Like all members of Canuck Nation, we here at Critically Canuck have suffered a long time. We will not die happily unless the Stanley Cup makes its way to Stanley Park.
Here you'll get the straight goods on our heroes. With both feet on the bandwagon, we will, however, pull no punches. As long time season ticket holders, that's our prerogative.
Expect analytical insight with a strong sense of history. We'll ask the tough questions. And answer them. Enjoy.
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This weekend’s Hockey Hall of Fame (HHOF) induction ceremonies will feature the first ever celebration of a Vancouver Canuck, Pavel Bure (we’re sorry Mark Messier and Mats Sundin don’t count). But for a franchise that has made a point in recent years of celebrating its now long but mostly tortured history, the Canucks’ home rink bears almost zero indication that the dynamic Russian Rocket ever played for the local team, despite him being the team’s first superstar and, ultimately, ”the Ruth that built” Rogers Arena. Perhaps, that is finally and rightfully about to change. It seems the HHOF induction has provided the necessary momentum for Canuck ownership to do the right thing.
The overriding criterion for admission to the Canucks’ hallowed and mostly empty retired jersey section has seemingly been about “character” - as if the Canucks have been running some bleeding heart not-for-profit all these years instead of one of the most successful franchises in the 30 team NHL. Ultimately this notion of “character” used in determining its all-time greats is down to the simple fact that for most years of its existence, the franchise had little else to celebrate.
In the team’s now long history, three players have been recognized with jersey retirement. The first two, Stan Smyl and Trevor Linden, were, more often than not, lovable losers. Plenty of pride, hustle and determination that resulted in single tragic brushes with the Stanley Cup. But neither were high-end players, never challenging for any major individual awards. Simply, players of this calibre getting their jerseys retired in any other market would be laughable. But in Vancouver, these two men, with their supposedly unquestionable character, are revered royalty.
The third member of the group, another long time Canuck captain, is Markus Naslund, who, unlike his predecessors Linden and Smyl, was one of the most skilled players of his generation. But his efforts at leadership failed quite miserably when considering the higher expectations of the early 21st century Canucks, by now a consistent Stanley Cup contender. So while he didn’t lead succesful post-season efforts, his elite level perimeter play combined with his noble community accomplishments earned him his lofty status in the organization.
Pavel Bure arrived in Vancouver in 1991 as the Canucks were rising from over 20 years of collective ashes. From his first shift as a Macaulay Caulkin fresh-faced 20-year-old in the body of a greek god, it was clear that this was something we’d never seen before – unless you wanted to time travel to the days of Fred “Cyclone” Taylor. Forget the Cyclone, it was the Russian Rocket who would finally put the Vancouver Canucks on the sporting map.
It was Bure’s explosive talent that marked the turning point for the franchise from cottage industry to global entity. In short order, the Canucks were a drawing card on the road (something that continues to this day) and a new stadium was being built (bringing with it another pro sports franchise). His full tilt brilliance catapulted the franchise to its first lengthy run of success culminating in the thrilling ’94 Stanley Cup run that prominently featured both himself and Linden. During his time in Vancouver, Bure collected several major accolades- rookie of the year award, goal scoring championships, all-star team appointments – all completely unprecedented in a market that was typically ignored by the rest of the continent.
In the end, as we all know, things got ugly. Bure had felt mistreated by management from the get-go and wanted out. In a case of “he said, she said”, the Canucks story prevailed. Bure became known as a malingering malcontent, and despite his other worldly play and contributions to the growth of the franchise, was mercilessly tossed to the trash heap of team history.
The unofficial word from the Canucks has been that Pavel wants no recognition from the franchise. But maybe he’s been waiting for an apology first. And maybe he doesn’t deserve one, who knows? But we do know the Edmonton Oilers, in the end, didn’t begrudge Mark Messier leaving for greener pastures. Nor did Patrick Roy’s most unceremonious fall from grace in Montreal prevent them from celebrating him.
