Pass or Fail – Bure to the rafters in Vancouver

On Monday, the Hockey Hall of Fame finally did what they should have years earlier, in admitting Pavel Bure.  Bure was one of the most exciting players in league history, but had his career cut short by injury, which, presumably, is why they made him wait six years.  He finished his career with 0.623 goals per game, third among the 100 highest goal-scorers of all time, behind only Mario Lemieux and Mike Bossy.  Suffice it to say, he loved scoring goals, and he did so better than almost anyone else, during an era in which other players were allowed to waterski behind him to slow him down.

Monday’s induction kicked off a fresh round of debate as to whether Bure’s number should be retired in Vancouver.  For a time, Bure was one of the most-loved Canucks ever.  From his first shift against the Jets, he lifted fans out of their seats.  For the first time ever, the Canucks had a star, and Vancouver fans could hardly believe their eyes.  In his second and third seasons, Bure scored 60 goals, proving him an elite talent, and it appeared that the best was yet to come.

Then came the 1994 playoffs, and with a 2nd-overtime series winner against the Flames in the 1st round, Bure became a legend.  His 2nd-round flying elbow on Shane Churla made it clear he wouldn’t take any crap from anyone, and had the Canucks won game 7 in the Stanley Cup Finals, Bure could have run for mayor.

What happened instead was a series of rumours that Bure, whose agent had been renegotiating his contract, had threatened to pull himself out of the lineup during the playoffs (something GM Pat Quinn publicly and vehemently denied).  Ultimately Bure signed a new 5-year deal, but he later admitted he had already asked to be traded.  It’s never been clear why Bure wanted out of Vancouver, though it’s commonly thought that he felt mistreated by Canucks management.  It might have been reasonable for him to feel that way – GM Pat Quinn, while generally an honourable sort, has been accused of a number of less-than-friendly tactics, and there’s enough smoke that there must be some fire.

Then came the 1994 NHL lockout, after which Bure held out for 4 days and eventually sued the team, over a claim that his contract was guaranteed to be paid even during a lockout.  It can’t be a good situation to be playing for a team that you’re also suing, and the shortened season wasn’t among the best for either the team or for Bure.

Before the 1995-96 season, Bure changed his jersey number from 10 to 96, then tore his ACL.  The following season he played through a neck injury and his point totals suffered.  In 1997, he switched back to #10, and his point totals rebounded – he finished the year in 3rd place among the NHL’s scoring leaders.  But another report of a trade request proved accurate, and Bure chose not to play again for the Canucks, finally forcing a trade to Florida for Ed Jovanovski and some spare parts.

I tell that whole story to illustrate that it’s fair to say that Bure’s time in Vancouver was a mixed bag.  Ask some Canucks fans for adjectives describing Bure, and you’ll get “selfish” just as often as you’ll get “incredible”.  The way he left Vancouver has soured some on Bure, and that group of people would vote against retiring Bure’s number.  Some have even said that Bure wouldn’t want to attend a retirement ceremony out of fear that there would be as many boos as cheers.

So, should Bure’s sweater be retired?  The arguments for retiring Bure’s are somewhat obvious – he’s still 7th in Canucks team scorring, 5th in goals, 3rd in hat tricks, 4th in game-winning goals, 2nd in power-play goals, 1st (by a long shot) in short-handed goals, 3rd in playoff scoring, 2nd in playoff goals; he also had the most goals in a season (60, twice), and most goals and points in a playoff season, not to mention his leading role in the team’s magical playoff run in 1994.  He was the most exciting player in team history, and he was the person who turned many non-Vancouverites into Canucks fans.  In the 90s, if you saw a Canucks jersey outside of Vancouver, it was likely Bure’s.  Quite simply, Vancouver has never had a player like him before or since.

However, the arguments against retiring his jersey are also out there.  The way he left Vancouver is the one quoted most often – when a guy can’t wait to get out of Vancouver, it’s not hard to argue that he doesn’t belong amongst the team’s most revered players in history.  This argument is also the most petty.  It says nothing about the way he played or how beloved he was for most of the time he was here.

People outside Vancouver point to his career stats and the fact that he’s been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, and say if he’s good enough to be honoured among the league greats, how could he not be good enough to be one of the top Canucks ever?  This argument has merit, but only to a point.  Bure spent only 7 of his 13 seasons in Vancouver, and had two of his best four years offensively while in Florida.  428 of his 702 games were in Vancouver, along with 254 of his 437 goals, but that also means that much of his career success came in Florida, and to a lesser extent in New York.  Compare that to Markus Naslund, who spent 884 of 1117 games in Vancouver, and scored 346 of 395 goals there.

There’s also an argument that can be made for the Canucks having some specific criteria for their retirees.  Each of the 3 who were previously honored were longtime captains and each was very involved in the community, to go along with team-leading career statistics.  Bure, on the other hand, was rarely seen in the community outside of Vancouver’s night-life scene – he preferred to make his statements on the ice, and as a young kid only learning to speak English, he was never comfortable as a spokesman for the team.

Personally, I have a different argument that gives me pause.  The Canucks, as a 41-year-old franchise, have 3 sweaters in the rafters of Rogers Arena already.  Few in Vancouver could argue with those choices.  And let’s be honest, if Daniel and Henrik Sedin finish their careers in Vancouver, theirs will go up as well, for many of the same reasons we see Linden’s and Naslund’s up there, bringing the total to five, or six if you include Bure.  Now, let’s just dip into fantasy for a moment – let’s say the Canucks win a cup or two in the next 5 years.  I have to think that would ultimately result in a couple more retirements – Kesler, maybe Bieksa, possibly Schneider depending on how the rest of his career goes and how long he stays in Vancouver.  Now you’re up to somewhere between 7 and 9.  Let’s compare that to the Detroit Red Wings, an original-six team with 11 cup wins.  They have six jerseys retired, soon to be 7 once they put Lidstrom’s up.  Does it seem right that Vancouver, with no cups and a 40-some year history, should have so many numbers retired?  At some point you have to hold the bar high in order to keep the totals from getting ridiculous.  Should Bure be above the bar? Arguably, yes, but you can definitely debate it.  Some would say that if it’s debatable at all, then there should be no debate.

Regardless of how you see it, it’s fair to say that it’s not a slam-dunk either way.  Most-loved or most-hated, or both?  It’s clear that he should be honoured in some way by the team, but is retiring his jersey the best way?  It’s been reported that Bure was offered a spot in the Canucks’ “Ring of Honour” but declined.  If that were true, then it would be jersey retirement or bust.  Tough call.

What say you?  Bure’s #10 to the rafters – Pass or Fail?