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NEWSMAKER: MARC CRAWFORDCrawford leaves an uneven legacy
Marc Crawford
Too many losses like this one -- a 5-3 defeat at the hands of the San Jose Sharks near the end of the Canucks' dismal season -- cost coach Marc Crawford his job. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press)
The crow finally flew from the Vancouver Canucks perch and is looking for a new place to nest.

The Marc Crawford era in Vancouver ended Tuesday when general manager Dave Nonis fired the Canucks coach following a lacklustre campaign.

Crawford, who as a player earned the nickname "Crow" after splitting his time with the Canucks and the club's farm team in New Brunswick for six seasons, won a club-record 246 games as coach of Vancouver, but that wasn't enough to save his job.

Pegged as Stanley Cup contenders at the start of the 2005-06 season, the Canucks stumbled to a ninth-place finish in the Western Conference with a 42-32-8 record and failed to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2000.

Nonis praised Crawford's coaching skills, but admitted that he couldn't reach several players down the stretch.

"It wasn't because the message wasn't correct," Nonis told reporters at a Tuesday news conference. "It was in some cases that certain players weren't listening to that message."

The Canucks were two points out of first place in the Northwest Division with two weeks to go in the season but collapsed under the pressure, losing six of its last eight games to relinquish the eighth and final playoff spot to the Edmonton Oilers.

A checkered history

What will be Crawford's legacy in Vancouver? It depends on whom you ask.

To some, he was the club's saviour, a disciplinarian who wasn't afraid to lay down the law in the locker-room and was renowned for getting the most out of his players. To others, he was a coach who never lived up to the club's expectations, his fire and brimstone act wearing increasingly thin by the end of his reign.

Hired on Jan. 24, 1999, Crawford inherited a Canucks team in disarray. Vancouver had missed the playoffs the previous two seasons and was being lambasted by the media after lavishing a three-year, $20-million deal on an aging and hurt Mark Messier.

Crawford turned things around in his second full season as coach, leading the Canucks to a winning record in 1999-2000 - the club's first .500 season in five years. He went one better a year later when he guided Vancouver into the playoffs for the first time in five seasons.

The Canucks built on that momentum, making the playoffs for the next three seasons and became one of the powerhouses of the Western Conference. Crawford's best year came in 2003-04 when the Canucks won the Northwest - its first division title in more than a decade - and set a pair franchise records for most points (104) and consecutive wins (10) in a season.

Problem was, regular-season success didn't translate into results come playoff time: Crawford won only one series in four trips to the post-season and the Canucks never made it past the second round, twice losing a Game 7 on home ice.

From on the ice to behind the bench

A fourth-round NHL draft pick in 1980, Crawford played 176 games for Vancouver from 1981-87, including 14 playoff contests in his rookie 1981-82 season when the Canucks were swept in the Stanley Cup finals by the New York Islanders.

When his playing career ended, Crawford turned to coaching and landed behind the bench of the Ontario Hockey League's Cornwall Royals in 1989. After a three-year stint with the St. John's Maple Leafs in the American Hockey League, Crawford was hired by the Quebec Nordiques in 1994.

It didn't take long for Crawford to make an impression in the NHL, winning the 1995 Jack Adams Trophy as the league's best coach during the lockout-shortened season. A year later, with the Nordiques relocated to Colorado, Crawford led the Avalanche to the Stanley Cup.

Wining a Stanley Cup title in only his second NHL season sent Crawford's stock skyrocketing. He was being lauded as the league's brightest young coach, a fact that did not escape the attention of Hockey Canada.

Crawford was named coach of Team Canada prior to the 1998 Winter Olympics, but the powerhouse Canadian squad stumbled in Nagano, finishing a disappointing fourth. To this day, Canadian hockey fans still blame Crawford for the team's failure to bring home the gold, questioning his decision to use Ray Bourque instead of Wayne Gretzky in the semifinal shootout against Dominik Hasek and the Czech Republic.

Feeling unloved in Colorado - general manager Pierre Lacroix wouldn't give him the lucrative, long-term contract he wanted - Crawford signed with the Canucks in the middle of the 1998-99 season.

Ups and downs with the Canucks

Crawford's tenure in Vancouver was marked by dizzying heights (the record 2003-04 campaign) but also dismal lows (the Todd Bertuzzi-Steve Moore incident from that same season).

A shadow has been cast over the club ever since that horrible episode on March 11, 2004, with some critics suggesting Crawford was just as much to blame for what happened to Moore as Bertuzzi.

Still, there's no disputing his pedigree as an NHL coach. With 411 career regular-season victories, Crawford, 44, is the third youngest coach (behind Scotty Bowman and Glen Sather) to reach the 400-win plateau.

So what's next for Crawford? Someone with his experience won't be out of a job for long, and he could return next season behind the bench in Toronto after the Maple Leafs fired Pat Quinn, a former Canucks coach, last week.

"I think Marc Crawford is a heck of a coach. He is going to go somewhere and, in fact, I think it's in [Toronto]" said Hockey Night In Canada analyst Kelly Hrudey.

Crawford has already followed in Quinn's footsteps once. Could he do it again?

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