Sunday, October 26th, 2014

Bure and Gallagher

18

I don’t have all that much to say about the fact that Pavel Bure finally made the cut and will be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Clearly he belongs. I am happy for Bure because I’m sure he cares and he is easily my all time favourite player. Still, it doesn’t do anything to alter my opinion of the Hall of Fame. I don’t really care who is in and who is out because the institution has no credibility with me anyway. Bob Pulford is a Hall of Famer too. Nuff said.

Naturally, Tony Gallagher has a ridiculous piece on the Bure selection, a piece that reminds us that the ridiculous hockey media was the main reason Bure wanted out of Vancouver. He drags up the urban legend Gallagher helped create about Bure:

He was a considerably more gifted player, and the two didn’t really get along very well ever since a story came about during the 1994 playoffs that Bure had threatened to withdraw his services during the run to the Cup final unless his future contract demands were met.

Bure adamantly denies ever making that threat and what he’d really like to know is how the piece ever got legs.

Even if his agent at the time, Ron Salcer, had made such threats without his knowledge (which he says didn’t happen), how would those become public unless they had been leaked to somebody or some confidence had been broken by management or another player’s agent?

Bure has some strong suspicions as to how that story got going and sullied his reputation, so coming here to accept lesser status than Mr. Wonderful was not an option for him. And he may never come to Vancouver to honoured, although time heals all wounds and this will help.

This story was first reported by Al Strachan who mentioned it as a rumour an unnamed Russian player claimed he had heard. The rumour was promptly denied by Pat Quinn, George McPhee, Ron Salcer (Bure’s agent), Pavel Bure, and Canuck owner Arthur Griffiths. In fact, Griffiths insisted Bure’s extension had already been negotiated before the 1994 playoffs began. The parties agreed to delay the announcement and a signing ceremony until after the playoffs were done.

Don Cherry – he hated Bure because he is a Russian – added fuel to this fire on a Coach’s Corner when he repeated the rumour despite all the denials because “where there is smoke there is fire”. Quinn was so mad he went to the CBC and insisted on rebutting Cherry during the intermission following Cherry’s broadcast. He did so in no uncertain terms.

None of this stopped Tony Gallagher from repeating the rumour dozens of times over the following few years. Even though no one who was actually involved in Bure’s contract did anything but deny the story and despite the fact that there was never any evidence and no one ever claimed to actually have a source, Gallagher actually called the story “well documented”.

When Bure was finally traded, he kept his promise to reveal the reason he wanted out of Vancouver in a very strange way. (I suspect Mike Gillis – then Bure’s agent – orchestrated it.) He gave an exclusive interview to Al Strachan and Tony Gallagher in New York. The two reporters who did more than anyone to invent this story out of whole cloth flew to New York and met with Bure.

Bure told them that the story hurt him personally and damaged his reputation. He told them he had no idea where the story came from or why it kept showing up in the media. He hoped that by leaving Vancouver the ridiculous – and untrue – stories about him would stop. He hoped that in Florida he would be defined by his play and not by the media nonsense. (In this respect he was right.)

Gallagher was forced to write a story laying all this out while wondering which nefarious Canuck manager was spreading all these nasty things about Pavel and his contract. This was pretty funny to anyone who had followed the entire story closely. If Tony Gallagher did not know who was behind the story, who would? Who were Gallagher’s sources? He did not have any. He never did. The entire story was bullshit. Al Strachan bullshit. Tony Gallagher bullshit.

I don’t think people who did not live through it can understand the media circus that surrounded Bure in Vancouver. Stories linking his name to Russian mafia murders? Check. Stories about his popularity in the gay community and whispers about his sexual orientation? Check. Linden and Bure were feuding? Check. Anything to put Bure on the front page and sell papers? Check.

I was very sorry to see Pavel leave, but I did not blame him. I would have wanted to get out of Vancouver and go where I was appreciated too.

Postscript: Bure was very badly treated by the hockey media in Vancouver and that affected his reputation league wide, but not among Vancouver hockey fans. We loved and appreciated him, even if the media did not.

Postscript II: There was a problem with Bure’s big contract in Vancouver although not the one described by Gallagher. Bure believed his $5 MM a year contract was supposed to be tax free like the contracts for hockey players in Russia. When he found out it did not work that way in North America, he claimed the Canucks (or his agent) misled him. When the Canucks didn’t budge, Bure fired Salcer and hired Gillis.