Pavel has recently said that any recognition of him by the franchise is “not up to him; he has done his part.” And he has. And it was plenty. So says the Hockey Hall of Fame. And so should anyone whose ego isn’t still childishly bruised from Bure’s Vancouver exit. And so it follows that the Canucks, still scraping the egg of their face for not having done so sooner, are about to get it done. It’s about time.
To our loyal followers, please note that these entries also appear in the Vancouver Sun’s Fan Attic Blog. We will continue to maintain entries here, but encourage you to visit there and join the discussion.
We wish to thank the Hockey Hall of Fame for finally having the good sense to induct one Pavel Bure, saving us from our annual righteous rant in support of the Russian Rocket, easily the Vancouver Canucks’ most dynamic player ever and, arguably, the most entertaining player of his generation. If you wish to be enlightened further, please consult our archives.
And while his selection is most overdue, in the end, there are no levels of HHOF membership - all players enshrined are on equal footing. And make no mistake, Bure belongs. As a second generation Russian superstar, he was a pioneer for his countrymen at the NHL level, where he was simply the most electrifying player since Guy Lafleur and Bobby Orr. And like Orr, his knees couldn’t endure the full tilt of his playing style - his longevity being perhaps the only legitimate beef against his induction. And while some may question his character upon exiting Vancouver, there are two sides to every story, but Bure’s is rarely told. In the end, he scored and entertained everywhere he went, excelling both professionally and internationally. For a brief moment in time, he was the most captivating player of his sport.
Joining Bure in today’s inductions were Adam Oates, Joe Sakic and Mats Sundin. It seems that the HHOF is finally getting over its obsession with Stanley Cup winning players with Sakic being the only of this year’s inductees to have sipped from the cherished cup. And rightfully so, in the modern day 30 team NHL, there will be plenty of elite players who may never become champions. Indeed, in the era of the six team NHL, Cup rings may have meant something, but that notion is now prehistoric. And with the inclusion of Sundin and Bure, it seems that the HHOF is also getting over its bias against European players, which makes perfect sense since it is the “Hockey” Hall of Fame and not the “NHL” Hall of Fame.
With Bure’s induction, the Canucks once again find themselves with egg on their face as it relates to their franchise’s first and best superstar. How can the team’s only bonafide Hall of Famer (sorry, Mark Messier and Mats Sundin don’t count) not have his number hanging from the rafters while the likes of career plumber Stan Smyl is so enshrined? Some sources may say that Bure has been offered such an honour (or at least inclusion in the lower tiered Ring of Honour), but has refused. This is entirely possible, but also irrelevant. The hanging of a number from the rafters is much less about awarding the player, but recognizing his impact to the franchise and its fans. Yes, Pavel wasn’t necessarily the model community citizen, but he put the Vancouver franchise on the sporting map, making himself and his team an international brand. Stan Smyl or Trevor Linden or Markus Naslund could never have done that. And if the Canucks had retired his number (even without him attending the ceremony) before he had entered the hall, they would have looked a whole lot better than they do now, where any official acknowledgement of his career will look like after the fact pandering.
The irony of all this, of course, is that Pavel’s induction was announced by Pat Quinn, whom Pavel has now claimed as a father like figure, but was possibly part of the reason for Bure’s requested exit from Vancouver. Meanwhile, here in Vancouver, current President and General Manager Mike Gillis (Bure’s former agent) issued a very brief press release jointly recognizing Bure and Sundin, who played only half a season here in what was easily Gillis’ strangest move…
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.
We’re not going to get into any mud slinging about this year’s Hockey Hall of Fame inductees, who can each be proclaimed worthy on some reasonable basis. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that three of them spent a good portion of their careers in the centre of the hockey universe. If Pavel Bure had played his Vancouver years in a Leaf jersey instead, we wouldn’t be back on our soap box again.
