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Pavel Bure’s Hall Of Fame Case

Yesterday the 2012 Hockey Hall of Fame class was announced.  Inducted are Pavel Bure, Adam Oates, Joe Sakic and Mats Sundin.  Over the next few days I will take a look at each using the Keltner List.  This is a series of qualitative questions made popular by Bill James for the Baseball Hall of Fame.

I feel Pavel Bure came close to a Hall of Fame career and at many points in his career projected to having one but due to knee injuries and a season lost to holdout never quite got there.  This is a case of a player who falls somewhat in the middle ground on this list; although I argue he falls short.

1. Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in baseball?

Some people did call Bure the best player in hockey but I think they were wrong.  He never finished higher than third in the Hart Trophy voting (this happened in 2000).  Bure was often called the most exciting player in his time.  This claim is probably accurate but it is different from being the best player.  It means that he was a fast skater who was known for some exciting offensive rushes.  The problem was Bure was not a complete two-way player.  His defence was always suspect and this made Bure a weaker player than his offensive totals would suggest.  Since he was never the top scorer in the league it is hard to make a strong argument that a player who only provided offensive value was the best player in the league if he didn’t lead the league in scoring.

2. Was he the best player on his team?

Yes.  For most of Bure’s career when he was healthy he was the best player on his team.  This was true in Vancouver, Florida and in the short time he was healthy with the New York Rangers.

3. Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?

Bure was only a one time First Team All Star at right wing.  This happened in 1993/94.  That is a strong claim that he was the top player at his position at that time but he didn’t last at that level for very long.  This happened for several reasons including knee injuries, his holdout and Mike Keenan’s attempt to play Bure at center.  Bure did make Second Team All Star twice in his days in Florida.  There is no argument that he was a better right winger than Jaromir Jagr who took the first team spots at that time.  I think the reasonable interpretation is that Bure was the top right winger in hockey for about a season until Jagr emerged and surpassed him.

4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?

Bure only made the playoffs four times in his career.  In part this is because he played on poor teams after the mid-90’s Canucks began to fade.  He was very significant in the Canucks 1994 trip to the Stanley Cup finals.  He led the league in goals in that playoff year.  He was not seen as the Canucks MVP in that playoff run (Kirk McLean was) but he was a key player in the core.  He was the top offensive player in the Canucks playoff runs from 1992 to 1995 - each of which went at least two rounds.  Even in his Florida playoff appearance in 2000 when his team got swept, Bure scored a point per game.  Pavel Bure was a top player when his team made playoffs.  It is a bit alarming how rarely they did make the playoffs.  He does have one significant playoff run in 1994.

5. Was he a good enough player that he could continue to play regularly after passing his prime?

Bure did not play a long career.  It was ended short due to knee injuries.  Perhaps he could have lasted past his prime had he been healthy, but he didn’t have a chance.

6. Is he the very best player in baseball history who is not in the Hall of Fame?

I would not call Bure the best Russian player who is Hall of Fame eligible who is not in the Hall of Fame.  That honor would go to Sergei Makarov.  It is possible to argue that Bure might be the best eligible Hall of Famer out there with Sakic, Oates and Sundin removed from the pool, but think it’s a misguided argument.  He is among the top dozen or so by any reasonable standard so the answer to this question is not a really big no, but it is a no.

7. Are most players who have comparable career statistics in the Hall of Fame?

Bure had 779 career points in a time that was relatively high scoring (though scoring dropped leaguewide by the end of his career).  Those totals are not impressive by Hall of Fame standards.  Many contemporary players had significantly more points in their careers and have no legitimate chance at making the Hall of Fame.  However Bure did this in only 702 games played.  This makes an impressive points per game.  The problem with using points per game to compare Hall of Famers is that most play long careers and their points per game drops in their later years.  Bure has a higher career points per game than he would have if he had a long career, so this comparison is unfair.  Bure’s best career number that makes a Hall of Fame case is the fact he led the NHL in goals three times.  That certainly is a Hall of Fame number, but it is one that exaggerates Bure’s value.  His game was one that produced a lot of goals but was lacking on defence.

8. Do the player’s numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?

His point per game numbers are impressive by Hall of Fame standards but that is partly because he retired young.  His peak goal totals are impressive by Hall of Fame standards.  His overall point totals in his career do not measure up because of his short career.

9. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?

Bure was not a strong defensive player.  He was not as good as his offensive totals suggested because of his lack of defensive value.  Bure was worse than his numbers suggest.

10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame but not in?

I think he is the best Hall of Fame eligible right winger.  The best other candidates I can think of are Theo Fleury and Rick Middleton.  This result is a bit surprising to me.  In a very strong class of potential Hall of Famers this year, it is surprising that few play right wing.

11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?

Bure finished third in the 2000 MVP voting.  That is his highest finish ever.  I think that shows his defensive issues.  Despite leading the NHL in goals three times, he never won or was runner up to an MVP.  He was good enough to get some MVP votes and be further back in the results on several occasions.

12. How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the other players who played in this many go into the Hall of Fame?

Bure played in the NHL All Star Game six times.  If there was one in the lockout shortened 1994/95 season he would have played in it as well.  This was essentially every full season that Bure played in his NHL career.  It is hard to find another season where he was healthy enough to have made it to the All Star Game.  Six All Star Games is significant and most players who play this many do make the Hall of Fame.  However most who play in six All Star Games also have a few years where they were All Star calibre and Bure doesn’t (due to health).  This number probably overestimates his short career.

