The NHL lockout is now a reality. At this point, we don't know if it will last for weeks or months. For now, the Vancouver Canucks are back home, skating at UBC with their practice jerseys turned inside-out, Roberto Luongo is still a member of the team; so far, none of the Canucks has signed in Europe.
With no new hockey on the horizon, let's climb in the Wayback machine and visit the Canucks around the time of the first NHL lockout, in 1994-95.
This 1990 article, originally published in the Chicago Tribune, captures the key moment when the economic landscape changed for NHL players. Once all salaries were made public, players were able to see where they ranked on their teams' payrolls, and what comparable players were earning.
Though salaries have been public since 1990, older figures are hard to come by. This chart from hockeyzoneplus.com has compiled a few benchmark years from the 1992-93 season up to 2003-04. They feature individual team payrolls as well as league averages. You'll see the Canucks' 92-93 payroll was $8.8 million dollars, but the situation was changing rapidly.
After playing the 93-94 season without a Collective Bargaining Agreement, NHL owners locked out players with the goal of introducing a salary cap. The lockout lasted from Oct. 1, 1994 to Jan. 13, 1995, a total of 104 days. The owners eventually abandoned the salary cap to reach a settlement but were able to institute a rookie cap and stronger free agency restrictions.
From 1988 to 1997, the Vancouver Canucks were owned by Arthur Griffiths, who took over the team from his father Frank after his retirement.
The Canucks were enjoying one of their strongest periods in franchise history before the lockout. After a long stretch of mediocrity augmented by one flukey Stanley Cup Final appearance in 1982, the Canucks of the early '90s boasted several true all-stars for the first time, like captain Trevor Linden, net-minder Kirk McLean, and the Russian Rocket, Pavel Bure.
In '91-92, they won their division. Then in '92-93, they broke 100 points for the first time in franchise history. The year before the lockout, Petr Nedved's contract holdout dominated the headlines and their record backslid to 41-40-3 with 85 points in 84 games.
Nedved was signed to a three-year, $4.05 million deal by St. Louis in March 1994 (per si.com), and the Canucks eventually received Jeff Brown, Bret Hedican and Nathan Lafayette as compensation. With those three players in the fold, the Canucks went on a storybook run in the playoffs, eventually falling to the New York Rangers in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals.
Local fans were devastated when the lockout interrupted the greatest period of hockey prosperity in the city's history.
Once play resumed in January 1995, the magic was gone. The Canucks' regular season record was a mediocre 18-18-12 with 48 points in 48 games. They were swept 4-0 by Chicago in the second round of the playoffs, ending their tenure at the Pacific Coliseum on a losing note.
The Canucks moved into GM Place (now Rogers Arena) the following season, but by 1997, they were out of the playoff picture entirely. Kirk McLean and Trevor Linden were traded in early '98, and Pavel Bure's demands for a trade hung over the team until he was eventually moved in 1999.
All the on-ice futility was not for lack of trying—or money. A flashy $20-million signing of Mark Messier in 1997 didn't earn the Canucks even one playoff game, and by the 1998-99 season their payroll had risen to $34 million, well above the league average of $29.8 million.
Things started looking up during the "West Coast Express" years of the early 2000s. But just when things were starting to go right, another lockout intervened.
I'll look at the lost season of 2004-05 in my next article. If you have any great memories of the Canucks from the '90s, feel free to share them in the comments section below.
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