For those just joining us, in Part 1 we laid out the accomplishments of one Pavel Bure. Since that time we’ve been considering the qualifications of inductees to the Hockey Hall of Fame (HHOF) with the aim of determining what exactly it takes to gain admittance to the holy shrine.
We’d love to dissect the hall and remodel it, rightfully moving some that are “in” out and vice versa. But that is work for another year. At this point, the task is simple. Can a reasonable argument be made that Pavel Bure belongs right now?
Having reviewed the list of inductees and their accomplishments, there are a number of general factors that seem to stand out:
- The strong majority of the inductees are likely players the average fan has never heard off. Despite the fact that the league doubled its player count over a generation ago and we now have a professional player pool to draw from that is 5 times what it was then, the HHOF has been reluctant to increase membership on a proportionate basis. When they say the hockey business is an old boys network, they seemingly mean so literally. As it relates specifically to this discussion there are 79 wingers (both left and right) in the Hall, of which only 24 have played to any reasonable degree in the post expansion era (after 1967).
- There is an emphasis placed on durability. You are hard pressed to find honourees who have played less than 1,000 games, which is 4 full seasons more than what Bure was able to amass. That said, it has happened. In modern times, Bobby Orr, Valeri Kharmalov, Mike Bossy, Pat LaFontaine, Cam Neely and, to a lesser extent, Yvon Cournoyer and Clark Gillies all had their careers cut short by injury but were still deemed worthy.
- The HHOF prides itself as being exactly that; that is, it is not the NHL Hall of Fame nor the Canadian Hockey Hall of Fame. As such, it has recognized some international players who never played in the NHL (or who played shortened careers there), including, now, female players. This is a lofty aspiration given that hockey is now a global game, at least in the Northern Hemisphere. But given the lack of European inductees, it is a likely a failed ambition so far.
- There is also an emphasis on Stanley Cup wins with winning players being admitted with individual accomplishments that were above average, but not exceptional, as in league leading or major award winning. In the context of hockey being a team sport, this certainly makes sense. But in the modern day 30 team salary cap era, it should become an extinct discrimination.
If Pavel Bure is to be considered based on what the HHOF has done to date, it would have to be on the basis of his offensive prowess and, perhaps, being a pioneering international player. As well, his relative dominance (measured in per game averages) would seemingly have to compensate for his lack of durability to at least the same degree as those with shortened careers already enshrined (which it does). We think his playoff record (he was the best player on a team that played the most playoff games of any NHL team in the four year span that coincided with his arrival) was impressive, but without the Cup win(s), it is a subtlety to be missed by those doing the deciding.
So where does Bure rank in goal scoring versus those in or out of the HHOF? Well, there are only 2 modern day players who scored at at a greater rate and they are both in, Mike Bossy (with virtually the same games played as Bure) and Mario Lemieux. The 2 early day players, Cy Denneny and Babe Dye, with better rates are also both in. And there is one current player with a comparable rate, Alex Ovechkin, who is essentially Pavel Bure 2.0 (or perhaps Valeri Kharmalov 3.0).
Forget about goal scoring rate for a moment, what about just total goals? Well, Bure ranks 63rd and of those in front of him, 27 are on the outside looking in. You’d think that should work against Bure’s induction. But in fact, the reverse is true. Of those 27, there were only 6 who earned as many or more major awards as Bure. The rest were simply star players with long careers, but not elite players that transcended or dominated their sport. Of those six players, only of one them (Joe Nieuwendyk) was eligible for induction this year and he made it in. The others are all potential first ballot inductees (Jaromir Jagr, Joe Sakic, Teemu Selanne, Jarome Iginla and Sergei Fedorov).
Pavel ranks 24th in points per game. Of the 23 in front of him, all but 2 are either already in the HHOF or are not yet eligible. The two exceptions being Kent Nilsson (who played 250 less games than Bure and who clearly benefited from playing during the high flying 80’s) and Eric Lindros. We’re sure there’s someone out there who can make a compelling argument for his inclusion - though it won’t be us.
As stated before, the HHOF has chosen to recognize international players either for their contribution at that level or their pioneering efforts at the NHL level. Of relevance to this discussion is the inclusion of Valeri Kharmalov and Igor Larionov and Slava Fetisov.
Kharmalov is in despite never having played in the NHL and having his career cut short at roughly the same age as Bure, though much more tragically. Kharmalov and Bure were fantastically comparable players in a uniquely Russian game-breaking style that was the mold for Ovechkin, the most entertaining player in today’s NHL.
The inclusions of Larionov and Fetisov are interesting. While both had successful NHL careers, those careers, on their own, do not appear worthy. As the best of the first wave of Russian players, they are seemingly included for this pioneering status and for having contributed mightily at the international level. We would argue that their adjustment to NHL life was easier than the trio of Russian stars that followed immediately after: Bure, Alexander Mogilny and Sergei Fedorov. All of whom arrived into the NHL as young men, as opposed to mature established stars, and all of whom excelled at the NHL all the while continuing to represent their country in international play. We would argue that in ignoring these three, the Hall is lacking internal consistency.
Pavel Bure arrived in Vancouver as if dropped from the sky. Literally and figuratively. It was pure cloak and dagger stuff getting the young superstar out of Russia and to the NHL. He almost wound up in Edmonton (who had fought bitterly for his rights) where he might have been able to avoid being cast as a malingerer; the Oiler organization, media and fan base completely experienced in how to handle superstars. He just as likely could have wound up in Detroit with his comrades; the Wings always seem to have the market cornered on the best international players. There he could have easily integrated into their European style play perhaps turning the best team of his era into a dynasty for the ages.
Playing with reckless abandon reminiscent of Bobby Orr (with the wonky knees to match), he changed the fortunes of a perpetually moribund franchise falling just short of the holy grail by the slimmest of margins. Banished to the hockey graveyard of Florida, he continued to entertain and score goals, typically unaided, at breakneck pace until (just in time for an abbreviated run on Broadway) his body failed him like other enshrined superstars.
In the end, despite his lack of playoff success and durability (both seemingly beyond his control), on paper alone, he’s a match for Pat LaFontaine or Cam Neely, both esteemed members. In flesh and blood, he’s a more dynamic one-of-a-kind player than either.
Statistically speaking, his offensive prowess cannot be denied and he is more than simply a borderline candidate. In reference to the 24 modern day wingers already enshrined, his statistics on a per game basis are among the best. And even on a total basis (despite the devastating injuries), he still fits in with the bottom quartile.
Finally, as one of best of the second wave of Russian players (and the first wave to spend their entire careers in the NHL), he was a pioneer to international players in a sport with ever increasing global aspirations.
Pavel is worthy.