just want to get through that and make sure my head is in the right space and my mind is thinking clearly with things.
“I love the game. It’s a great game, the best game in the world. I still enjoy coming to the rink, I still enjoy practicing. I haven’t made a decision one way or the other; I just want to make sure that my head is clear when I do make that decision.”
Since the product of Medicine Hat, AB. was drafted by Vancouver second overall in the 1988 NHL Entry Draft, he’s been the face of the franchise. Linden captured the imagination of Canucks fans far and wide with 59 points in his rookie season and his popularity snowballed from there.
After only two seasons Linden was promoted to captain, a position he held proudly for seven seasons. With Linden at the helm the Canucks flourished, peaking in 1993-94 with an appearance in the Stanley Cup finals. We all remember how that went down, but without Captain Canuck’s 25 points (12-13-25) in 24 playoff games, the cup would have been a distant mirage.
In 16 seasons as a member of the Canucks, Linden has produced enough memories to keep fans scrap booking for a lifetime and brought more people to their feet than U2, so it wasn’t overly surprising to see the reception he received after playing possibly his last game in Vancouver.
Before, during and after Saturday night’s game against the Calgary Flames, Linden was praised time and time again, and also beseeched by fans to come back for one more year. GM Place was as loud as it’s been in weeks as fans and players alike showed their respect to Linden to start the third period.
“Actually I didn’t know what was going on at the start of the third period, I was getting ready for the face-off and I realized the clock hadn’t run down yet, so we were waiting for it to run down. Then I figured it out, I don’t know if the big screen was on me or what. For someone who doesn’t like attention, that’s a bit of a tough situation to be in, but from that point forward I kind of knew where things were going.
“You think of all the tremendous athletes that have played their respective sports and for me to receive that type of response is incredible. It’s very special and quite amazing. They’ve always been so good to me, shockingly so at times.”
Brendan Morrison and Markus Naslund echoed Linden’s sentiments about the fans as they discussed what #16 has meant to Vancouver.
“I thought it was very classy of the fans and I really didn’t expect anything less from the fans from what he’s given to this city over the duration of his career,” said Morrison. “He’s been a phenomenal person off the ice and on the ice. For a young guy coming in, if you could emulate a guy, he’s a good guy to start with.”
“It’s obvious how much he’s loved in this city and it was great for him to have an evening,” said Naslund. “I wish we could have helped him out and made it a more fun evening by winning the game and getting him a goal, but it says a lot about how much he’s meant to this city and to this organization the way that the fans treated him.”
Linden was visibly moved by the ovation he received Saturday night, and rightfully so, but the support shown still wasn’t enough to truly thank him for all he’s done.
He could say goodbye to hockey in the months to come or lace up his skates for one more season, either way the Vancouver Canucks are forever indebted to Linden. That’s quite the spotlight for someone who prefers to keep the focus on the ice.