So back by popular demand is our annual analysis on why Pavel Bure ought to be in the Hall of Fame. Today we present, part 1 of 2.
Trying to get inside the heads of those that determine who gets to enter an athletic hall of fame is an impossible task, no matter the sport. The mechanics of every hall of fame are distinct and the appointments often controversial. The Hockey Hall of Fame (“HHOF”) is no exception. And likely ripe for a proper dissection, but that is clearly beyond the scope of this blog. But you can pay us to write it for you.
That said, when there’s what seems to be an apparent omission (and the spurned one is a Canuck hero), you can bet we will jump on our soap box. So listen up…
We’re going to approach this in two instalments so that you, valued reader, can more easily digest and reflect. As it relates to Pavel Bure, let’s start with a summary of his career and how his accomplishments may rank.
We’ll start with his tangible accomplishments:
he scored 437 goals in a scant 702 games, a lifetime goals per game rate only eclipsed by Mike Bossy and Mario Lemieux. Yep, that’s right. Pavel Bure was a more efficient goal scorer than Wayne Gretzky or Bobby Hull or Brett Hull or Phil Esposito.
he scored 50 goals or more (the “gold standard” of sniping ability) 5 times, including 4 seasons of 58 or more (58, 59, 60, 60).
in fact, he scored 50 goals or more in EVERY season where he played more than 68 games.
he led the NHL in goal scoring 3 times; otherwise stated in 60% of his full NHL seasons.
he scored more goals in his first 3 seasons than any other player ever except Mike Bossy and Wayne Gretzky.
he scored 70 points in 64 playoff games, a point per game rate that equaled his regular season rate - no small feat considering the more restricted confines of playoff hockey.
despite having a reputation as a one dimensional player, he had a career plus minus of plus 42, including a positive rating for the 3 plus seasons he played with an otherwise unremarkable Florida team.
4 times he finished in the top 7 in game winning goals - a measure of his ability to score in the clutch.
he played in 6 NHL all-star games, once winning the game MVP award.
he was a 1st Team All Star once and 2nd Team All Star twice.
he won the Calder Memorial Trophy as rookie of the year (defeating Nicklas Lidstrom).
he was a special teams expert twice leading the league in short-handed goals while finishing either 1st or 2nd in power play goals.
bearing in mind the relevance of international play for election to the HHOF, he was a fine ambassador for his country playing in 3 World Junior Championships (where he scored a remarkable 39 points in 21 games), 2 Olympics (scoring 11 goals in 12 games) and 2 World Championships. His teams, by the way, medalled at every event he played (2 golds, 3 silvers, 2 bronze).
during the Canucks famed ‘94 Cup run he led the team in scoring and finished second overall to Brian Leetch (who won the Conn Smythe Trophy presumably since he, by the narrowest of margins, played on the winning team).
Now let us consider the less tangible considerations - including the supposed negative ones.
he managed the phenomenal goal scoring rate without (save his rookie season in Vancouver) regularly playing with a bonafide number one centre - go ahead, look it up - better yet, we’ll spell it out for you: after Igor Larionov left Vancouver, Pavel played with the likes of Anatoli Semonov, Josef Beranek, Trevor Linden (a natural RW playing out-of-position) and a washed up Mark Messier. Yep Pat Quinn never thought to play him with Cliff Ronning nor even Petr Nedved for any significant stretches. In Florida, he handed countryman and journeyman Viktor Kozlov a career best 70 points. By the time he wound up with no knees in New York, the best the Rangers could offer up for a half season were Nedved and the now completely soft-headed Eric Lindros - though the Rangers’ acquisition of Bure had Wayne Gretzky seriously wishing he hadn’t retired. The point here is that there was no Gretzky to Pavel’s Kurri, no Trottier to Pavel’s Bossy, no Oates to Pavel’s Hull or Neely, no Orr to his Esposito. Whatever Pavel delivered, he did so by himself. And in that sense, what he accomplished was (save the heroics of Mario Lemieux) unprecedented.
