On Monday it was announced that Pavel Bure will be inducted to the Hockey Hall of Fame. Despite the selection committee's lack of transparency and sometimes questionable decisions, this is still a tremendous honour.
As Thomas Drance pointed out on Canucks Army, reaction from the team was muted-there are, unfortunately, some lingering political issues between Bure and the Canucks organization. But before we get into the ambivalence with which Bure is treated by many Canucks fans, let's consider Bure's hockey career and his foundational time with the Canucks.
Bure is, in my opinion, the most talented player to ever play for the Canucks. His numbers alone point toward his sublime skill: 437 goals and 342 assists, good for 779 points, over a 702 game NHL career. Those numbers place him in some rarified company:
- Bure's goals-per-game puts him fifth all-time and third in the modern era, behind Mike Bossy and Mario Lemieux.
- Bure is one of only 20 NHL players to score 60 goals in a single season.
- He is also one of only 8 NHL players to score 60 goals in a season twice. Both seasons were with the Canucks, as Bure netted 60 goals in 1992-93 and 1993-94. The other players? No one too important. Just Wayne Gretzky (5 times), Bossy (5), Phil Esposito (4), Lemieux (4), Brett Hull (3), Jari Kurri (2), and Steve Yzerman (2). Pretty damn impressive company, no?
Bure began his career with the Canucks in 1991-92 and played over half his career games with the team. Among his major accomplishments on the team:
- He won the Calder Trophy in 1992, becoming the first Canuck to win a major NHL award (along with Pat Quinn, who won the Jack Adams the same season).
- In 1993-94 he became the first Canucks player to earn a birth on the First All-Star Team.
- Also in 1993-94, he led the NHL in goals with 60. This was before the Rocket Richard Award was created, so he won no award for the accomplishment (Bure would later win the award twice with the Florida Panthers).
- Despite playing so few games, Bure sits seventh on the Canucks all-time list in points and fifth in goals.
- Impressively, despite playing just 60 career playoff games with the Canucks, he sits third in the franchise record books with 66 points in the postseason (behind Trevor Linden and Henrik Sedin). He is tied in first with Linden, who played 118 playoff games for the team, with 34 playoff goals.
- He was instrumental in the Canucks run to the Finals in 1994, finishing with 16 goals and 15 assists in 24 games.
Clearly Bure was an amazing player who, despite the relative brevity of his stint in Vancouver, had a significant impact on the franchise.
I am old enough to remember Bure's arrival and eventual superstardom in Vancouver. Yet I was too young in those amazing 1991-94 years to fully appreciate how special a player Bure was. I was 8 years old when Bure began his career with the Canucks, old enough to be downright obsessed with the team but not old enough to understand how mediocre-to-terrible the team had been since its inception in 1970 (despite having some great players, including Stan Smyl, Thomas Gradin, Toni Tanti, etc.). I got a pretty decent sense of the excitement about Bure, but wasn't able to properly contextualize it in the history of the Canucks franchise.
It probably didn't help that only a handful of games were on TV each season, that our crappy coat-hanger antenna rarely picked up reception well enough to watch Sports Page, and that there was no YouTube to visit and ogle over the highlights from last night's game. I did go to a handful of live games during that time, but was too overwhelmed by the entire experience to really focus particularly on Bure. Being a young fan at that time, my impressions were almost always filtered through the opinions of other people - I relied on what I heard on radio broadcasts (thank you Jim Robson!), what family or friends told me, what I read in the newspaper, or what I saw in the eight-ish games a season that I could watch on TV.
Unfortunately, in the case of Bure, this second-hand experience of his play meant that my understanding of him was frequently filtered through the local media. As Tom Benjamin notes, in an epic takedown of Tony Gallagher and the mainstream media's treatment of Bure:
I don't think people who did not live through it can understand the media circus that surrounded Bure in Vancouver. Stories linking his name to Russian mafia murders? Check. Stories about his popularity in the gay community and whispers about his sexual orientation? Check. Linden and Bure were feuding? Check. Anything to put Bure on the front page and sell papers? Check.
And, of course, the media ultimately turned on Bure and helped chase him out of town. I remember intensely how miserable it was to be a Canucks fan during Bure's last few years with the team, his final season of play being the start of Mark Messier's three years reign of turmoil and his holdout season being the second of these seasons. Those were dark days for Canucks fans, with the team failing miserably on the ice, skating in front of a 2/3rds full GM Place, and playing out a soap opera off the ice. Bure was cast as part of the problem, and perhaps he was. Certainly his holdout and trade demand did not endear him to Canucks fans. Nonetheless, it seems in retrospect as though he received an unfairly rough ride from the local media.
Unfortunately, for a long time it was a negative memory that I retained of Bure - the image of a spoiled player, who went through the motions and took home a big paycheque and who ultimately abandoned the Canucks by demanding to be traded.
It is only in recent years, thanks mainly to the plethora of hockey clips on YouTube and a reconsideration of the terms under which he left Vancouver, that I have reevaluated how I think of Bure, cast aside (at least partly) my resentment toward him for the way he left the team, and simply taken pleasure from the fact that I got to witness such a great player and, perhaps more importantly, to experience the excitement around Vancouver as fans celebrated the Canucks' first true superstar. In November 2010, I wrote a post about the Canucks' Ring of Honour and explained the change in my feelings toward Bure:
For a long time I harboured a major grudge toward Bure. The man did not leave town on good terms, and like a lot of Canucks fans I took it personally. But time, and Youtube, heals all wounds. As time goes by I grow increasingly sentimental about Pavel, which is aided by the ability to refresh my memory of his jaw-dropping talents by watching video clips online. I am ready to forgive and reembrace. . . . I consider myself privileged to have seen one of the greatest pure goal-scorers of all-time in his prime, before injuries and ego derailed his career.
I suppose at this point I was ready to acknowledge Bure as an all-time great Canuck, but for some reason the HHOF induction has sealed this for me. As I've slowly appreciated Bure anew, I have also realized that he is, in my opinion (and many others'), the best Canucks player of all-time. By "best" I do not mean in terms of his legacy to the team, or even his accomplishments while on the Canucks, but in terms of pure hockey ability and sustained excellence.
Yes, Stan Smyl and Trevor Linden are all-time consummate Canucks who won the hearts of fans through their style of play and unwavering commitment to the team. But, despite possessing a strong all-around game, each hit 80 points just once in his career. Markus Naslund had several excellent seasons with the Canucks, coming agonizingly close to winning the Art Ross Trophy during his 104 point 2002-03 season. Impressively, Naslund earned three First Team All-Star berths and won the Lester B. Pearson Trophy in 02-03, voted by his peers to be the best player during that season. And of course the Sedins are among the best players in the game right now. Henrik has won the Hart and Art Ross Trophies, while Daniel has won the Art Ross and Ted Lindsay Awards.
Smyl and Linden are local legends. Naslund was excellent for the Canucks during those seasons, and the Sedins are unparalled magicians with the puck. But do any of those players stack up to Bure in their skill, talent, and ability to draw fans out of their seats just by touching the puck? It is certainly a debatable question. And will any of them ever enter the Hall of Fame? Depending on how the next five seasons go, the Sedins might have a chance. But otherwise Bure is the lone Hall of Famer whose career and legacy were significantly shaped by his tenure in Vancouver.
Regardless of the "best Canuck" debate, I am happy to have made peace with my memories of Bure and to celebrate his Hall of Fame induction. He was a spectacular, spectacular player. Here's hoping the politics of the Canucks organization do not prevent him from one day being acknowledged-either through induction to the Ring of Honour or jersey retirement-as one of the all-time Canuck greats.