Kirk McLean is beloved in Vancouver. To this day—over 23 years after he played his last game as a Canuck—you’d be hard-pressed to find a fan who has anything negative to say about the man. That understandable, considering that McLean spent 10 1/2 seasons tending the Canuck’s goal. Most notably was his heroic performance in leading the team to Game 7 of the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals.
Unfortunately, less than 4 years later, McLean had lost his touch and found himself traded to the first-year Carolina Hurricanes.
Kirk McLean's Vancouver Decline
Following the 1994-95 lockout, the NHL opened a 48-game campaign. Kirk McLean appeared in all but 8 of those games, earning 18 wins for the struggling Canucks. Despite the team’s trouble, McLean posted very respectable numbers and earned a nice, new 5-year contract.
During this time, rumors began circulating that McLean’s then-wife—Jane Macdougall—was involved in an extramarital affair with Vancouver defenseman Jeff Brown, a rumor that Macdougall denies. I suspect the rumor gained traction thanks to McLean going through a divorce and Brown being traded away, but that’s just me.
The 1995-96 season—during which McLean’s game was suffering—saw him miss 6 weeks after having arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. The emergence of rookie Corey Hirsch created allowed Vancouver to rotate the goalies and provided motivation for McLean to regain his form.
Then, during the 1996-97 season, he re-injured his left knee, missing a month of action as a result. Upon returning, he continued to show improvement from the year before, though he still wasn’t quite the same goalie that he was before.
This is where any Vancouver fans may want to skip ahead.
A New Regime
Shortly into the 1997-98 season, Canuck’s GM Pat Quinn was fired. Instead of hiring a replacement, the team opted to utilize an “executive committee,” a group that fell under the sway of new head coach Mike Keenan.
January 1998, found both the Canucks and McLean mired in the midst of an awful season. At Keenan’s behest, Vancouver sent their veteran goaltender—along with winger Martin Gelinas—to the Carolina Hurricanes. In return, the Canucks received goaltender Sean Burke, winger Geoff Sanderson, and defenseman Enrico Ciccone.
At this time, 17-year-old me had no home internet access, so I hadn’t heard about the trade. I had, however, made the 2 1/2 hour trek to Greensboro to watch the Hurricanes get trounced by the Dallas Stars. Prior to the game, the arena announcer read off the scratches for the game and named McLean and Gelinas.
That, kids, is how we found out about trades in the olden days.
Welcome To North Carolina
Kirk McLean arrived in North Carolina and promptly slid in as Trevor Kidd’s backup. His first appearance with the Hurricanes came 2 days after the trade, a 22-save performance in a 4-1 win over the Ottawa Senators. It was a promising debut, to be sure.
Deciding to give McLean a chance to build some momentum, Carolina head coach Paul Maurice started the veteran again the very next night in a matchup against the New York Rangers. Sparked by 2 goals from Brian Leetch and 2 assists from The Great One, New York downed the Hurricanes 4-2. This is despite Carolina holding the Rangers to just 17 shots for the game.
It would be 2 weeks before McLean got into another game and again it was against the Ottawa Senators. While he faced 33 shots, he turned aside all but 2 and earned his 2nd win in 3 appearances.
His worst performance in Carolina came during a February 1 game against the Montreal Canadiens in which McLean yielded 3 goals on 9 shots in just one period of play. This erratic play kept him out of action for over a month.
He did, however, make the most out of that next start.
The Hurricanes visited the then-Phoenix Coyotes in a match of middling teams. The game was a barnburner with the teams trading goals until the end of regulation. Jeff O’Neill sealed a Carolina victory with his overtime goal—with a secondary assist going to McLean. While he wasn’t picking up points, McLean turned aside 46 out of 50 shots.
Aaand He's Gone
Kirk McLean made his final appearance for the Carolina Hurricanes on March 20, 1998. In poetic—to me, at least—fashion, the opponent was the Dallas Stars, the same team who pummeled the Hurricanes on the day McLean was acquired.
McLean came on in relief after Kidd surrendered 4 goals on 18 shots. In just over 20 minutes of playing time, McLean yielded 2 goals on 8 shots. Carolina lost 6-1, the same score as the game on the day of the trade.
Four days later, Carolina GM Jim Rutherford sent McLean to the Florida Panthers in exchange for winger Ray Sheppard.
The veteran netminder went on to appear in 37 games with the Panthers before signing with the New York Rangers in the summer of 1999. He retired after spending 2 years on Broadway, 16 in the league, and picking up 245 wins.