Postscript III: In his story today, Gallagher drops this line at the end: “Similarly, what if the team had kept Igor Larionov, as any normal team would have done?” Gallagher knows the Canucks had no choice with Larionov. I’d explain but it would take another 1,000 words and I need a shower to wash off the Gallagher.

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Comments

18 Responses to “Bure and Gallagher”
  1. IffyB50 says:

    Pavel Bure by far was the greatest of all Canucks. Tony Gallagher is by far the greatest turd of all reporters. And the only turd known to also act as a leach.

  2. IffyB50 says:

    Sorry, “leech”. Got real riled up there for a bit and forgot how to spell, just like Tony forgets about the truth.

  3. beingbobbyorr says:

    Really pleasant surprise to this Southern California resident who thinks Bure is among the 5 most exciting players of all time. I still kick myself for not having gone to see him more often at the Forum (LA) & Arrowhead Pond (Anaheim) when Vancouver rolled through town in the 90′s.

    • Tom says:

      Man, he was something. His last season in Vancouver, he had 100 breakaways in the season. In the dead puck era!

      In Vancouver you could see it coming. The puck would get knocked out of the Canuck zone, Pavel would take his first step, the d-man would start to flail and panic… by the time Bure took his second stride, everybody in the rink knew that Pasha was gone and as one we were sucked out of our seats roaring.

      Favourite play without a goal? Against the Leafs he picked up the puck behind the Leaf net with Leafs coming at him from both sides. With a backhand flip, he tossed the puck about 20 feet in the air over the net over Potvin to drop into the high slot. Meanwhil Pavel dodged a Leaf, dashed around the net and got to the front in time to whack the puck on the first bounce. Potvin was sooo lucky to get hit by the puck.

      Even the Leaf crowd roared and went “Bzzz, bzzz, bzzz” as people turned to each other, “Did you see that?”

      “Did you see that? What did he do there?” was a very common refrain during Bure games.

  4. Rajeev says:

    Gallagher knows the Canucks had no choice with Larionov. I’d explain but it would take another 1,000 words and I need a shower to wash off the Gallagher.

    Please, please do so!

    I really enjoyed this piece on Bure. One of my all time favorites and one of the more breathtaking players to ever play the game.

    • Tom says:

      The Larionov story is a great Pat Quinn story. It may also be a great Larionov story, but I don’t think anybody will ever confirm it.

      The problem with Larionov cropped up almost immediately. Not with his play – he was excellent – but with the way the Russian Federation held up Quinn and the price that Quinn paid to get Larionov and Krutov out of the Soviet Union. Quinn agreed to pay a hefty fee to the Russians as long as Larionov had a contract with the Canucks. The Russians had a piece of Igor forever.

      That was unacceptable to Larionov – he hated the guys who ran the Federation – and he hit the roof when he found out. “They don’t get another dime,” Igor said. “Not from me.” He declared that he would never sign another NHL contract if his team had to continue to make payments. Under the deal, the Canucks couldn’t even trade Igor without transferring that obligation to the new team.

      Quinn tried to satisfy Igor by stopping the payments. He tried to invalidate Krutov’s contract entirely based on the fact Krutov was too fat! The Russians took Quinn to arbitration where of course he was forced to pay what he had agreed to pay. Anyway, much begging ensued, but Igor stuck to his guns. When his contract expired he signed a three year deal with Davos in Switzerland. Igor was out of the NHL forever. If he returned, the Canucks (or any team the Canucks traded him to) had to resume payments to the Russians.

      At this point, one of two things happened. One, Pat Quinn decided to be altruistic. “Igor belongs in the NHL. I can’t trade him, but I can give him away.” Quinn inexplicably protected Tim Hunter and waived Igor. San Jose was the first team who could claim him and they could sign him without obligation to the Russians. Igor exercised his out clause with Davos and signed with the Sharks.

      The alternative story – the one I suspect is true – is that Igor and Quinn made a deal. “You get me out of here,” said Igor, “and I will get you Pavel Bure.” The Canucks drafted Bure when every other team thought he was ineligible. Screams went up, but Larionov went back to Russia and came up with some “game sheets” that had never been seen before. The sheets showed Bure had played several more games – barely enough extra games – in a senior league to be eligible for the draft. Everybody thought it was bullshit, but no one could prove Bure had not played those games.

      The Canucks got Pavel and a year later, Quinn waived Igor to get him out from under the Russians and back in the NHL. Did Larionov engineer what was in effect a trade? Larionov for Bure? It sure smelled like that to me.

