Eight out of his 16 NHL seasons as captain in the ‘pressure-cooker’ that is the Vancouver hockey market primed him for any kind of pressure.
His current job doesn’t seem to be any less demanding.
Just a week after having his jersey hoisted to the rafters at Rogers Arena last December, Naslund was named General Manager for team MODO of the Swedish Elite League.
The challenge put in front of the former Canuck was to rebuild his hometown franchise, which has struggled both on and off the ice for several years.
Specifically, Naslund needed to sell an average of 6,000 tickets a game in a town of only 30,000 people.
He needed to balance the books in the face of increasing salaries.
And he needed to find a way to attract quality athletes in an era where Swedish players have other options such as the KHL and the Swiss league.
“There’s a lot of pressure for being responsible of the main attraction in town.” said Naslund in a telephone interview from his office in Sweden.”
“It was the team I grew up playing for. I didn’t have to do it but it’s something that I really care about.”
One of the ways Naslund hopes to improve the fortunes of MODO is by surrounding the team with experienced people. To that end, Naslund has recruited his childhood friend and former MODO teammate Peter Forsberg to be the team’s assistant GM, and hired ex-NHL defenseman Ulf Samuelsson to serve as his head coach.
According to Naslund, the team’s front office star power is helping to attract and retain quality players.
“We have a lot of experience in our organization,” says Naslund who also oversees the storied franchise’s junior and women’s teams.”
“I think [the three of us] can teach younger players and point them in the right direction if their goal is to make it to the next professional level.”
On the ice, MODO continues to struggle but is showing signs of improvement. The team currently sits in 11th place, out of 12 teams, but are just three points out of a playoff spot.
“It feels like we’re moving in the right direction and things are starting to pick up here which is rewarding to see,” he says while admitting the losses are hard to leave at the rink.
“It’s consuming...You’re always wondering what you could have done differently to turn it around.”
As for life at home, Naslund says he’s content with the decision he and his wife, Lotta, made to move back to Sweden after 17 years in North America.
“Coming back to a small town again, I knew it would be a transition but the kids have handled it very well and I think Lotta and I are both starting to feel at home,” he said.
The transition has been made easier with technology that allows ‘Nazzy’ to keep tabs on the Canucks – now as a fan.
“I follow the Canucks on a daily basis. I try to check-in and watch the highlights after every game and follow the standings,” says the Canucks all-time leading scorer.”
“And obviously the playoff run, I followed that even closer.”
“I know the feeling of being a Canuck and playing in Vancouver. I feel for the loyal fans that have waited a long time [for the Stanley Cup]. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this year will be the year.“