The Vancouver Canucks head into Friday’s NHL draft hoping to find a franchise player with the fifth overall pick. At the 1999 NHL draft, Canucks general manager Brian Burke managed to find two franchise players — Henrik and Daniel Sedin — after pulling off one of the greatest displays of dealmaking in NHL history.
Burke staked his reputation on acquiring the Sedins, but months before the 1999 NHL draft he had no interest in using the team’s third overall draft pick on one of the twins from Örnsköldsvik, Sweden.
“They had had a poor World Juniors that year in Winnipeg,” Burke recalled. “I think they finished second and third in scoring in the tournament, but they scored a lot of points against, y’know, Bulgaria and Panama and some of the other teams. Against Canada and the U.S., they had a real hard time. When I left Winnipeg after the World Juniors I said I’m trading the pick.”
But Thomas Gradin, a Canucks scout based in Sweden, didn’t give up on them.
“I saw them a few times and the only two players that had the puck the whole game was them,” he said.
Gradin convinced Burke to give the twins another look at the IIHF World Hockey Championships in Norway.
“You could see that crazy thing they do for the first time and I came back from Norway and said I’ve got to get them,” Burke said. “There was no question about it.”
Despite a roster that included Mark Messier, Markus Naslund, Alex Mogilny and Todd Bertuzzi, the Canucks finished the 1998-99 season with the league’s third-worst record, giving them the third overall pick in the draft, but Burke needed another pick to secure both Sedins.
That meant making three trades before the draft began.
The Canucks traded defenceman Bryan McCabe and their first-round pick in the 2000 NHL draft to the Chicago Blackhawks for the fourth overall pick in the 1999 draft.
“Bob Murray is a tough man,” Burke said of the former Blackhawks GM. “Even though we overpaid, that took a lot of time. It started probably three weeks before. At first, he was like, ‘No, we’ll wait and see what happens’…Then it was me trying to get him off Bryan McCabe, who I loved as a player and [Murray] wouldn’t move. So finally we made a decision.”
Burke needed Chicago’s pick to entice the Tampa Bay Lightning to give up the first overall pick. If the Lightning didn’t make a deal with the Canucks, the twins were lost.
The night before the draft it didn’t look good.
“We talked ’til late in the night and hung up on each other, cursing and swearing,” Burke recalled. “I went to bed and I didn’t have this deal. And I’m thinking if I gave up Bryan McCabe and a first, and I’ve got to take one of these other players at four, I just made a horrible mistake.”
But just before the draft began, Tampa Bay changed its mind. The Canucks sent the fourth overall pick and two third-round picks to the Lightning for the first overall pick in the 1999 draft.
The Canucks made a final deal to ensure they could call up the Sedins to the stage at the same time. They sent the first overall pick to the Atlanta Thrashers, who promised to select Patrik Stefan, leaving the Canucks to pick Daniel and Henrik with the second and third picks.
After all the wheeling and dealing, the Sedins were going to be Vancouver Canucks.
“Five minutes before it started, Thomas [Gradin] walked up to us,” Henrik Sedin recalled. “He was yelling from the floor telling us that it was going to happen.”
Gradin remembers telling the twins, “Välkommen till laget” — Swedish for “Welcome to the team.”
Seventeen years, two Art Ross trophies and one Hart trophy later, the Sedins are still Canucks.
“We went to the draft knowing nothing. We expected to be on different teams,” Daniel said. “Vancouver made it happen so we are forever grateful.”
– With files from Squire Barnes
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