      In any case, Gallagher knew then and he knows now that the Canucks had no chance to keep Larionov.

  5. beingbobbyorr says:

    For those who saw him fairly often, what’s the honest, as-close-to-objective-as-possible opinion about Pavel Bure’s defensive shortcomings? . . . . including, but not limited to, the dreaded C-word (cherry-picking).

    • Tom says:

      I don’t think he was a poor defender. He was built like a rock and he fought hard along the boards. He took enormous punishment but he gave as good as he got given a real chippy streak. His speed was valuable defensively and he was on loose pucks like a mongoose on a snake. When he did get the puck he moved it like nobody’s business. Defenders hardly ever pinched when he was out there. He was good enough defensively for Mike Keenan to try him at centre for several games. His defense did not end the experiment. It ended because having Bure fight for pucks behind his own net was a silly way to use his talent.

      As for the cherry picking argument, there is a grain of truth, but I think it is a pretty poor criticism of Bure. When I defended Bure back in the day, I’d write, “He’s a goal suck? Yeah? So what? Don’t you wish your team had somebody so good the coaching staff wanted him to goalsuck?”

      About the worst Quinn ever said about Pavel’s defence was “We want him to leave early but not too early. Tonight Pavel was impatient, too early, too often. He knows that. He’ll be back to just early tomorrow.” There were definitely some goals scored against because Bure was a high risk player, but there is no way the Canucks lost on the gamble. The Quinn strategy was to turn him loose and the Canucks scored many more goals because he was creative than they gave up because he misread a play and ended up at center when the play was in front of his goaltender.

      When the Canucks were burned with a Bure cherrypick, was it a Bure defensive shortcoming or is it merely the price paid for implementing the obviously correct coaching philosophy? “If you have a Pavel Bure on your team, you turn him loose.”

      • I think its clear that Bure was not as valuable to his team as another forward who put up similar numbers and was more frequently involved in the play defensively but there weren’t very many players who scored enough to qualify for that comparison. Bure’s value was a little less than his offensive numbers suggested. We see that in the fact he was a three time top goal scorer in the NHL and his best Hart Trophy finish was third.

        None of that says Bure was a bad player or a poor value for Vancouver or Florida. Whe he was healthy he was one of the better players in the game – he was never the best player in the game. The problem was he wasn’t healthy long enough for a Hall of Fame career in my book (though he came close). Perhaps if he played the season he held out he might have tilted things a little more in his favor.

        He gets in to the Hall of Fame on the Cam Neely loophole. He was clearly better than Neely and healthy a little bit longer. Neely was a mistake for the Hall and Bure is better than that mistake.

        • Tom says:

          I think its clear that Bure was not as valuable to his team as another forward who put up similar numbers and was more frequently involved in the play defensively but there weren’t very many players who scored enough to qualify for that comparison. Bure’s value was a little less than his offensive numbers suggested. We see that in the fact he was a three time top goal scorer in the NHL and his best Hart Trophy finish was third.

          I don’t think you can provide any evidence at all that suggests that Bure’s value is any less than his posted numbers. He was far from a one dimensional player. The fact that “there are few players who put up similar numbers and was more frequently involved in the defensive play” is true is not an argument against Bure. It is prima facie evidence that Bure was an outstanding player. How do you assess the quality of Bure’s defense to arrive at this opinion?

          Disqualifying Bure because he was never perceived to be the best player in the league seems to me to set a very high bar. When he was healthy he was clearly and obviously one of the best players in the league. Furthermore, he was a spectacular player, one of the most electrifying ever. He was famous.

          The Hall of Fame is a self defining institution with no criteria for entry. There is no such thing as a Cam Neely loophole because there are no rules to thread through. Neely is far from the worst player in the Hall. I have no idea who should be in and who shouldn’t be because there is no criteria that can be discerned. But any set of criteria that excludes Bure seems flawed to me.

          I think your argument comes down to: “He ruined his knee so he wasn’t great for long enough.” That’s a fair opinion, I guess, but I think it’s a pretty thin rationale to exclude a unique talent and one of the most dazzling players the game has ever seen.

          • Tom: I think your argument comes down to: “He ruined his knee so he wasn’t great for long enough.”

