Pavel Bure's Complicated Legacy

Thomas Drance
June 26 2012 09:57AM


Haha Mathieu Schneider...

That Pavel Bure is one of the most lethal and electrifying net-fillers in the history of hockey, and the single most talented player to ever don some variation of a Canuck jersey is beyond doubt. Bure's resume is littered with accomplishments, but beyond that and his talent, he was also unique. He combined being one of the three best pure skaters of all-time (behind Bobby Orr, and just ahead of Paul Coffey or Scott Niedermayer - as you prefer) with having the skill level to pull off ridiculous dekes and lovely finishes, even while moving at a top-speed that we haven't seen anyone reach since.

With the potency of his game, and the excitement he brought to the ice on a nightly basis, Pavel Bure meant a lot to the game of hockey, especially in the city of Vancouver. He was largely responsible for turning countless folks my age, who grew up in Vancouver while he was in his prime, into die-hard hockey fans. 

But today, he will likely be snubbed by the Hall of Fame's selection committee for a seventh time. He's been unable to get his due from the NHL, and he's yet to be recognized by the Canucks organization either. Heading into next season, he remains outside the Canucks' "Ring of Honour," and his number doesn't hang in the rafters. Most of us would, I think, be surprised (albeit pleasantly surprised) if that changed over the course of the summer.

While Bure had oodles of success over the course of his injury-shortened career, was a unique talent, and was inarguably one of the top-five pure goal scorers of all time; his contentious legacy, and continued exclusion from being duly recognition on several fronts amounts to an odd indignity. I think it's worth spilling some digital ink over, so click past the jump.

The Hall of Fame

I'm not going to besmirch the careers of some guys who have benefitted from the Hall of Fame selection committees excess, but it goes without saying that you can produce a sizable list of guys (well over ten names) whose Hall of Fame credentials pale in comparison with Bure's. The argument for Bure to go into the Hall are pretty simple: he's one of the greatest goal scorers of all time, and among the most exciting players to watch who has ever played professional hockey. Ian Mendes of Sportsnet made his argument yesterday:

In the history of the National Hockey League, only nine players have scored 50 goals in a season on five different occasions.

This list includes some of the greatest snipers in the game: Gretzky, Bossy, Lafleur, Esposito and Hull.

And as you might expect, everyone on the list is in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Well, everybody except for one person.

Pavel Bure remains the NHL’s pariah when it comes to induction in the Hall of Fame.

...If we’re able to judge a shortened career and validate it as Hall-of-Fame worthy, then Bure’s numbers are truly remarkable. He scored more goals-per-game (0.62) than Wayne Gretzky and ranks fifth all-time in league history in that category. The only two modern day players ahead of him on the list are Mike Bossy and Mario Lemieux.

Mendes goes on to argue that Mats Sundin - a first ballot Hall of Famer in my book - should replace Bure in the waiting room this season. I don't agree with that, but Mendes has the argument for Bure down pat.

For an offensive forward, the most important thing you can do in hockey is score, and score often. Bure did that, and he did it better than any of his contemporaries except for Super Mario. I'm also of the belief that the Hall of Fame is first and foremost a museum, its purpose is to document what is special about the game of hockey. That's why I keep stressing Bure's uniqueness: he was a sui generis sniper, and the Hall has an obligation to recognize and celebrate that in my view.

Working against Bure is the Hall's "Hall of Endurance" bias. Bure didn't hit the 1000 point plateau, or the 500 goal plateau that usually guarantees inclusion. As Mendes notes, however, that didn't stop the Hall of Fame from recognizing less impressive scorers like All-American Hero Pat Lafontaine, or Bure's "should have been" wingman, Cam Neely.

Bure's continued exclusion from the Hall of Fame is silly, and embarrassing. It's not an outrage on the level of Pat Burns' continued exclusion from the Hall, but it's a distant second, and that Bure is deserving is beyond doubt. He's easily the best sniper to not be recognized, and every year that he continues to be passed over by the opaque selection committee makes the entire situation even more preposterous...

Retiring Bure's Number (#10, not #96)

This is a complicated question for the Canucks. On the one hand, arguing that Trevor Linden, Markus Naslund or Stan Smyl - the three players whose names currently hang from the rafters of Rogers Arena - were more talented than Pavel Bure is a total loser. On the other, Bure demanded a trade out of town, and while the full story behind his departure has "never been told" according to Bure's former-agent, and Canucks current General Manager Mike Gillis, it's tough to honour a player who wanted out. Gillis also somewhat hinted that Bure wasn't really being considered for number retirement in December of 2010 in an interview on the Team1040.

