The Florida Panthers announced last week that Roberto Luongo would be the first player in franchise history to have his number retired.
It makes sense: Luongo is the best goaltender in Panthers’ history, holding the franchise records for most wins, saves, and shutouts. Despite his lack of individual awards — he got robbed of the Vezina by Martin Brodeur in 2007 and arguably in 2004 as well — he’s a solid bet to make the Hockey Hall of Fame. The only debate is whether he’ll be a first-ballot hall of famer or have to wait a year or two after he becomes eligible.
That raises the question of whether the Canucks should similarly honour Luongo by retiring his number in Vancouver. After all, many of the arguments you can make for retiring his number in Florida hold true for his time in Vancouver, as he’s also the best goaltender in Canucks history.
Luongo holds the Canucks’ franchise record for wins and shutouts. One of Luongo’s Vezina snubs came while with the Canucks, coinciding with one of the two times he was named a Second Team All-Star. His only individual award, the William M. Jennings Trophy, came with the Canucks, albeit technically shared with Cory Schneider.
On top of all that, he saw far more playoff success in Vancouver than in Florida, including an ill-fated trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 2011. He made the playoffs just once with the Panthers.
So, there’s an argument to be made that Luongo deserves to have his number retired in Vancouver, though there are arguments against it as well. Plenty of Canucks fans are unhappy with how his tenure in Vancouver ended with a trade demand, while others lament his inconsistency in the playoffs. Another, the number “1” isn’t a common number to retire. Just six teams have retired the number “1” and taken it out of circulation, and five of them are Original Six franchises.
Patrick Johnston at The Province asked whether Luongo should join Stan Smyl, Trevor Linden, Markus Naslund, Pavel Bure, and (soon) the Sedins in the rafters of Rogers Arena. Former goaltender and current colour commentator Corey Hirsch suggested there’s another hitch to the idea of retiring Luongo’s number beyond those listed above: Kirk McLean.
“I’m all for it, but Kirk McLean also wore that number and deserves it just as much as Luongo does,” said Hirsch. “You retired a guy’s number for what he does for the organization.”
Let’s just say that I disagree with Hirsch’s assessment that McLean deserves his number retired just as much as Luongo. As much as I loved McLean when he was a Canuck — I was 9 during the 1994 playoff run, so his excellence is seared in my memory — he’s simply not at the same level as Luongo. And, if McLean was worth of having his name in the Ring of Honour, does that mean Luongo deserves the next step up: retiring his number?
What this demands is a complete ranking of every Canuck to wear the number “1.” Local hockey guy, Rob Williams, requested the ranking, and who am I to deny the hockey guy? Besides, it’s a fun excuse to remember some other hockey guys.
According to Hockey Reference, 16 players have worn the number “1” in Canucks history. Only one of them can actually be number one, however, and one of them arguably never was number “1” and there’s another one that wore “1” that they missed. This is getting complicated. Let’s just jump into it.
Honourable Mention | Kevin Weekes
Hockey Reference lists Kevin Weekes among the Canucks that have worn 1, but as far as I can tell, he never actually wore that number with the Canucks. He came over to the Canucks in the Pavel Bure trade with the Florida Panthers, with whom he did wear 1, but he wore 35 with the Canucks.
I can’t find any record of Weekes wearing 1 with the Canucks, but maybe he did in one of his games in 1999. Until I can find some confirmation, he’ll stay outside the list.
16 | Maxime Ouellet
Sorry, Maxime, but you’re the worst 1 in Canucks history. Ouellet started just three games for the Canucks and lost all three, with nary a quality start among them.
By the time Ouellet got to the Canucks, he had already been labeled a bust, but he was once a highly-touted prospect, to the point the Philadelphia Flyers drafted him 22nd overall. He was outstanding in two World Junior Championships for Team Canada, posting .939 and .942 save percentages in 2000 and 2001, earning two bronze medals. He had a great start to his AHL career, including a Second-Team All-Star nod in 2003 and an arguably better season in 2003-04.
With the Canucks, however, Ouellet was a disaster. Not only did he struggle in his few appearances in the NHL, his play dropped off in the AHL as well, where he posted an .894 save percentage, worst among Manitoba Moose goaltenders. There were questions about his conditioning, his mental fortitude, and his technique.
