This weekend Pavel Bure will be going into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, and it appears that the Russian Rocket – the most exciting player to ever don some variation of a Vancouver Canucks sweater – will be honoured at long last by the team as well. Late on Wednesday evening, Jason Botchford reported that the Canucks are likely planning on retiriing Pavel Bure’s number 10 at some point when hockey is played again.
Based on what Bure meant to the franchise, to the city and the sport this should be a no-brainer. There are, however, other factors that make this decision a tricky one for the Canucks.
Read on past the jump.
Tony Gallagher, one of Bure’s most outspoken supporters when the Russian Rocket dueled repeatedly with team management some 15 years ago, presented the argument for why it’s "absurd" for Bure’s number not to be retired on Thursday:
Bure… has expressed reluctance at times about being honoured in Vancouver. He’s been concerned about how the crowd might react, given the way he left here — after five years of asking to be traded. And Gillis has indicated that some interests within the club haven’t been overly enthusiastic about the idea. But now it appears they’re getting over whatever pettiness may have been going on — and perhaps the right thing is about to happen.
Bure was easily the best Canuck of all time, his ability to lift people out of their seats absolutely amazing. But everything about him was astounding, different, larger than life — totally unlike any other Canuck before or after him.
Certainly most fans in my generation who grew up watching Bure, scoffed at the Ring of Honour ceremonies celebrating the likes of Harold Snepsts and Thomas Gradin. No disrespect intended but for a lot of fans Bure’s absence from the Ring of Honour, or from the rafters at Rogers Arena has cheapened the honours bestowed on other players. The absence of the number 10 is a constant distraction and the team has long needed to figure out some way of honouring Bure.
The big issue still is that retiring Bure’s number might not make a lot sense. The Canucks – and this has happened while the Aquilini Group was in charge – have set up an internal standard for number retirements that emphasizes more than just a guy’s play on the ice. In order to have your number retired by the Canucks, generally speaking, you have to have shown loyalty and active citizenship in the local community. By retiring Linden’s number 16 (a slam dunk) in addition to Markus Naslund’s number 19 (less so a slam dunk), the Aquilini Group sent a statement to the denizens of Vancouver and to the players: that this franchise recognizes quality individuals in addition to quality hockey players.
By all accounts Pavel Bure is a fine person, but he’s an intensely private individual, and the Canucks have made a point of retiring the numbers of players who put on a strong "public face." Bure just doesn’t meet this set of criteria.
Now, whether or not "off ice citizenship" is a wortwhile criteria for the Canucks to use to decide which numbers to retire, is a different argument. In fact, I tend to think that Bure’s induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame exposed that in-house criteria as stupid (full stop). How are you going to recognize the accomplishments of Smyl and Naslund when Bure is in the Hockey Hall of Fame primarily for what he achieved while wearing the black, red, and yellow jerseys of the mid-90s Vancouver Canucks?
But silliness aside, the Canucks have invested a lot of time into setting up this "community oriented" standard for number retirement and I’d rather see the organization stick to their guns, than cave to public pressure. And make no mistake, this would be the team caving.
The Canucks have had a decade to figure out a way of honouring Bure since his retirement. The team was apparently pushing to induct him into the Ring of Honour (alongside Thomas Gradin and Harold Snepsts!) but Bure reportedly wasn’t interested in showing up for some secondary honour…
Then there’s the trade request. While there’s little doubt that Bure was woefully mistreated by George McPhee and Pat Quinn during his Vancouver tenure, there’s still the fact that he hired current Canucks General Manager Mike Gillis to orchestrate a hold out and a public trade request. I’m of the mind that Bure’s actions were fully justifiable based on the way he was treated by Quinn’s regime, but I also think that an act of insubordination like Bure’s disqualifies you from being honoured, at the highest level, by the team.
Pavel Bure was my favourite player growing up, so don’t count me among the unhinged who will be upset to see his number raised to the rafters of Rogers Arena. His skill alone meant so much to the city, the sport and the franchise; and I’d never say that it’s an honour Bure doesn’t "deserve". It’s just an honour I don’t think he should get.
If Bure does have his number retired, he’ll be the exception to every rule the Canucks have for honouring their players; but maybe that’s fitting. Bure was nothing if not exceptional.