Why we’re so fascinated by the Bure Enigma

Yesterday, it was announced that Pavel Bure is to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame this November. Since noon pacific time when the news broke, the "Russian Rocket’s" murky history, complicated legacy and rocky relationship with the Vancouver Canucks organization has been an endless topic of discussion.

Whether you think the Canucks reaction time, which was delayed and sterile, was outrageous or much ado about nothing – it inarguably served to underline the often acrimonious relationship between the team, and their first true superstar. We touched on it last night, but Tony Gallagher, who is in encyclopedic index of history, conspiracy theories and historical conspiracy theories, wrote a banger on the topic this morning. 

Here’s the meat of what Tony wrote (though the article, somewhat absurdly, implies that Pavel believes Trevor Linden spread the infamous "holding out during the playoff" rumour during the 94 Stanley Cup Run…): 

He was rookie of the year that first season in ’92 and played his guts out every night, yet the off-ice relationship between Bure and management seemed to get worse on a daily basis, even though he stayed quiet about everything until it was finally all over.

It was like Pat Quinn and George McPhee thought he was a flash in the pan and that at any moment he would suddenly lose all his ability and be useless.

He was never treated as a star here, even though he was worth the price of admission every night and worth far in excess of players who were treated much better by the team. Early on he asked for the first time to be traded and he asked virtually every year Quinn was here, finally firing Salcer and hiring Mike Gillis as his agent to get him out of Vancouver.

Hiring an agent, and giving him direct instructions to remove you from a bad situation in Vancouver? Where have I heard that one before…

Click past the jump for more.

One of the oddest moments in Pavel Bure’s history with the team, involves the way he was drafted in 1989. Here’s the way the story is usually told, courtesy Harrison Mooney. This is actually an excerpt from a coffee table Vancouver history book Harrison wrote a few months ago called Weird and Wild Vancouver, it’s from the chapter entitled "Shifty Canucks." You can buy the book, and support your local hockey bloggers, here.

The Vancouver Canucks have a long history of shady deals, such as the way they came to acquire the rights of Russian speedster Pavel Bure. Selected 113th overall in the sixth round of the 1989 NHL entry draft, Bure was supposed to be ineligible at the time because he hadn’t played the required number of professional games in Russia. However, Canucks’ scout Mike Penny had discovered some additional exhibition and international games that technically saw Bure meet eligibility requirements, so the team drafted him. The pick was initially deemed illegal, at which point the Canucks produced the game sheets they’d been sitting on.

When Gallagher appeared on the Team1040 this morning, however, he added a fun Gallagher-esque wrinkle to that old tale of Mike Penny’s cunning (I transcribed this in real time, so consider it as akin to paraphrasing):

"The drafting of Pavel Bure is one of the reasons Gary Bettman is General Manager and John Ziegler is gone. After that, many owners found they just didn’t want the NHL to do business the way John Ziegler was doing business – trading off personal favours with his rulings.

The whole story about finding extra games is rubbish! What happened is that Pat Quinn had a law suit pending against the NHL that mentioned Ziegler, surrounding Quinngate. Quid pro quo, Pat agreed to drop the case against the NHL, in order to get a favorable ruling in the Bure thing. That quid pro quo was made, or at least some of the Governors and General Managers I talk to insist that quid pro quo was made, and they didn’t like the NHL doing business that way. That greased John Ziegler’s skids and paved the way for Gary Bettman."


You can take Gallagher’s story or leave it, but don’t tell me that’s not compelling!

As for Pavel Bure, the entire incident just adds another superfluous layer of mystique to his legacy. The Russian Rocket was among the first generation of Russian players to play most of their careers in North America, and between the fall of the iron curtain, and the modernization of professional sports and the National Hockey League – his career took place at this uncanny intersection of history, during a period of rapid upheaval. Perhaps that’s why he’s such a fascinating case study.

From Bure’s strained relationship with the Canucks, to the way he entered the league – his was one of the most astonishing, controversial and riveting careers in NHL history. He’s been retired for 7 years and we’re still finding out more details about how he came to be drafted by the Canucks twenty-three years later! It just goes to show you how divisive Bure’s legacy is, which, is partly why so many were caught off guard by the team’s slow reaction to yesterday’s big news. But beyond Bure’s immortal scoring prowess, his story alone belongs in full on Front and King Street…