The following season, he wasn’t just out of the NHL for good, but the AHL as well. He tried Germany, then came back to North America the next season where he struggled in the ECHL, then was out of professional hockey the year after that.
15 | Bruce Bullock
Bruce Bullock was outstanding in college hockey: he was twice an All-American, was named the ECAC Player of the Year in 1971, and was named to the All-NCAA All-Tournament team in 1970 after carrying Clarkson University to the championship game before falling to Cornell.
Unfortunately, his college prowess never quite translated to the NHL level. While he saw some success with the Seattle Totems, then the Canucks minor-league affiliate, he got lit up in the NHL. He played 14 games in 1972-73, going 3-8-3 with an .857 save percentage and 4.50 goals against average, much worse than the league averages of .896 and 3.24.
Bullock only got called up for two more games in his career. To make it worse, he only wore 1 for one of those games in the 1976-77 season. He made just 10 saves on 13 shots in a little over a period, for a .769 save percentage and 6.77 goals against average.
Among Canucks goaltenders with at least 10 starts, Bullock has the worst save percentage in franchise history at .854.
14 | Sean Burke
Hockey Reference doesn’t have Sean Burke listed as wearing 1 with the Canucks, but he definitely did. In fact, there’s photographic evidence.
Burke had a solid career overall: he was great with the Hartford Whalers in his mid-20s, then found a home with the Phoenix Coyotes in his mid-30s, posting seasons with .922, .920, and .930 save percentages. In between, however, he had an awful stint with the Canucks.
The Canucks acquired Burke during the trainwreck Messier/Keenan years. Keenan, who was the de facto GM of the Canucks at the time, traded Kirk McLean and Martin Gelinas to the Carolina Hurricanes for Burke, Enrico Ciccone, and Geoff Sanderson. Burke lasted just 16 games with the disastrous 1997-98 Canucks before he was traded again to the Philadelphia Flyers for Garth Snow.
Burke went 2-9-4 with an ugly .876 save percentage at a time when the league average save percentage was .908. It’s not entirely Burke’s fault — the Canucks were awful at the time — but Burke certainly didn’t help.
In one bizarre game against the Buffalo Sabres, Burke gave up six goals on 32 shots — one of three games in which he gave up six goals — and then things got out of hand. Brawls broke out all over the ice after Matthew Barnaby challenged Burke to a fight and Burke obliged.
Seconds after the puck dropped after the brawls, fights once again broke out. Sabres goaltender Steve Shields came charging out to centre ice and Burke was only too happy to once again drop his blocker and glove. So Burke wound up with two fighting majors to go with his .813 save percentage in that game.
13 | Ken Ellacott
Ken Ellacott was a third-round pick of the Canucks back in 1979 after winning the Memorial Cup with the Petersborough Petes. That’s after he was named the best goaltender of the tournament in a losing effort at the Memorial Cup the previous year.
Ellacott was decent enough in the minors with the Dallas Black Hawks of the Central Hockey League, even winning the Terry Sawchuk Trophy in 1981 alongside Paul Harrison as part of the team with the lowest goals against average. He just never got much of a chance to make his mark in the NHL.
His one stint in the NHL came in the 1982-83 season, when he played 12 games for the Canucks in a couple injury call-ups for John Garrett. Just 7 of those games were starts, and he went 2-3-2 with an .867 save percentage, well below the .875 average of the time. Yes, there was a time when the average NHL goaltender had an .875 save percentage.
12 | Ed Dyck
Ed Dyck was the first goaltender the Canucks ever drafted, taking him in the third round of the 1970 Amateur Draft. He was a workhorse for the Calgary Centennials of the Western Canadian Junior Hockey League, leading the league in both games played and save percentage.
The Canucks quickly got him into their lineup in their second season, but he, like the team, wasn’t particularly good, even if he looked fantastic. He won just one game, going 1-6-2 with an .883 save percentage. The following season, he played 25 games as the backup for Dunc Wilson, and struggled even more, going 5-17-1 with an .854 save percentage, worst among the four goaltenders that suited up for the Canucks in 1972-73. He did get one shutout, though, so he’s got that going for him.
