Kearns, who was born in 1945 and joined the Canucks in 1971, was a unique sort of defenseman. At 5’9″, he was smaller than most defenders, but his 185 lb frame somewhat made up for his lack of vertical fortitude. Kearns was an offensive defenseman in his sublime skating skills and ability to move the puck up the ice and perform seeing-eye passes, but his shot was often considered lack luster by fans. Kearns was always the type of defenseman who needed his partner to be willing to stay back in case he decided to go on one of his rushes up the ice. Kearns, though not particularly physical compared to most d-men of his era, used his swift skating to get around opponents and set up teammates.
Kearns broke into the NHL after being given the opportunity to play with Vancouver, a much worse team than the one that had previously owned him, the Chicago Black Hawks. At 26 years of age, Kearns began his career in the 1971-72 season with a 29-point season in 73 games. The following season, Kearns’ role and style became more clear. He was a solid offensive defenseman that sometimes sacrificed defensive positioning for an offensive opportunity. He scored 37 points, tying Dale Tallon, but did it in three less games. His unique role as a playmaking defensemen was also shown, as he scored just 4 goals, but led the Canucks defense corps with 33 assists.
Oddly enough, while the Canucks began to improve in the 1973-74 and 1974-75 seasons, Kearns began to play poorly. Both seasons were injury shortened and he combined for 101 games with 5 goals and 24 assists during that period. However, Kearns exploded back to life in the 1975-76 season with 51 points and a 46-assist season that set a new record for Canuck defensemen. Kearns also won the Premier’s trophy as the Canucks’ best defenseman of the season. Kearns would put it all together for the 1976-77 season, scoring just five goals (tying his career best), but adding an impressive 55 assists, pushing the Canuck defenseman record even further and setting the new point record for defensemen with his 60-point season, beating out Dale Tallon’s 56-point rookie season. Kearns finished 2nd on the team in scoring to only Rick Blight and ahead of star centerman Don Lever. Kearns even earned two votes to be on the All-Star Team at the end of the season.
Kearns would follow his 60-point year with another solid 47-point season, by far leading the Canucks defense corps, but losing the Premier’s trophy to fan favourite, Harold Snepsts after winning it twice in a row. As he began to enter his mid 30s, Kearns’ production began to drop and in the 1978-79 season, at 33 years old, he dropped to 34 points. The Canucks weren’t a good team, so that was still enough to lead the Canucks defense, but only just barely ahead of Snepsts, who’s physical presence again earned him the Premier’s trophy over Kearns. In the 1979-80 season, Kearns would see a large drop to 19 points in 67 games and the 1980-81 season would be similar, though with just 46 games played. After losing much ice time to younger defenders, Kearns chose to retire at the age of 35.
When Kearns retired in 1981, he was by far the leading all-time scoring defenseman in Canucks history. He was never a prominent goal scorer, and was fourth all-time in that category, but his assist count nearly tripled that of the second place man, Harold Snepsts. The point count was a similar story, as his 321 points far outweighed Tallon’s 2nd place 137 points. Kearns also retired holding the assist and point records for defensemen, the first of which he still holds to this day. His point record would be surpassed by Doug Lidster in the late 80s. Kearns remained the sole all-time points leader until Jyrki Lumme tied him in the 1997-98 season, though Lumme did it in less games. Both would finally be beaten by Mattias Ohlund in the 2008-09 season when he beat them by just four points. To this day, Kearns still holds the all-time assists record for defensemen with his 290 assists, nearly 50 more than Lidster, who holds second place.