Bure, in the opinion of many, was the most exciting player of his generation. He had the ability to break open a game at any time. In our estimation (based on having watched NHL games in the thousands), he was the most exciting player we’ve seen (post Orr) and had he been paired with a true playmaking centre for any reasonable amount of time could have threatened Gretzky’s 92 goal record. Just an opinion. But an informed one.
As the first true superstar in Vancouver, he took the popularity of his team to new heights providing the foundation for a move to a new arena and higher levels of profitability.
Critics would be quick to point out that he wasn’t much for backchecking (though Shane Churla may say otherwise as would his plus/minus rating referred above).
Critics would also argue that he was not a team player and only cared about scoring goals (though last we checked the objective of the game is to score more than the other team).
Even harsher critics would say he was a money hungry malcontent and a disruptive element though this, if true, really needs to be evaluated in the context of time and place (a shy impressionable young man raised in Communist Russia with the world suddenly at his feet).
While we’re not sure why off-ice transgressions should matter when contemplating induction into an athletic hall of fame, some have likely frowned upon Bure’s alleged connections with the Russian mafia. Though it seems acceptable to include alleged wife beaters in the HHOF (says Bobby Hull, Denis Potvin and Patrick Roy).
Pavel’s injury woes indicate a lack of durability and this should be held against him (though you will see that didn’t elminate the chances of induction for Pat LaFontaine or Cam Neely).
If there is an acceptable criticism of Bure, it is that he didn’t necessarily make those around him better. Though certainly some players benefited from playing with Pavel. Gino Odjick would have been lucky to score 16 goals in his career let alone in one season as he did riding shotgun for Bure. The aforementioned Viktor Kozlov had his best years centreing the Rocket. Though the fact that Pavel Bure still holds the record for scoring the largest % of his team’s goals (while playing in Florida) would seem to indicate that he wasn’t always given much to work with.
So CC, that’s great. We’re exhausted reading it, but what does it all mean? Is Pavel HHOF worthy? Well, since there are no published guidelines and since the HHOF won’t comment on those they won’t enshrine, we’ve got to read between the lines. We can compare Pavel’s accomplishments to those that are in and those that are out and see what gives… Stay tuned for Part 2 and the predictable, but nonetheless, entertaining conclusion.
After another decisive road loss during a post season that has had its share of dizzying heights and now back-breaking lows (with all apologies to Mason Raymond), the members of good ship Canuck were all heard to declare they had once again turned the page and were only thinking about game 7. At this time of year, there are no lessons to learn, no fires to be lit, just keep marching on. Alfred E. Neuman never had it so good. “What, Me Worry?”, indeed.
Here at Critically Canuck, we have been on board with the glass is half full approach during this post season, but last night’s tilt has us instead wanting to finish off whatever might be left in that glass. Enough already.
As he is whenever the Canucks lose, Roberto Luongo was once again under the microscope last night. While we’ve had his back all post-season reasoning that most of his poor games were the result of defensive breakdowns in front off him, Roberto must take the fall for last night’s loss. And to his credit, he did. In a confessional like post-game scrum, Luongo owned up to his poor play.
But that was the only truth to be told from the Canucks’ side of things.
Despite another poor road outing, a debilitating injury to Mason Raymond and more after-the-whistle mistreatment from the Bruins’ sewer rats, you couldn’t find any fire and brimstone around these Canucks.
While the Bruins can point to their solid road play and rightly declare that they should have deserved at least one win in Vancouver by now, the Canucks haven’t come close to performing the same feat in Boston. But at least they don’t need to worry about that anymore.
And on a hit that was easily as “dirty” (if you don’t believe us, check out the NBC footage) as anything Aaron Rome could ever offer up, Mason Raymond is lost for up to six months. So in the new era of NHL justice which seemingly sees fits to offer up an “eye for eye”, we should all expect Johnny Boychuk to be similarly suspended. As if.