Unfortunately, the following year he continued his downward slide, with an .845 save percentage. He bolted the NHL for the upstart WHA, but struggled even more for the Indianapolis Racers. He headed overseas for one season in Sweden and then was out of professional hockey at the age of 25.
11 | George Gardner
Who started the first ever game for the Canucks in the NHL? It was none other than George Gardner, who likely hoped to be more than just the answer to a trivia question in his NHL career.
Gardner was solid in that first Canucks game, stopping 33 of 36 shots and he ended up leading the Canucks in goals against average in their inaugural season as he split starts with Charlie Hodge and Dunc Wilson. His .911 save percentage, well above the league-average of .903, suggested better things to come.
He got more starts in 1971-72 as the backup to Wilson, but his performance fell off, going 3-14-3 with an .862 save percentage.
After that season, Gardner left the NHL for the WHA and played two seasons for the Los Angeles Sharks and Vancouver Blazers, who had some glorious jerseys. He finally got a chance to be a true starter in the WHA, playing 49 games in his first season with the Sharks, after years of backing up or playing in the minors.
10 | Johan Hedberg
Johan Hedberg was part of a succession of mediocre goaltenders in Vancouver prior to the arrival of Roberto Luongo. Acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins for a second-round pick, Hedberg was expected to be a step up from the Canucks’ incumbent backup, Peter Skudra, and perhaps even challenge Dan Cloutier for the starting job.
Instead, Hedberg was markedly worse than Cloutier, who had the best season of his career with a .914 save percentage and 2.27 GAA, while Hedberg had a .900 save percentage and 2.51 GAA. Hedberg wasn’t terrible, by any means, and he acquitted himself well in two playoff games after Cloutier got injured, but he was still below average.
Hedberg might best be remembered as a Canuck for the role he played in one of the most bizarre stories of the 2003-04 season, when UBC goaltender Chris Levesque nearly got into a game.
Cloutier had injured his groin in the morning and couldn’t play. Hedberg got the start, while Levesque, who was studying for an exam, got called in as the emergency backup. A dream situation for Levesque, skating onto the ice at Rogers Arena as a member of the Canucks, nearly turned into a nightmare.
Hedberg had a bit of a wild style, frequently leaving his net to chase down pucks. With Levesque backing him up, he was under orders, according to Brian Burke, to “stay in the paint.” He didn’t. He charged out for a puck and got run over by Konstantin Koltsov. He took a knee to the head and stayed down.
Hedberg actually fractured his wrist on the play, but refused to leave the game and force Levesque into action.
After his season with the Canucks, Hedberg put together some very good seasons for the Atlanta Thrashers and New Jersey Devils in his late 30’s, seemingly getting better with age. That’s definitely not how it usually works for goaltenders.
At the very least, he’s definitely the best Canuck ever with the nickname “The Moose.”
9 | Peter Skudra
Martin Brochu was supposed to be the backup for Dan Cloutier in the 2001-02 season. There was just one problem: he was very, very bad. Brochu started just three games and gave up 14 goals. In his six total appearances, he had a save percentage of .856, which would have even been awful in the 80’s.
The Canucks needed another backup goaltender in a hurry and, lucky for them, Peter Skudra was still available in free agency. Skudra provided solid goaltending as a backup that season, posting a .907 save percentage, better than Cloutier’s .901.
Skudra didn’t get a lot of love in Vancouver, but he was a respectable backup and had a fantastic mask. His second season wasn’t as strong, with an .897 save percentage, but you have to give him credit, as games never really got away from him too much. He never gave up more than 4 goals in a game, which legitimately kept games within reach for the West Coast Express-era Canucks.
After two seasons with the Canucks, Skudra went to Russia to play in the Superleague, the precursor to the KHL. He was a star there, with several seasons among the league leaders in save percentage, and moved onto coaching in the KHL after he retired. He’s heading into his sixth season as a head coach in the KHL.
8 | Wendell Young
A fourth-round pick of the Canucks in 1981, Wendell Young played parts of two seasons with the Canucks. In his rookie season in 1985-86 as a backup for Richard Brodeur, Young posted an .886 save percentage, which sounds terrible until you take into account that the league average was .874 at the time.
In other words, Young was well above average and well above Brodeur’s .861 save percentage. Among the 42 goaltenders with at least 20 games played that season, Young was 13th in save percentage and 15th in GAA.
