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.

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