And while you might be able to forgive the Boston fans’ shameless taunting of the fallen Raymond in the heat of the momemt, why did he have to be helped off the ice by only his teammates? Where was the back-board and stretcher. Insult to injury, indeed.
The point is there is plenty to be fired up about. Where there should be passion and fury and promises of redemption, we get the same old mindless jibber jabber about preparation and process as if the next game isn’t the 7th game of the Stanley Cup Final, but an SAT exam.
There is a vast difference in the leadership styles of this team and the last Canuck version to get this close to the Stanley Cup. It is hard to imagine Pat Quinn, on the heels of another embarrassing road loss, to address the post game media scrum with a mantra of “it doesn’t matter”. And we know that liberties taken with star players would have been met with flying elbows from said star player (so says Pavel Bure’s elbow to Shane Churla’s head). Or instead, a beat down from Sergio Momesso or Tim Hunter.
And when their captain cheap shotted our captain in the waning moments of game 6, that only motivated our captain to produce a legendary game 7 performance that resulted in his number 16 hanging from the rafters. The more likely response this time around is our captain clutching his abdomen in agony attempting to draw one more penalty that we won’t score on.
So where does that leave the faithful? Well, there’s really only one option. The leadership mantra this time around isn’t about to change. And it’s got us this far, right? Think positive. Be prepared. Stick with the process. And for one more game, that’s just what we’ll do. Even if it sounds too much like we’re drinking the kool-aid…
With the Canucks now just four wins away from Canada’s first Stanley Cup in 18 years, you’d think that the head talking head at the CBC might be just a little more complimentary of Canada’s team.
Despite predicting the Canucks’ game 5 victory against San Jose (dandy Don even got the score right), it’s hardly like he’s on the bandwagon.
And while we shouldn’t likely care what the always entertaining but often ignorant Cherry has to say, you can only imagine how things might be different if it was the Canucks in Leafs’ uniforms instead.
Not that we’d want to see Ryan Kesler in a Leafs’ jersey sitting on Don Cherry’s lap during a Coach’s Corner segment with Grapes proudly declaring “Kes” as the best all round player since Dougie Gilmour.
Think we’re being too hard on the nearly senile old fart? Then witness his segment during the Canucks’ Tuesday clincher.
In the first period intermission, after proclaiming that the Canucks were ripe for the picking since getting outshot by the desperate Sharks in the first period, he proceeded to dissect all four Vancouver goals from the previous game. And rather than celebrate the brilliant play-making skills of Henrik Sedin or the laser beam blasts from Sami Salo, he critiqued the Sharks’ defensive zone coverage instead.
But we suppose we should be happy that he actually showed some Canuck highlights at all during his segment. During this memorable run, he’s much more likely to celebrate the Canadian military, campaign for Paul Henderson’s Hockey Hall of Fame induction or run clips from the Bruins and whomever they might be playing.
A Tampa Bay versus Vancouver final pairing would force Cherry into a most awkward situation; one more reason to cheer for a Lightning victory tomorrow night.
In the end, we shouldn’t be surprised. Through the years, Cherry’s love for the Canucks has been forced at the best of times. And now is one of those times. But as the great Pavel Bure (a repeat target of Grapes’ slander) once said when asked to comment on Don Cherry, “why would I comment on the clown at the circus”?
With long time Canuck captain and all-time points leader Markus Naslund’s number 19 now hanging from the rafters, it is time to address the elephant in the room. Yes, we’re talking about what to do with Pavel Bure.
And we’re not the only ones wondering. Back in the summer when it was announced that the Canucks would be celebrating Naslund with the franchise’s highest honour, Mike Gills was queried on this very idea and he responded by saying they would need to look into it adding something about ensuring that honourees have the “right character”.
