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Different-look Canucks lead NHL for first time since 2003-04

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TSN.ca Staff
1/7/2011 10:07:04 PM
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The Vancouver Canucks are atop the NHL with 57 points in 39 games. The last time Vancouver was looking down at the rest of the NHL this late in the season was in 2004, and that team had a very different look than the one today.

Only three players have played for both first-place teams: the Sedin twins and Ryan Kesler, who was seeing his first action in the NHL that season. Defenceman Sami Salo is still with the team but has missed the entire 2010-11 season due to injury.

While Henrik (11 goals, 31 assists) and Daniel (18 goals, 36 assists), both 22-year-olds at the time, put up strong numbers for the 2003-04 Canucks, it was nothing compared to the numbers the brothers are racking up these days. The Sedins are tied for the team lead with 53 points in 40 games so far this year.

Kesler has also grown into a team leader for Vancouver over the span of the last seven years. While he only had two goals and three assists in 28 games as a 19-year-old rookie in 2003-04, Kesler, an alternate captain, is now third in team scoring with 39 points in 40 games.

Back then, the Canucks were led by a different trio, and one that many hockey fans still remember, in Markus Nasland, Todd Bertuzzi, and Brendan Morrison. Naslund, who led the team with 84 points in 78 games, and Bertuzzi each averaged more than a point per game for the Canucks that season. Bertuzzi's season was cut short due to suspension after the Steve Moore incident.

Naslund has since retired and now has his number hanging from the rafters in Vancouver's arena alongside those of Stan Smyl and Trevor Linden, another member of the 2003-04 team.

Bertuzzi has gone through a number of different teams after his suspension, with varying levels of success, but is putting together a strong season this year for the Detroit Red Wings.

And Morrison has also had trouble sticking with a team for longer than a season since leaving the Canucks in 2008. He is currently with the Calgary Flames.

Another stark contrast between the two teams is in net, where the current Canucks team holds an obvious advantage over the 2003-04 squad. Roberto Luongo, a two-time Vezina finalist and one-time MVP finalist, has a much more distinguished career than that of 2003-04 goalie Dan Cloutier, who bounced around the league for much of his career and was never considered an elite level goalie.

The defence is also completely different, with most of the blue line stalwarts of seven years ago now elsewhere in the NHL. Ed Jovanovski, now with the Phoenix Coyotes, Mattias Ohlund, now with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and Brent Sopel, now with the Atlanta Thrashers, were important cogs on the blue line for the 2003-04 Canucks along with Salo. They've since been replaced by younger players Alexander Edler, Christian Ehrhoff, Kevin Bieksa, and Dan Hamhuis.

Seven seasons ago, then general manager Brian Burke tried to beef up his lineup for a Stanley Cup run at the trade deadline by acquiring veteran forwards Geoff Sanderson and Martin Rucinsky. However, the moves produced little results as Sanderson and Rucinsky combined for only nine points in the final 13 games.

Canucks fans remember all too well how the 2003-04 season ended - a first round exit in the playoffs - and will be hoping this year's squad, the most promising since that season seven years ago, won't face the same fate come April.

Ryan Kesler and Daniel Sedin (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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