Beyond that, the Canucks have established their own in-house, internal logic for jersey retirement and it takes into account factors beyond on-ice performance. In Smyl - who has been with the organization for most of his life, Linden - a Vancouver icon, beloved for his work in the community, and Naslund - as good a guy, and as generous with his charitable donations as anyone you'll ever meet: contributions to the community, loyalty to the organization and overall citizenship appear to be an essential criteria for the franchise to retire your number. Bure wasn't a bad guy, he wasn't a bad citizen, but he was an intensely private dude.

Here's an anecdote, touching on a moment I've written about previously. My father likes to recall the time we got to go into the Canucks dressing room in 1995 when I was about 7 years old. Naslund was a healthy scratch that night, and the Canucks suffered a tough loss. While Mike Keenan yelled at his team, one of the team's PR flacks brought Naslund to come help us pass the time, and he ended up chatting with us and guiding us through the Canucks locker room for much of the evening.

Here's the point, even at the depths of a frustrating chapter in his career, he went above and beyond to make a 7 year old kid feel comfortable. When we met Bure that night, I had a mint condition Bure rookie card ready to go and asked him to sign it. Bure refused, explaining that he had a contract with another hockey card manufacturer that prohibited him from doing such a thing. Again, no moral issue with that, I still got to meet Bure, but Bure was a private dude who approached his contractual obligations with a unique degree of gravity (and still does) - but as my Dad likes to say "you just knew Naslund would've made an exception."

I bring that anecdote up because it speaks to the edges of Bure's personality, and his perception among Canucks fans. He was uniquely great, and the best Canucks player ever, but he was a private guy whereas the Canucks franchise has made a point of recognizing players in part, for their public face. He requested a trade, and even if he wasn't the "bad guy" Burke made him out to be at the time - the organization has taken "loyalty" into account when deciding who gets their number retired.

Beyond that, if the Canucks retired Bure's number, he'd be the forth jersey to hang from the rafters before the team has ever hoisted a Stanley Cup banner. That's pretty garish, especially considering the numbers #22 and #33 will be raised - Stanley Cup, or no Stanley Cup - within the next decade. Six retired numbers before a Cup banner would just be humiliating.

Ring of Honour

Now here's where Bure's lack of recognition by the Canucks franchise begins to make no sense. The Canucks have honoured four names in their Ring of Honour since it was unveiled at the start of the 2010-11 season: Orland Kurtenbach, Thomas Gradin, Kirk MacLean and Harold Snepsts. Those are four deserving names, I think, but not when you consider that they were all recognized before Bure was!

The chatter from Tony Gallagher (I can't find the link to a story, so I'm assuming I heard it on the radio) has often been that Bure wasn't ever sure he wanted to join the Ring of Honour, partly because he didn't know how well he'd be received by the public in Vancouver. There should be no doubt that Bure would be welcomed back with open arms by Vancouver's hockey fans. In fact, what an event that would be.

Gillis and Bure are old allies and pals, so if anyone can get Bure to agree to be honoured, you'd have to think that guy would be Gillis. For the team, their efforts to properly celebrate franchise history, and for their branding - it's essential that Bure gets recognized. For example, recently retired defenseman Matthis Ohlund will soon join Snepsts, MacLean, Gradin and Kurtenbach in the Ring of Honour and frankly: Bure's absence is a distraction. It's such a distraction, in my view, that it cheapens the honour in the minds of many Canucks fans. Hopefully the team finds a way to rectify that, and to do so soon, because Hall of Famer or not: Bure is a giant of Vancouver hockey history.

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Thomas Drance lives in Toronto, eats spicy food and writes about hockey. He is an NHL News Editor at theScore, the ex-managing editor of CanucksArmy.com and an opinionated blowhard to boot. You can follow him on twitter @thomasdrance.
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#1 JDM
June 26 2012, 10:26AM
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"That Pavel Bure is one of the most lethal and electrifying net-fillers in the history of hockey, and the single most talented player to ever don some variation of a Canuck jersey is beyond doubt. "

I don't think it's beyond doubt and I think the Sedins actually probably take this one.