You can blame the likes of Wayne Gretzky for the plummeting save percentages in the mid-80’s, as it took a while for goaltenders to catch up to offensive advances. It wasn’t like Young was fully sheltered as the backup either: he had two starts against the Oilers that season.
Young fell off in his sophomore season, however, going 1-6-1 with an .842 save percentage in 8 games with the Canucks, spending most of the season in the AHL.
Fun bit of trivia: Young is the only goaltender in hockey history to win junior hockey’s Memorial Cup, the AHL’s Calder Cup, the IHL’s Turner Cup, and the NHL’s Stanley Cup. After leaving the Canucks, Young ended up on the Pittsburgh Penguins, winning the Stanley Cup with them in 1991 and 1992 as a backup for Tom Barrasso.
He then went on to win two Turner Cups with the Chicago Wolves when they were in the IHL and his number 1 is one of only two numbers retired by the Wolves.
7 | Charlie Hodge
George Gardner may have started the first NHL game in Canucks history, but Charlie Hodge got the Canucks their first win.
The best years of Charlie Hodge’s career came before he joined the Canucks for their inaugural NHL season, as he won a couple Vezina trophies with the Montreal Canadiens and was twice a Second-Team All-Star. While he was long in the shadow of Jacques Plante, Hodge made a name for himself despite his slight 5’6” stature.
In fact, Hodge was the shortest player in the entire NHL during his career. He was subsequently overtaken the season after he retired by the 5’5” Bobby Lalonde, also on the Canucks.
With the Canucks, Hodge was in the twilight of his career, retiring after their inaugural season ended. He was still solid in net for the Canucks, however, finishing with a 15-13-5 record and an .893 save percentage. Hodge had previously and briefly played for the Vancouver Canucks in the WHL, winning a championship with some stellar goaltending in the playoffs. Understandably, he quickly became a crowd favourite.
To post a winning record with the expansion Canucks was quite the achievement and justified the Canucks’ decision to take the veteran goaltender in the expansion draft. After Hodge retired, he went on to become a scout for the Winnipeg Jets, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Tampa Bay Lightning.
6 | Dunc Wilson
Dunc Wilson took over the number 1 and the number one job from Hodge after he retired, and Wilson acquitted himself fairly well in the team’s early years. Really, he only ranks ahead of Hodge due to longevity, playing four seasons with the Canucks instead of just one.
Wilson went 16-30-3 with an .887 save percentage in his first season as starter, which isn’t great, but when you consider the Canucks only won 20 games that season, it’s not quite as bad as it looks. Being the Canucks goaltender in the early 70’s was a thankless job.
Wilson was known for being a bit of a character, with shoulder-length hair that rankled at the more straight-laced coaching staff of the Canucks. Thankfully, he didn’t wear his confederate flag mask when he was with the Canucks. Let’s just say “Yikes” to that and move on.
EDIT: As pointed out by @Steve_May on Twitter, Wilson did, in fact, wear his confederate flag mask in his second stint with the Canucks in 1978-79. Double yikes.
5 | Glen Hanlon
As we move into the top-five, we’re now getting into legitimately great goaltenders for the Canucks. Glen Hanlon was a third-round pick for the Canucks in 1977 after being named the top goaltender in the WHL. He made his Canucks debut the next season, playing 4 games.
In 1978-79, Hanlon finished sixth in Calder voting after going 12-13-5 with 3 shutouts and a save percentage of .898, well above the league average of .883. Among the 32 goaltenders that played at least 20 games that season, Hanlon was 7th in save percentage.
There was talk that Hanlon could have won the Calder in 1979 if not for a knee injury that limited him to just 31 games.
Hanlon wasn’t quite as good in his sophomore season, but his .883 save percentage was still above average and he even earned a vote in the postseason All-Star Teams. Sure, it was just one vote, and he finished 10th among goaltenders in voting, but still.
In fact, Hanlon was considered so good that fans nicknamed him “The Franchise,” and Don Cherry once called him “the best goalie in the NHL.” One notable game for Hanlon saw the Canucks beat the Montreal Canadiens for the first time on home ice.
