Pavel Bure made his NHL debut as a member of the Vancouver Canucks on November 5, 1991. It was a month into the 1991-21 schedule, but Bure was unable to join the team from the outset because the Canucks still had to settle a transfer dispute with his Russian club, Central Red Army. Once the two sides settled on a one-time cash payment of $250,000 in a Detroit court in late October (one-fifth of which was paid by Bure himself), Bure could finally make his long-awaited and memorable debut.
And speaking of big Novembers brought about by long, cumbersome delays by franchises being haughty and stubborn: it would appear the Russian Rocket will be informed this weekend by Vancouver Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini of the team’s plans to finally retire his jersey. From an incredible article by Jason Botchford that you should read immediately after you’re done with this one:
Vancouver Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini will travel across the continent this weekend for what is expected to be a historic dinner with Pavel Bure.
There, he will outline the organization’s plan to honour the Hall of Fame inductee and the most electrifying player in Canucks history.
Those close to Bure believe he will be told during supper on Saturday that the Canucks will give him equal status to the three guys who have had their jerseys retired before him.
And with that extremely controversial decision, the lockout-starved Vancouver news, radio and alternative media breathed a sigh of relief. Thank you, Francesco Aquilini. Just… thank you.
Of course, he isn’t doing it for us. The honour wasn’t inspired by the need for something to talk about so much as it was inspired by Bure’s impending entry into the Hockey Hall of Fame, where he will be inducted alongside Joe Sakic, Mats Sundin, and Adam Oates. As one of hockey’s most electrifying players gets set to be honoured on a global scale, now is undoubtedly a good time to debate whether Bure should be honoured on a local one.
And, while the decision appears to have already been made, the debate will still rage. Somehow, the vision of Bure’s jersey hanging in the Rogers Arena rafters is more divisive than the thought of it resting behind glass on 30 Yonge Street in Toronto. How the heck did this happen?
Canuck fans have a tendency to conflate who a player is as a person with who he is as a player, and Bure has been the victim of and maybe even the inspiration for this way of thinking. By several accounts, he just wasn’t the man Trevor Linden was in the community. He didn’t make the same effort to reach out. He didn’t ooze the overvalued, undefinable intangible we call leadership. He wasn’t as good in public.
(Unsaid: he was off-puttingly foreign in a less progressive era.)
But this didn’t make him any less good at hockey; Bure was insanely good at hockey. He was better — much better, in fact — than Trevor Linden, Markus Naslund or Stan Smyl. But there’s a saying: it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. Linden, Naslund and Smyl were all nicer guys.
Granted, this silly way of thinking was borne somewhat out of necessity. As Chris Withers points out, “we’ve had so very, very few players that merit the honour on skill, that falling back on personality is entirely warranted.” Fair enough. But that’s a way of looking at it that’s settled in over time.
As far as I’m concerned, the entire line of rhetoric was originally constructed as a defence mechanism by a Canucks ownership group that simply didn’t like this one guy. (The only way he’d get his jersey hung is if the punk was still in it, goes the joke.)
What’s more, the enduring line of rhetoric has come to pollute the way Vancouverites look at their hockey players.
We’ve seen ample evidence of it this summer. Cory Schneider was hailed as the next great Canucks goaltender not just because he’s good at getting hit with pucks, but because he’s so gosh darn charming in interviews. He’s such a likeable liberal! Similarly, noted non-liberal David Booth and his propensity for killing the world has turned a lot of fans against him. Dale Weise’s relationship to the people of Vancouver soured the moment he began tweeting amongst them. Kevin Bieksa was a source of great consternation for fans until he turned up the quip quotient in his interviews.
Roberto Luongo had been all but run out of town by Canuck fans when the @Strombone1 persona appeared. We didn’t know he was this funny, everyone said, and it somehow made many rethink the rough ride they gave him.
In all of these cases, their play had something to do with it, but fans are completely forgiving of mediocre and even poor play if they like a person. If they don’t, however, they’ll kill you on the smallest thing.
Or, in Bure’s case, they’ll argue that he doesn’t deserve something he completely deserves.
Bure’s skill transcends any other category of measurement. Regardless of who he was or is as a person in plainclothes, it’s pretty inconsequential to what he was able to do in a Canucks jersey: entertain, enrapture, and enthral in a way no one else ever has. He was the most talented player to ever play in this city, and since it’s the uniform — not the uniform leadership or uniform community outreach — that hangs in the rafters, this honour is long overdue.
We’ll have more on this tomorrow.Tags: Bure, holy crap real news, jersey, long overdue honours, Pavel Bure, retirement