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#2 Mantastic
June 26 2012, 10:27AM
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i think steriods has to do with the lack of acknowledgement of Bure. hearing stories of how Bure's legs were the biggest compared to anyone else at the time, the era of his dominance/where he was from and his injury shorten career are red flags for me anyways.

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#4 Mantastic
June 26 2012, 11:09AM
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how so? there were many other high profile players putting up monster numbers in the 90's and the same high profile players being accused of steriods now.

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#5 Krieger
June 26 2012, 11:20AM
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You must have noticed a groundswell of support that I've been missing. Almost everyone I've spoken too feels it would be a travesty to see his name up there.

Speaking for myself, you can't act like on-ice performance exists in a vacuum when considering who gets honoured. Bure was my favourite player growing up, 'The Russian Rocket', followed shortly by biggest disappointment. I wouldn't boo him, but I sure wouldn't be cheering.

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#6 Beantown Canuck
June 26 2012, 12:53PM
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#10 should be in the rafters at Rogers Arena. End of story.

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#7 J21 (@Jyrki21)
June 26 2012, 02:38PM
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"My father likes to recall the time we got to go into the Canucks dressing room in 1995 when I was about 7 years old. Naslund was a healthy scratch that night, and the Canucks suffered a tough loss. While Mike Keenan yelled at his team, one of the team's PR flacks brought Naslund to come help us pass the time, and he ended up chatting with us and guiding us through the Canucks locker room for much of the evening."

Your dates have to be off... Naslund wasn't acquired until the 1996 trade deadline, and Mike Keenan was the Blues' head coach at the time you're describing. I'm thinking this more likely happened in the 1997-98 season.

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#8 J21 (@Jyrki21)
June 26 2012, 02:45PM
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Oh also, as to the substance of the story -- Bure should certainly be in the ring of honor. But for the people who push for jersey retirement (which is not done because a player was "really good," it's because it becomes impossible to imagine any other player wearing that number), I'd challenge them to find many players (other than dumb situations like Ray Bourque in Colorado, or players whose careers were cut short) who had their jersey retired by a team they spent so little time with. The only one I can think of off-hand is Pat LaFontaine in Buffalo. I guess Patrick Roy in Colorado too, but he did their them a couple of Cups, ending that twenty-minute wait for their long-suffering fans.

Although, the number of retired jerseys to Cup banners shouldn't *really* be relevant, as on sheer numbers, very few teams win the Cup any more. This will increasingly be the case for all teams that didn't have the good fortune to play in the Original Six or be good in the next couple decades when dynasties were still possible.

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#9 VanJD
June 27 2012, 02:17AM
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J21,

"But for the people who push for jersey retirement (which is not done because a player was "really good," it's because it becomes impossible to imagine any other player wearing that number)"

That ship has sailed. Players get their numbers retired for much less now. Besides, if you use this criteria, I am not sure Naslund or the Sedins would make the cut (and with Naslund up there they pretty much guaranteed to be up there also) and I didn't really get a chance to watch Smyl play.

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#11 Canooks
June 28 2012, 01:05AM
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Complicated legacy? It's really not that complicated. Bure was the best Canuck ever, the cheapskate owners didnt want to pay him for what he was worth, yet when Bure demanded a trade, they wouldnt do it cause the owner/management, much like a greedy sultan, wanted to keep Bure but wanted him to work for peanuts.Did Bure do alot of charty work for the city like soem of the other players? Prbably not...but Bure was a hockey player, he isnt Mother Theresa. Why he left,it is in keeping with what the Canucks do best, which is they dont know how to build teams, dont know how to draft, dont know how to build young talent, they like to keep players that will never cost them much in salary but will never be able to bring them the cup. It's all canuck pipedreams.They sell fans false hope and they buy it hook line and sinker.When your best player ever tells you he wants out you know something is wrong with that organization. So sad when in forty years all they have to show for it is stan smyl and country club linden. The canucks are not a hockey team but just a factory of false hopes and pipe dreams.

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#12 Canooks
June 28 2012, 01:09AM
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Mantastic, steroids dont score goes on mike vernon in the 7th game OT, lets give credit to where credit is due. At least Brue didnt shoot the puck into Vernons glove like stan Smyl did that year when calgary won their only cup.

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