New Canucks president Trevor Linden left a mark in Montreal
Montreal Canadiens Trevor Linden picks up a loose puck to score past Ottawa Senators goaltender Patrick Lalime during first period NHL action Sunday, Jan. 28, 2001 in Montreal. (CP PHOTO/Paul Chiasson)
by Kristian Gravenor, CTV Montreal
Published Wednesday, April 9, 2014 2:46PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, April 10, 2014 2:35PM EDT
Although newly-appointed Vancouver Canucks' President Trevor Linden is closely associated with the Canucks, he was also a leader for the Montreal Canadiens for two difficult seasons, becoming known for playing through pain and the great efforts he made to connect with fans.
Linden’s path to Montreal came via the Islanders, who acqured him from Vancouver after Linden's relationship with Coach Mike Keenan went awry.
Linden played a season for the Islanders before GM Rejean Houle acquired the slumping 29-year-old Linden on May 29, 1999 for a first round draft pick, in the weak 1999 draft. The pick Montreal squandered turned out to be Branislav Merzei, who bounced around between the AHL and NHL. (The only first round picks who became stars from the 1999 draft were to be the Sedin twins and Martin Havlat).
Houle signed Linden to a four-year $15 million contract in hopes that he could fill up some of the scoring lost with the departure of Mark Recchi.
And while Linden said he was “thrilled” to join the Habs, it didn’t take long for him to be embroiled in a minor language situation, common in Montreal at the time.
Before suiting up for a game, Linden was grilled by Montreal media outlets about a supposed earlier incident in Vancouver in which he told French-speaking teammates to talk in English.
Linden said that he couldn’t remember any such incident but said that if it happened, it would have been, "in the context of trying to bring the players on the team closer together.”
Linden quickly made a lot of young friends in Montreal by shelling out $3,000 worth of tickets per game to allow sick and underprivileged children watch from a luxury suite at the Bell Centre and he made a point of visiting with them on game day.
Linden's first season came to an early end in mid-March when he broke two ribs in a loss to Tampa. He ened up fifth in scoring on the team with 13 goals for 30 points in 50 games, as the team finished 18th overall with 83 points under coach Alain Vigneault.
In his second season with the Canadiens, Linden scored 33 points in 57 games as the team struggled. At one point he played eight games without realizing his foot had been broken in a game against Ottawa.
The team regressed to 24th overall with just 71 points. Linden was sixth in scoring on the Habs with just 33 points in 57 games for the Canadiens.
With a dozen games remaining, Linden was shipped to Washington along with Dainius Zubrus and a 2nd round pick (Andreas Holmqvist) for Jan Bulis and Richard Zednik and a first-round pick that tuned out to be Alexander Perezhogin.
Linden told reporters that he was "surprised" and "a little disappointed."
Some of his many friends on the team – including close friend Captain Saku Koivu - were reportedly devastated to see Linden go. Teammate Brian Savage reported that Linden’s wife also loved Montreal and was also popular in Canadiens' circles, Savage reported that his wife cried at the news of the Lindens' departure from Montreal.
Not all of Linden's Montreal teammates were quite as enchanted with him, however. "I found that he thought of himself a lot," former Canadiens' forward Benoit Brunet said in a televised interview on the RDS network Wednesday evening.
Linden was eventually reacquired by Vancouver GM Brian Burke and spent parts of seven more seasons playing for the Canucks, never quite matching the prolific scoring pace of his early years, the best of which saw him notch 75 points in 80 games in 1991-92.