Report: Pavel Bure’s jersey to be retired, because he was insanely good at hockey

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.

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11 comments

  1. Daniel Cohen
    November 8, 2012

    great article on a great player, but its my turn to be editing nazi, I dont know if Pavel Bure can be inducted alongside Pavel Bure…
    I wish to be as good as you guys are at writing. It’s a dream of mine.

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    • Harrison Mooney
      November 8, 2012

      Oof. Thanks, Daniel.

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    • mad wag
      November 8, 2012

      regarding editing “naziism” (sic), “its” is the possessive case of “it”, while “it’s” is the contraction of “it is”, as you realized one of two times.

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  2. natevk
    November 8, 2012

    So, which number of his gets retired? 10 because he wore it in 94, or 96 because it’s completely unique to Bure…

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    • Rituro
      November 8, 2012

      It has to be the #10. #96 is way too esoteric to have retirement mean anything.

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      • sareddy
        November 11, 2012

        Pavel Bure is not a food!

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  3. Matt
    November 8, 2012

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RalEo65Mxz8&t=05m59s
    Don’t disappoint Jim Robson.

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  4. Jacob
    November 8, 2012

    Another example of Canucks fans’ fickle attitude towards players: I never much cared for Jan Bulis in his day, but recently I’ve been reconsidering that opinion for some reason I can’t quite explain…

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    • Taylor Mah
      November 8, 2012

      That’s funny, I feel the same way about Kyle Wellwood.

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  5. DanD
    November 8, 2012

    I must say, I was a Leafs fan living in Toronto during Bure’s prime years out here (I moved to BC in the summer of 1995). As much as I loved Clark, Gilmour and the gang, I wish we had someone half as exciting as Bure!

    As someone who watched a team with a lot of “heart” and “leadership” come very close but never make it to the finals, I hope we can recognize how crucial Bure’s contributions were to the Canucks during his years on the team.

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  6. Dan
    November 8, 2012

    I don’t disagree with your premise that the fans want to read a lot into his off-ice contributions or lack thereof. But, I think the other major difference between Bure and the other three whose sweaters were already retired is the length of time spend in Vancouver. Smyl, Linden and Naslund all spent the majority of their careers, including their best years, in Vancouver. Bure spent a little over half of his career in Vancouver – 7 of 13 years. He had 2 of his 4 best offensive seasons in Vancouver, the other two having been spent in Florida. He had a hall-of-fame worthy career, but only about half of it was spent in Vancouver. There has to be a dividing line that denotes how much of a career should be spent in a city before a sweater can be retired. For example, I think it’s ridiculous that Ray Bourque’s number was retired in Colorado. The only other guy I could really compare him to is Messier, whose number is retired by both the Oilers and Rangers, and I guess that’s a good argument for Bure’s to be retired by Vancouver, but Bure is not Messier. And should Vancouver retire Messier’s number as well? :-)

    My point is that lots of people are saying “He’s going into the HHoF but the Canucks don’t think his number should be retired?”, but that argument ignores the amount of time he spent here. Yes, his best years were here and over half of his career was here. Yes, he was the more talented and exciting Canuck ever. And, if he’d spent even a couple more years here I think it would be a slam-dunk. But with it having turned out the way it did, I think it’s fair to debate it.

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