            PSH: Its more accurate to say he wasn’t great enough for long enough. Had Bure been the best player in the NHL for a while in his career I would say he was good enough for the Hall of Fame. He had a short career and wasn’t the best player in the league. It is hard to argue he was the best player in his position since his prime corresponded with Jaromir Jagr’s. That doesn’t cut it for me. If you are to make the Hall of Fame with a short career you must really be a great player to make it. Bure doesn’t reach the standard of being good enough for his short career or alternatively as having a long enough career for a player of his calibre to make the Hall.

            That isn’t to say he is the biggest mistake in the Hall or even the biggest recent mistake, but he doesn’t clear the bar that I think should exist.

          • Tom says:

            That isn’t to say he is the biggest mistake in the Hall or even the biggest recent mistake, but he doesn’t clear the bar that I think should exist.

            1) The bar that you think should exist has nothing to do with the bar that does exist. The actual bar is all over the map. What makes your criteria valid?

            2) Whether Bure was great enough is a subjective assessment, but nobody can deny he is one of the most exciting, entertaining players the game has ever seen. You don’t deny that he was a spectacular player in that respect, do you? That he was, by himself, worth the price of admission? That hockey fans did not love to watch Bure play?

            How many guys who can be fairly described as a dazzling talent are not in hockey’s Hall of Fame? Hockey fans all over the world know Pavel Bure.

            How do you disqualify that in a Hall of Fame candidate? How do you exclude one of the most famous players of his generation? One of the most dazzling entertainers the game has ever seen?

  6. Rajeev says:

    I think its clear that Bure was not as valuable to his team as another forward who put up similar numbers and was more frequently involved in the play defensively but there weren’t very many players who scored enough to qualify for that comparison.

    What’s the subset of those players? It doesn’t include Gretzky or Lemieux. And what does it even mean to be “involved in the play defensively?” As Tom correctly points out, Bure hindered the other team’s offense by preventing defensemen from pinching, by likely making them make impatient, hurried plays at the point. I think your argument, as canonical within the mainstream hockey narrative it is, treads that fine line between nonsensical and ridiculous.

    Whe he was healthy he was one of the better players in the game – he was never the best player in the game.

    I’ve said this before in this very space, but it’s worth repeating because of just how under appreciated it is: I think Bure’s two full seasons in Florida are among the most impressive single goal scoring seasons in the history of the league. He led the league both seasons (absolutely decimating the league in 99/00 with a ridiculous 32% more goals than the runner up), and did so on a woefully bad Panthers team. In 99/00, he had more goals than the 2nd and 3rd top scorers combined, and in 00/01 he had more goals than the next five (!) top scorers on his team. Has that ever happened in the history of league?! He single handedly willed and skilled the 99/00 team into the playoffs. It was just a dominating performance that is tragicomically overlooked by those that follow and write about the game these days. Oh well.

  7. beingbobbyorr says:

    a) He played 12 years in the league, where the average career is < 10 ??? Given how rare the other end of the spectrum (a 20-year career) is, I think that Pavel's dozen seasons more than meets any longevity concerns.

    b) In 5 out of those injury-plagued years, he topped 50 goals, in a (mostly) dead-puck era where 50 goals was a real mountain to climb.

    c) Although this is admitedly grossly subjective, PB's capacity to bring fans literally out of their seats at the beginning of any rush — just at the anticipation of what he might do — is a compelling component of his legend, and pays part of his airfare into the Hall of FAME. The other players who "brought fans out of their seats" (SuperMario, Gretzky, Orr) all got in without even the 3-year waiting period.

    The (Canadian hockey media's) anti-Russian bias probably comes into play here. Although I think there is some justification for that bias on a statistical* basis, it's also true that that same Canadian hockey media is too lazy to try and figure out if/how it applies to individual Russians.

    * Note how in 2010, Ovechkin (& Malkin?) were claiming to be prepared to give up the entire 2013-14 NHL season if NHLers weren't going to be allowed to go to Sochi. When as any American or Canadian NHLer ever made similar threats? These kind of real, demonstrable attitudes contribute to the "Russkies don't (on average) care about the Cup like we do" stereotype.

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  1. [...] CANUCKS CORNER: Tom Benjamin examines how an unfounded contract rumor by two reporters contributed to Pavel Bure’s departure from Vancouver. [...]

  2. [...] the local Vancouver media played in shaping Bure’s career and legacy in Vancouver, I quote from an excellent post by Tom Benjamin about the way in which the media, and in particular Vancouver Province journalist Tony Gallagher, [...]



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