Gillis now has this to say, “he’s on our radar.” He added, “part of it is the person and it didn’t end the way people had hoped. But there are two sides to the story. He’s a private person and I don’t think it’s any deviation from the criteria.” From the man who was player agent for both Naslund and Bure, and now the man in charge of the decision making, this is an interesting development.
If anyone needed reminding, Bure was the Canucks’ first, and arguably only (the careers of Daniel and Henrik still being open books) true superstar. He will likely wind up in the Hockey Hall of Fame at some point, and having played the majority of his career here would represent the only member of hockey’s hallowed hall to have done so.
During the Naslund love-in of the last week much has been made about crediting him with “saving” the franchise in the wake of the Mark Messier era. While this smacks of revisionist history more than anything else, the argument that Bure did the same during his day is an easier point to make.
When Bure arrived in Vancouver, the Canucks were in the middle years of the Pat Quinn era and finally on the ascent. With the Russian Rocket on board, the sky was the proverbial limit. Unlike Naslund (or the Sedins for that matter), Pavel was no work in progress. From his opening game, as a Macualy Culkin fresh faced 20 year old in the body of a Greek God, it was clear that this was not just another Canuck highly touted European prospect. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. And we were all overjoyed to be along for the ride.
It was Bure’s explosive talent that marked the turning point for the franchise from cottage industry to global entity. In short order, the Canucks were a drawing card on the road (something that continues to this day) and a new stadium was being built (bringing with it another pro sports franchise); you might say that GM Place was the house that Bure built. When it was recently discovered that number one NFL draft pick Sam Bradford, despite being born and bred in football mad Oklahoma, dreamt of playing for the Vancouver Canucks because of his adoration of Pavel Bure, you fully realized the extent of Bure’s influence.
Of course, after two 60 goal seasons, a brush with the Stanley Cup, numerous All-Star recognitions, knee injuries and one final 51 goal campaign, the petals were off the rose. Pavel wanted out. And the adoring faithful were hurt. And it’s this seeming lack of character that is the biggest reason to argue against honouring him with jersey retirement.
But as much as Markus Naslund (and the Sedins for that matter) get due recognition for being honest honourable men, such characterization should be taken in the context of time and place.
By the time Naslund made it to the NHL, it was a reasonably easy adjustment. After all, that trail had been blazed many times over by his countrymen. And with a good grasp of the English language, not to mention, a free society, it was hardly the culture clash that young Russians arriving in North America in the wake of the fall of communism had to endure.
Make no mistake, young men like Alex Mogilny (who pretended he was afraid of flying so he could stay in Buffalo and shag his girlfriend) or Pavel were breaking fresh ground on so many levels, making mistakes along the way. Really, it is any wonder that Russian players are labelled greedy malcontents while the Swedes get tagged as stoically honest?
As Mike Gillis has rightly noted, there are two sides to this story. And while we could explore further, it’s all really “he said, she said” at this point, not that anyone is talking anyway. In the end, it could be said that the Canucks had zero experience in handling Pavel’s potential prima donna antics. It’s no stretch to say that there were missteps by both parties.
What is clear is that Bure was the most remarkable player to play for this team. While his point totals do not rank near Naslund (in part to his injury problems and in part to his request to be traded), his point and goal per game totals are off the charts and will likely never be surpassed. He is as responsible for the development of the Canucks’ brand as any single player. And in the entertainment business, what is more important than that?
The biggest problem facing Mike Gillis right now is what if you threw a party (ring of honour or jersey retirement) and the guest of honour didn’t show? Some have rumoured that Bure has requested to not be recognized or affiliated with any club - a further extension of his shy retiring persona. Indeed, like his boyish lookalike, he’d rather be “Home Alone”.
But really, such honours are not about the player as much as they are about the organization and its fan base and honouring those who are worthy whether they want it or not.
In the end, Gillis knows Pavel as well as anyone. His latest comments have opened the door for some official recognition. And you’d think if anyone can mend the fences between the organization and it’s fallen superstar, it would be Gillis. He should even be able to pronounce his name properly, something he had difficulty with when introducing inaugural retired jersey inductee Stan Smyl (Mike, that’s Smeel, not Shmeel) at Saturday night’s party.
