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Stars GM Nill: Dickinson’s Canucks Trade Part of Crazy Path



Vancouver Canucks, Nill and Dickinson
Stars GM Jim Nill and his fomer player, current Vancouver Canucks forward Jason Dickinson.

“You just never know,” would be a fitting description for Jason Dickinson first joining the Dallas Stars and eventually the Vancouver Canucks.

Toronto Maple Leafs fans were in shock. Tears in their beers, anger in their hearts, shame on their faces. It was the worst and most famous of the handful of playoff collapses over the last decade, and it happened on May 13, 2013 at the hands of the Boston Bruins. It was the first time, since duplicated by the San Jose Sharks in 2019 over the Vegas Golden Knights, that a team trailed by three goals in the third period of a Game-7, only to come back and win.

It not only was one of those “where were you when” or “where were you watching” moments, particularly for folks out East, but it also started an unlikely journey for Jason Dickinson to end up with the Vancouver Canucks.

First of all, as to not somewhat bury the lede (yes, that is how you spell it), here’s what Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill told Vancouver Hockey Now the other day about trading Dickinson to the Vancouver Canucks.

“You’ll love him there,” Nill stated. “Great kid, great teammate, leader in the dressing room. Just a real solid player who can play anywhere in the line-up.”

Nill points out that this was a salary cap/expansion draft move. Or as Nill said at the time of the deal in July, “It was all the situations thrown together.” Dickinson was part of the group that battled all the way to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final in the bubble.

“You can put him anywhere, he’s responsible, he’s physical, and he can skate,” Nill told VHN.

So why is it weird that Dickinson ended up with the Vancouver Canucks? It begins on that fateful evening back in the spring of ’13. Many of us have a “where were we” story; mine maybe a bit more unusual than most.

I recall it well because I was in Helsinki working ice level that year for the TSN feed out of Finland at the IIHF World Championship. The other group preliminary games and the semi’s and final were held in Stockholm that year. For whatever reason, I woke up in the middle of the night at three-something and had an epiphany. I wondered if I could somehow watch whatever was happening in Game-7.

I had previously worked on television for both Leafs TV and NESN so I had a compelling interest and many-a-pal involved from both franchises. After hopping across seven or eight browser windows and through a series of pop-up options, I managed to find a pirated European feed of the game. It was just in time to watch the final three minutes of the third period, which I did in disbelief.

Part of my anxiousness and insomnia also stemmed from the fact that my new girlfriend, an actual Leafs fan, was boarding a night flight in Toronto and was flying over to join me in Finland. We were to see the sights, head to Stockholm for the Worlds finish, have some fun, and head to France for a week after the tournament.

As she tells it, she was tipsy, celebrating a presumed Toronto victory with her cab driver, and dancing around in the backseat on the way to the airport. “This is the year!”

By the time she arrived at security, the Bruins had scored. From down 4-1 to down 4-2 with about ten minutes remaining in the third period. It seemed everyone at YYZ was providing updates. By the time she boarded, a stunned quiet overcame the cabin. Tie game. With Tuukka Rask pulled, the Bruins had scored twice in the final minute-and-a-half of regulation to even it up.

The Leafs defencemen melted down, the lowlights actually showed them inadvertently passing the puck to Bruins. The Boston rink was out of its mind, so it came as no surprise when the overwhelming momentum ended the game and the series with a Patrice Bergeron goal at 6:05 of overtime, just as my gal’s plane was turning to takeoff. Bummer, but then again, what a great time to fly away.

Another person with a personal memory of those moments is Nill. He had just been hired in Dallas a month before and was watching the game anxiously for a completely different reason. When Dallas, pre-Nill, had traded Jaromir Jagr to Boston on April 2nd, it included a conditional draft pick coming back. It started as a 2nd-round pick, but if the Bruins won at least one playoff round, that pick became a first rounder.

The Stars braintrust, like everyone else, had pretty much written off Game-7 and the prospects of this 1st-round bonus after Nazem Kadri scored for Toronto at 5:29 of the 3rd period to make it 4-1. Former Bruin Phil Kessel had scored three minutes earlier and it appeared the Leafs had all the momentum and the game in hand.

“It was unbelievable,” Nill said. “We were watching the game too and we’re thinking ‘Ahhh, it’s a second round pick.’ We assumed we were getting a 2nd-rounder,” Nill said.

Then the mayhem.

Nill’s first draft pick as Dallas GM was Valeri Nichushkin at 10th overall. Because of the Bruins minor-miracle, the Stars were able to pick again at 29th-overall. From the Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League, the Dallas Stars select forward Jason Dickinson.

Unlike the more famous “6-degrees of separation”, the hockey world’s degree is more like two or three. There are tight connections intertwined throughout the community and part of it is these little quirks that often come up with unlikely draft picks and conditional trades. Life and career paths altered. Remarkably, Jason Dickinson as a Vancouver Canucks forward is inexorably tied to the Toronto Maple Leaf collapse of collapses, May 13, 2013.

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