Pavel Bure and Pat Quinn turned the Canucks into a team worth watching

If you’re a longtime Vancouver Canucks fan born from the mid-1980s on, you came onto the team in one of two distinct eras. The most recent is the West Coast Express era, one that ended a trend of sagging attendance and teams at General Motors Place. The West Coast Express era was known for Markus Naslund’s near-miss as the league’s top scorer, for Heavy Eric’s ode to Todd Bertuzzi, and for regular callers on Vancouver sports radio decrying the Sedin twins as not providing ample secondary scoring.

The first is the Pavel Bure era. I have a few cognitive memories from the 1992-1993 season, but unlike the time between 2007-2010, the gaps in the era aren’t due to excessive alcohol consumption through undergrad, but rather because I was too friggin’ young to know anybody on the team.

Patrick wrote about the importance of Pavel Bure last night:

The Russian Rocket pulled hockey in Vancouver into a nearly-perpetual offensive age. There had been talented players here before – Andre Boudrias, Thomas Gradin, Patrik Sundstrom, Petri Skriko, Tony Tanti – but none had ever ushered in a mindset. Bure did that. Canucks fans came to expect goals and exciting team play. 

Years later, it was a mentality that Brian Burke highlighted: he made it clear that Vancouver fans were owed entertaining hockey; that it would be easy to turn into the New Jersey of the west, but ethically he would never allowed that to happen. That was a legacy of Bure.

The Canucks would forever be a team that scored goals.

Bure did transform hockey in Vancouver, somehow. To those fans who weren’t born in the late-1980s, I pity you, because from the time I was born right up until the second riot and a full-on Centre Ice package soured my unquestioning devotion to my hometown team, they were actually kind of good.

In fact, before Bure showed up, the Canucks had a single season, 1991-92, better than the league average in goal-scoring over a season. Bure arrived in 1992 and since then, the Canucks have only been below league average in scoring three times: 1998-99, 2006-07 and 2007-08.

I graphed it out, in relation to the average as a rate. The NHL as a whole had a 1.00 rate each season, and the Canucks were either above or below that, obviously:

That said, the Canucks were also aided in the 1990s and 2000s by the fact that Wayne Gretzky and Phil Esposito were no longer in the league scoring goals every imaginable way, but it’s fun that in the 1990s, the Canucks had one of those guys. 1993 was a fairly high-scoring year in hockey, with teams generating 3.63 goals per game, remaining the highest since the Edmonton Oilers’ last Cup victory. The Canucks scored a franchise best 4.12 goals every game, and had one of the five players to have a 60-goal season that year.

Bure would be the only guy to repeat those goal totals in 1993-94.

But there’s also no causation between Bure’s success and the success that the Canucks saw this past decade offensively. I think it’s fairly noble to assume that, given a taste of greatness, fans wouldn’t put up with an inferior product, but there was a dead era between the Bure trade and perhaps the trade that brought Trevor Linden back to Vancouver where there was waning interest and empty seats.

He was the first of many, many offensive stars that the Canucks have seen since. Newer fans recognize the West Coast Express, even newer fans recognize the Sedins. Nobody’s first Canuck jersey had Mark Messier’s name and number stitched on the back:

  Canucks % NHL GF/G Canucks GF/G
Pre Bure 0.91 3.57 3.26
Post Bure 1.05 2.93 3.08
Pre Quinn 0.91 3.57 3.25
Post Quinn 1.06 2.91 3.08

The other thing I wanted to do was to stack Bure’s career against a host of other legendary Canucks. This takes on a bit of a “team stat” approach, but there are few good methods for comparing players cross-era when the information is sparse:

  Canucks % NHL GF/G Canucks GF/G
Henrik Sedin 1.08 2.79 3.01
Pavel Bure 1.06 3.16 3.36
Markus Naslund 1.04 2.79 2.91
Trevor Linden 1.01 3.13 3.17
Thomas Gradin 0.92 3.80 3.49
Don Lever 0.91 3.37 3.06
Stan Smyl 0.90 3.75 3.39

Not surprisingly, the team has been at its best under the watchful eye of Henrik Sedin. The Canuck years between 2001 and present day are plentiful in both goals and wins (if you’ve read the Song of Ice and Fire books, calling modern-day fans ‘green men’ is quite an appropriate term). But it does seem that, since Bure, the torch has been passed off, as Patrick put it, to Naslund and to Henrik Sedin, who have kept the Canucks above water offensively.

The point being that, at some moment in time, this team became pretty good and a lot of that seems to coincide with Bure and Quinn’s arrival in Vancouver. Retire Bure’s number? Heck yes, and while you’re at it, pull down Orland Kurtenbach’s nostalgic display and celebrate an original Canuck and former coach who actually saw a modicum of success at the helm.

  • Before Pavel came, the Canucks were so desperate for fans that there were 2 for 1 ticket coupons in the Entertainment book. We actually were not expecting a lot with Pavel after the Krutov debacle but that first night, WOW! The whole city was abuzz, we had a player, we had hope! After almost a decade of merciless thrashings by the Oilers and the Flames, this was some kind of tonic, let me tell you! I knew those days of the coupon would be over quicly so I called up and bought season tickets and had them until the second child arrived.