You would think that we will know Pavel’s fate rather soon. With two more ring of honour inductees to be named before season’s end, if he’s not one of them, then perhaps something bigger is in the works down the road. We hope there is.
From the rain tortured slopes of the North Shore mountains, we interrupt our ark building to revisit a topic we covered this past summer; that is this Saturday’s ceremony to officially retire Markus Naslund’s number 19. With this esteemed honour, Naslund will join fellow long time Canuck captains Trevor Linden and Stan Smyl as the only players to have their jerseys hoisted to the rafters.
This induction has been a somewhat divisive proclamation amongst the Canuck faithful, some referring to Saturday’s ceremony as simply “Markus Naslund Sham Night” - the best opportunity for a season ticket holder to dump a regular season seat for a healthy profit.
It is easy to argue that Naslund does not belong in the company of Smyl and Linden simply because as a leader he did not accomplish the post season success that they did. Nor did he embody their workman-like heart and soul; qualities that are typically more likely to win over the adoration of the fan base in this market.
But after Pavel Bure, he was the Canucks next bonafide superstar, or at least, perennial all-star. For a good number of seasons, he was the best left winger in hockey during the height of the dead puck era. By winning a Lester Pearson award, he was clearly respected by his playing colleagues throughout the league.
Perhaps most importantly to those making the induction decision, he was a classy fellow who put his community obligations first and foremost. He was a genuinely nice guy it seemed; so much so that he was able to befriend the certifiably gruff Todd Bertuzzi.
We say that retiring Markus’ number is lowering the bar. With induction being limited to only Smyl and Linden to date (as opposed to skill players like Bure or, even, Thomas Gradin), a premium has been historically placed on leadership and playoff success.
As we all know, Naslund’s teams were perennial playoff busts. And his fans will argue that Markus can’t be held responsible for the fact that his goal-keeper couldn’t stop a beach ball when it mattered most. And that’s fair.
But here’s the thing; leaders lead. Or at least good ones do. Markus did not. In fact, when it came to crunch time, Naslund, being the intelligent and sensitive man that he was, wilted under the pressure. How do we know this? How can we prove this? Well, since Naslund was not a physical player nor an old school holler guy, his opportunity to lead was through his goal scoring talent. So what do you remember?
When you think of clutch goal scoring in Canuck history, you think of Pavel Bure, Geoff Courtnall, Greg Adams, Brendan Morrison, Trevor Linden, Mattias Ohlund and Daniel Sedin. Naslund does not even enter the discussion.
In fact, what you remember about Naslund, the goal scorer, is wrist shots from the sideboards on the power play. You remember him forgetting the puck at centre ice during a shootout. You remember his coach being so afraid to use the team’s highest scoring player ever that he typically found his ass nailed to the bench during the tie-breaking session. Can you imagine that happening to Trevor Linden, who despite a declining skill set, was still such a valuable clutch player that he became a most successful shootout specialist in his latter years?
Forget for a moment about what we might remember, what do the stats tell us? Well, the stats tell us that Naslund lit it up against inferior opponents. On a point-per-game basis, the teams he was most successful against were Atlanta, Columbus, Toronto, Anaheim, Edmonton and Nashville - hardly a collection of the league’s elite. And his post season line? A paltry 33 points in 45 games and a minus 9.
Really, what was Markus Naslund’s defining moment? For too many, it was the “we choked” apology speech after a stretch drive collapse that cost them a division title. Or no less memorably, the Steve Moore elbow to the head that cued best friend Todd Bertuzzi’s side show that still lingers over this franchise and this great game to this day.
When you get right down to it, Naslund was not a heroic figure that deserves celebration, but more likely a tragic figure that draws our sympathy.
