The goalie trade that could have changed the course of Canucks history

How Miika Kiprusoff almost became a Vancouver Canuck, instead of a Calgary Flames legend.

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Miikka Kiprusoff is the greatest goalie in Calgary Flames history. Vancouver Canucks fans know this all too well.

But how’s this for a mind-bender: he might have been one of the greatest goalies in Vancouver Canucks history instead.

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According to former Flames coach and general manager Darryl Sutter, Kiprusoff, who ended up leading the Flames to the 2004 Stanley Cup final, was nearly a Canuck instead of a Flame.

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In a Thursday appearance on Sportsnet 960 radio in Calgary, Sutter revealed the process that led to the November 2003 trade of Kiprusoff from the San Jose Sharks to the Flames.

Kiprusoff was one of a handful of promising goaltenders in the San Jose stable at the time. To open the season, he was the No. 3 man on the depth chart behind Evgeny Nabokov and Vesa Toskala.

He was barely playing and made his frustrations clear.

And when the Flames’ No. 1 goalie, Roman Turek, sprained his knee in mid-October, Sutter went on the hunt. A few weeks later, he flipped a second-round pick to San Jose for Kirprusoff, and the rest truly is history.

Kiprusoff seized the crease from Turek and never looked back. He led the Flames to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final the following spring, losing to John Tortorella’s Tampa Bay Lightning and then he played on until 2013, turning in sensational season after sensational season.

As Sutter recalled on the Flames Talk midday show, the Sharks were overflowing with goalies.

“He was somewhere between one to four on the chart, depending on who you talk to and what day it was and what month it was,”  Sutter said. “I knew what he was capable of being and doing, and I knew that we needed a top goaltender.”

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Sutter recalled the Canucks were also after Kiprusoff. His offer of a conditional pick in the 2005 draft — it would prove to be a second rounder, though the conditions have been lost to the mists of time —  was the best he could do, he said. His understanding was the Canucks made a similar offer.

“Vancouver was in on him too, big time,” he recalled.

The Sharks, of course, didn’t know the 2005 draft would end up being ordered by weighted lottery because the 2004-05 season was wiped out by the owners locking out the players, but it would seem they still felt the Flames’ potential second-round pick would have more value than the Canucks.

“We were fortunate to get him,” Sutter said of the Sharks deciding to take Calgary’s offer, rather than Vancouver’s.

Brian Burke was the Canucks’ GM at the time. According to Daniel Wagner in his recent book On The Clock: Behind the scenes with the Vancouver Canucks at the NHL Draft, Burke has said in the past that he had a hand shake deal with the Sharks at the 2003 draft for a conditional second round pick in 2004. According to Wagner, the deal fell apart because Sharks GM Doug Wilson asked that the condition be that if Kiprusoff were to emerge as the Canucks’ No. 1 goalie, the pick would become a first rounder. (That pick was eventually used to draft Corey Schneider.)

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Burke himself confirmed to Postmedia on Friday that he had been hot in pursuit of Kiprusoff, though he didn’t recall what his final offer might have been.

“I would never question Darryl. I don’t know if that is precisely what happened. But we had lengthy discussions about Kipper and I couldn’t get it done,” he said in a text message. “I would guess this is precisely what happened. Remember, five out of six deals you explore (maybe more) fail.”

Burke’s interest in Kiprusoff was understandable: the Canucks looked at times in the 2002-03 season as Stanley Cup favourites, but lost in the second round of the 2003 Stanley Cup playoffs to the Minnesota Wild partly because of poor goaltending from Dan Cloutier.

Cloutier was a beloved teammate and fan favourite, but his performance in the playoffs in 2003 will forever be a what-if, as in “what if the West Coast Express-era Canucks had had a better goaltender than Dan Cloutier?”

The Canucks were up 3-1 in the series on the Wild before losing the final three games, yielding 16 goals in the those games. The Wild were swept by the Anaheim Ducks in the western conference final, but most believe that the Canucks’ high-powered offence would have swept the Ducks aside and made the Stanley Cup final for the third time in franchise history.

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Whether they’d have been able to defeat the New Jersey Devils in the final — the Devils beat the Ducks in seven games reality — is another question of course.

The 2003-04 season has its own what-if, of course: Todd Bertuzzi’s attack on Steve Moore, which led to Bertuzzi being suspended for the balance of the season. Losing the game’s preeminent power forward was a massive blow to Vancouver’s hopes of bouncing back from the 2003 disappointment.

Anyway, instead of backstopping the Canucks through the remainder of the season and into the playoffs, Kiprusoff turned the Flames’ season around. He then helped Calgary upset Vancouver in the first round. He also finished second in Vezina voting that season.

Calgary Flames
Calgary Flames goalie, Miikka Kiprusoff, poke checks Vancouver Canucks, Ryan Kesler, in third period action at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary on Wednesday December 1, 2010. Photo by DARREN MAKOWICHUK /DARREN MAKOWICHUK/CALGARY SUN/QM

He went on to have a remarkable decade in Calgary, winning the Vezina in 2006 and being a finalist again in 2007. He would make more than 70 starts in seven of his nine seasons in Calgary.

There’s no reason to think he wouldn’t have been just as great in Vancouver.

Of course, had he immediately hit the same heights in Vancouver as he did in Calgary, there would have been no trade for Roberto Luongo — and probably no Corey Schneider in the draft either — and the rest of the decade surely goes quite differently for the Canucks.

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I’ll leave all that for you to ponder on your own.

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