It seemed like Hanlon would be the Canucks’ franchise goaltender for years to come, but injuries limited his playing time and he was traded partway through the 1981-82 season to the St. Louis Blues for Jim Nill, Tony Currie, Rick Heinz, and a fourth-round pick.
After Hanlon retired, he returned to the Canucks as an assistant coach for four years, then came back to Vancouver years later as an assistant coach with the Vancouver Giants and eventually general manager for two years.
4 | Gary Smith
Nicknamed “Suitcase,” for the way he traveled around the league, Gary Smith played for seven NHL franchises in his career, as well as the Indianapolis Racers and Winnipeg Jets of the WHA.
Smith’s best season came in 1974-75, when he played a whopping 72 games for the Canucks and finishing third in the NHL in wins and second in saves and shutouts, as he carried the Canucks to first in the newly-formed Smythe Division and their first playoff appearance in franchise history.
For several decades, his six shutouts in 1974-75 stood as the Canucks’ franchise record until Dan Cloutier broke it in 2001-02 with seven, then Roberto Luongo set the current record of nine shutouts in 2008-09.
Smith’s importance to the Canucks that season was so clear that he finished sixth in voting for the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player. In fact, Bobby Clarke reportedly said that Smith was more deserving of the Hart in his acceptance speech for the award.
On top of all that, Smith boasted a truly marvelous mop of curly hair.
Smith was certainly a character, known for stickhandling the puck out past his own blueline in hopes of scoring a goal. He was reportedly the inspiration for the rule that goaltenders can’t handle the puck past the centre red line after he got injured attempting a spin move while playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Other than hockey, horseracing is a passion for Smith. He owned a horse when he was with the Canucks and continued to live in Vancouver after his retirement, managing his racehorses.
3 | Kirk McLean
Kirk McLean is a legend in Vancouver and for good reason. Without his stellar goaltending, the 1993-94 Canucks never make the Stanley Cup Final. In the first round, he made the most legendary save in Canucks’ history, to the point that it’s known simply as “The Save.”
Watching it today, it still looks almost impossible that he actually stopped the puck off the stick of Robert Reichel. Not only is the save spectacular, but it came in overtime of Game 7, setting the stage for Pavel Bure to win the game in double overtime.
That wasn’t his only legendary performance in the playoffs that year. His 52 saves on 54 shots in the Finals against the New York Rangers stood as a franchise record for most saves in a playoff game for over a decade.
Beyond just his stupendous performance in the ‘94 playoffs, McLean was the Canucks’ starter for 10-and-a-half seasons. His best season wasn’t even 1993-94; it was the 1991-92 season, when McLean started 65 games, led the league in wins with 38 and shutouts with 5, finished second in Vezina voting, and was a Second-Team All-Star.
2 | Roberto Luongo
McLean’s 52 saves in the playoffs only stood as a record until Roberto Luongo’s first playoff game in Vancouver, when he made a whopping 72 saves on 76 shots in a game that went to quadruple overtime. It’s tied for the most saves in NHL playoff history, behind only Kelly Hrudey’s 73 saves in 1987.
Luongo had two other playoff games where he outperformed McLean’s 52-save performance, with 54 saves in the deciding Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals in 2011 against the San Jose Sharks, and 56 saves against the Anaheim Ducks in a regrettably losing effort in the...second round in...2007...
...wait, hang on, why is Luongo number two on this list? What’s going on here?
1 | Murray Bannerman
How can anyone possibly surpass Luongo as the greatest goaltender to wear number 1 in Canucks’ history?
How about literal perfection?
Murray Bannerman may be better known as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks, with whom he played seven seasons, but before that he was a fourth-round draft pick of the Canucks in 1977. He made his NHL debut with the Canucks the very next season.
Bannerman played in just one game for the Canucks — actually, just one period — but he could not have possibly performed better. He faced seven shots and saved every single one of them for a perfect 1.000 save percentage.
Do I have to point out how much better Bannerman’s 1.000 save percentage was compared to the league average of .889 at the time or is perfection good enough?
Bannerman’s 1.000 save percentage stands to this day as the best in franchise history, miles ahead of Luongo’s .919 save percentage with the Canucks. So, if you’re going to retire the number 1, it ought to be in honour of Bannerman, not Luongo. Shouldn’t we reward perfection?