And in the sorry history of this franchise, perhaps that’s enough. But what it really means is that the bar it now lowered to include skillful players with great regular seasons, and nothing more.
And if it is, then what about Pavel Bure? Our first, and arguably only, superstar (not to mention, likely Hockey Hall of Famer). And then surely what about the twins? Another season or two of regular season dominance followed by playoff failure should be enough to enshrine them, too? And before you know it, our rafters will look like Molson Centre but missing the most important piece - a single Stanley Cup playoff banner.
As a side note, we find it interesting that the Toronto Maple Leafs have yet to retire Mats Sundin’s number. It’s a pretty easy argument to make that he mattered more to Leaf Nation than Naslund ever did to ours.
In the end, we can passively accept the Naslund induction on the very simple premise that this franchise has had so little to honour, though it only means that our campaigning for Pavel Bure will continue in earnest. Can you guess the topic of our next blog entry?
As part of the Canucks’ 40th anniversary celebrations, there will be four inductees into what is being referred to as the “Ring of Honour”, which is meant to honour those who fall short of jersey retirement (limited so far to Stan Smyl, Trevor Linden and, shortly, Markus Naslund).
So far two players have already been inducted: original Captain Canuck, Orland Kurtenbach and Captain Kirk (the most successful Canuck goalie to date), Kirk McLean. It’s difficult to find fault with either of these selections, who clearly fall short of jersey retirement status but were both integral players in Canuck history.
Kurtenbach had a reputation as one of the genuinely toughest guys of his generation and led an expansion crew, that at the very least, was tough to play against. And while he played only a mostly injury plagued four seasons with Vancouver and despite not having an official capacity with the team since a brief coaching stint in the late 70’s, he has often been an ambassador for the team.
McLean, of course, was one of the key players (arguably the most valuable player) of the famed ‘94 near Cup squad. But while this moment in time certainly stands as his high water mark, he was a consistently strong netminder, and really, the first Canuck goalie to achieve a long run of high calibre backstopping.
So that brings us to the question on the minds of the long term faithful, who else should be rightly honoured? As stated, there will be two more inductees this season and those within the organization who know have been sworn to secrecy.
The elephant in the room, of course, is Pavel Bure. How his number is not being retired before the likes of Markus Naslund, is simply stated, a typically Canuck conundrum - an issue we covered in great detail here this summer. He will almost certainly be inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame in due course and be the only true Canuck representative in hockey’s hallowed shrine.
On this basis alone, you’d think one day his number will hang from the rafters at Rogers Arena, after he’s paid whatever penance the club sees fit for holding his breath until he was shipped out of town. So it follows that he’s above and beyond the “Ring of Honour”. Or at least, he should be.
But putting aside the Russian Rocket for now, who else is worthy in the “Ring of Honour”?
Well, if it were up to us (as it should be), we would allocate this year’s two other inductee spots to Harold Snepsts and Thomas Gradin.
Our man Harold logged the most games of any Canuck defender ever and was as tough as they came. And damn it, we’re prepared to forget about the pass to Mike Bossy with two seconds remaining in overtime in Game 1 of the ‘82 Stanley Cup Final. Indeed, despite that blunder, Harrrrrr-ollllllllld was arguably the biggest fan favourite in this town and always a menacing presence on the back end, something that today’s squad is often lacking. And it certainly helps that he has recently returned to the Canuck operation as part of the scouting crew.
When Thomas Gradin arrived in Vancouver as the best of the Swedish contingent that Jake Milford was pioneering in the NHL, his world class skill was immediately obvious; mostly because we’d never seen anything like it from a guy in a Canuck uniform. In the end, when he left Vancouver, he was the franchise point leader and had made plumber Stan Smyl a point per game player. Like Snepsts, he has been a member of the Canucks’ scouting crew for a few seasons and is solely responsible for the drafting of Alex Edler (who happens to sport Gradin’s number 23).
So what’s your take? In the end, it’s your “Ring of Honour”.