Vancouver Canucks History: The Kirk McLean Trade


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Each week I look back at a moment in Vancouver Canucks history. I explore big stories and small stories, solemn stories and silly stories. Each week is an excuse to talk about old-timey, and not so old-timey, hockey and hockey players. This week: a blockbuster goaltender trade.

On January 2, 1998 the Vancouver Canucks said goodbye to the Captain. They said goodbye to Captain Kirk McLean.

They already said goodbye to their captain when Trevor Linden gave up the ‘C’ to incoming savior Mark Messier.

It was four short years after the glory of 1994. Messier, the greatest leader in hockey*, was in charge of the return to Stanley Cup contention. Under his brilliant leadership and influence they would hire Mike Keenan as coach and miss the playoffs each of his years as a Vancouver Canuck.

* Please note huge, heaping masses of bitter sarcasm.

This didn’t have anything to do with the trade, but it was a part of the dismantling of my youth. It’s like the way Ghostbusters fans felt with the remake, except with less overt misogyny.

More from The Canuck Way

On January 2, 1998 the Vancouver Canucks traded Kirk McLean and Martin Gelinas to the Carolina Hurricanes for Sean Burke, Geoff Sanderson and, inexplicably, Enrico Ciccone.

This trade was good for two reasons. One, BUUUURKE is a great name for a goalie. Two, McLean was absolutely abysmal at this point. In 29 games for the Vancouver Canucks that year he had six wins, 17 losses, a 3.68 goals-against average and an .879 save percentage.

(And for everyone who thinks I can’t add — ties were still a thing).

It doesn’t take a stat-head or someone trained in mathemagics to realize these are not good numbers. In comparison, Dominik Hasek lead the league that season with a .932 save percentage and Ed Belfour had a 1.88 goals-against average. It makes sense that the Canucks would seek a No. 1 goalie.

Of course, they had a backup that season who played 41 games, won 14 and lost 11, with a 2.73 GAA. But, Arturs Irbe was short and had weird, white gear, so he wasn’t the answer.

Luckily, Burke came to the rescue and played 16 games, of which he won two, lost nine, with a 3.68 goals-against average. But, they soon traded Burke to the Flyers for Garth Snow because this team was a train wreck that makes the current Colorado Avalanche look well-run. They also quickly traded Sanderson for Brad May, because they were in the vanguard of tanking.

Is there any other explanation for these moves?

In the end, this was a blockbuster in names only. Neither McLean nor Burke were NHL starters any longer. The league was changing, goaltending was being revolutionized and these two dinosaurs were almost extinct.

Next: Winning Makes Life Better for Canucks

But, this was a significant trade for symbolic reasons. This was the start of a major shift for the Vancouver Canucks. Trevor Linden had already given up his ‘C’ and would be gone by the end of the year. Pavel Bure would leave in the offseason. The heroes of the 1994 Stanley Cup run were leaving, or being forced out. And it all started with the trading of Martin Gelinas and Kirk McLean.