It’s the most famous arbitration hearing in Vancouver Canucks history.
After establishing himself as the Canucks’ No. 1 centre in 2001-02, playing between Markus Naslund and Todd Bertuzzi, Brendan Morrison needed a new contract.
The soon-to-be 27-year-old centre from Pitt Meadows was looking for a hefty raise on the $775,000 he made the season prior, given he scored 67 points (23-44-67) in 82 games.
The Canucks refused his ask, so Morrison filed for salary arbitration.
What came next is one of the great tales from the West Coast Express Era, which Scott Rintoul captured on the latest edition of his podcast, Unreel: West Coast Express.
“As good as Brendan was, and as hard as he tried, we had planned all along to get a number one centre, and not have Brendan in the one hole,” said former Canucks GM Brian Burke. “We didn’t feel he should get a big raise. We felt that he’s playing with two All-Stars.”
Naslund (90 points) and Bertuzzi (85 points) finished second and third in NHL scoring in 2001-02, playing alongside Morrison.
During arbitration, the Canucks’ lawyer delivered a story that would later become public knowledge.
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“He says, ‘Mister arbitrator, this is the story of the elephant and the mouse,'” said Burke.
“So he starts talking about the elephant and the mouse walking in the jungle, and they’re walking together,” Morrison recalled. “All of sudden they come upon this raging river and there’s a bridge across but the ropes are broken. The bridge is washed out. There’s no way across the river.”
“And the mouse is too scared,” said Burke. “The mouse, he will not go. So the elephant says to the mouse, ‘I will take you across my friend,’ and he picks up the mouse.”
The elephant carried the mouse to the other side.
“And then he says, ‘This is exactly the same as Morrison, Bertuzzi, and Naslund. Bertuzzi and Naslund are the elephant,'” said Morrison.
“‘Mister arbitrator, Brendan Morrison is the mouse!'” said Burke. “It was priceless.”
Despite the memorable story, the arbitrator ruled in favour of Morrison, who received a two-year contract worth $4.6 million in total. Morrison went on to score career highs in goals (25), assists (46), and points (71) the next season.
“I was almost in tears laughing. Like, I thought that was pretty funny. But again, you’re like, ‘Is this what they really think of me?’ You do have these mixed emotions for sure.”
Morrison said he found it “almost comical at times,” and credited his calm demeanour for not holding a grudge towards management going forward.
“You have comparables, they have comparables, but their argument at times was ‘well yes Morrison played on special teams, he plays on the power play, and he kills penalties, but the only reason he kills penalties is because we don’t have anybody else that we can put out on the ice,” Morrison said, laughing. “Really? A couple of times I had to put my head down like I was going to start laughing. You’re pissed off but you’re almost laughing, like ‘are these guys serious right now?'”
The Canucks didn’t replace Morrison as their No. 1 centre until Henrik Sedin emerged as a front-line player in 2006 — four years after the famous arbitration hearing.
Morrison sits 13th on the Canucks’ all-time points list (393) and is 18th in goals (136), 11th in assists (257), and 22nd in games played (543).