13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?

The equivalent of a pennant in baseball is a Stanley Cup final appearance (as there are two pennants in baseball - one for each league).  Bure was the best player on the 1994 Vancouver Canucks who did make the Stanley Cup finals.  They were a bit lucky to do so as they were a lower seed in that playoff run.  In general I think Bure was a player who could be a solid core player on a Stanley Cup winner but I am not certain that he could be the best player on a team that is a traditional cup winner.  That is more likely to be a player who has a bigger overall value than the offensive Bure.

14. What impact did the player have on baseball history? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way?

Bure is one of the first Russian hockey stars to play a strong NHL career.  That gives him an international impact.  I think he was a unique offensive player who did not make any significant lasting changes to the game.  He played an exciting offensive style in a time that the game became more defensive.

15. Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?

Bure never really fit in to North American life.  His holdout forced a trade in 1998.  That is a black eye on his legacy.  It is rumored (though generally denied) that he threatened to not play during the 1994 Stanley Cup run unless he was given a big money contract extension.  Bure has some shady financial ties to the Russian mafia.  In part this is a cultural issue.  It takes significant motivation for a player to travel halfway around the world to play hockey in a new culture.  I think people have been unfairly hard on Bure regarding his character, but he has some issues in this department.

Pavel Bure was an exciting offensive player.  He had a short career due to injury and due to time lost to holdout.  His offensive totals over-estimate his value because of his lack of defensive skill.  I think it is clear that had Bure played a long career he would have had a Hall of Fame career, but I don’t think he played long enough to do so.  A player who plays as short a career as Bure did has to have been the best player in the league at some point to make the Hall of Fame and he wasn’t.  I think he fell short of a Hall of Fame career.

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Comments

Avatar

Pavel Bure was a trailblazer for Russian players, a sublime talent, and the top goalscorer of his generation.

He was robbed not getting in sooner.  Regardless of what you think about “falling short” ( which I dismiss entirely ) the man has a greater goal per game rate than anyone in the Hall, and of the Top 100 scorers in the history of the game.

If Neely is in, Bure is in.

End of story.

Next time you write a suspiciously self serving article ( how come former Wing Shanny did not get in? ) perhaps talk to someone that actually watched him.  He was a goalscorer for sure.

But he played some defense when he had to.

Besides, thats the lamest HOF rationalization I have heard!

The Hall is littered with “goal sucks”

No offense, I enjoy your articles usually.  But this one is off.  Bure easily deserves the HOF

Posted by vancitydan on 06/27/12 at 04:19 PM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

I can’t buy a lot of your points.

Regardless of what you think about “falling short” ( which I dismiss entirely ) the man has a greater goal per game rate than anyone in the Hall, and of the Top 100 scorers in the history of the game.

I interpret this to mean you think Bure had the highest goal per game rate of anyone in the Hall of Fame.  That is not true.  Perhaps you need to familiarize yourself with people like Mario Lemieux and Mike Bossy (and not that they are only this high because their careers were injury shortened).  I think you need to re-write what you wrote because I cannot understand the point.  You are too smart to make this big a factual error.

If Neely is in, Bure is in.

Cam Neely is a mistake.  If we let in every other similar player because of a mistake that has been made we get a pretty poor Hall of Fame.  I think the strongest argument against Neely in the Hall is how often people like you invoke him as a comparable to let in other players who should not make it.

The Hall is littered with “goal sucks”

Should it be?  Arguing that goal sucks make the Hall and Bure is a goal suck so he should be there too is not a fruitful direction to be going.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 06/27/12 at 04:50 PM ET

Avatar

the man has a greater goal per game rate than anyone in the Hall, and of the Top 100 scorers in the history of the game.

This is not only midleading, but also absolutely false. It’s an unfair comparison because you’re comparing per game rates between a guy who didn’t play through decline by age to guys who did, but even using this unfair comparison, Bure’s FIFTH, not first.

To put in perspective, had Gretzky retired at the 700 game mark, he’d be at .85 to Bure’s .62. And had Ovechkin retired after 2010, he’d beat Bure too (as would a bunch of guys if you cut their careers short…Hull, Robitaille, I think yzerman).

Posted by larry from pitt on 06/27/12 at 05:00 PM ET

LiteWork's avatar

He is pretty much the Mike Bossy of the 90s and early 2000s. Scoring back to back 60 goal seasons in the dead puck era is just as good as Bossy in the high scoring 80s. Plus back to back 50 goal season with Florida. In fact in 2000 he scored 58 goals in 74 games.
Bossy’s center was Trottier. He also shared the ice with Gillies and Potivn. Who was Bure’s center?

Posted by LiteWork on 07/03/12 at 07:28 PM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

I dont buy that comparison.  Mike Bossy had nine straight 50 goal or more seasons.  Every full season he played in the NHL was a 50 goal season.  Bure does not have nine healthy seasons.  This comparison strongly favors Bure.  Bossy had a better career.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 07/03/12 at 07:38 PM ET

LiteWork's avatar

In Bossy’s best season he scored 69 goals in 80 games. The league’s goals per game was 6.996 Bryan Trottier a Hall of Famer was his center.

Bure scored 58 goals in 74 games for Florida with no center. Goals per game in the NHL that year were 5.493.

Do you buy that?

Posted by LiteWork on 07/03/12 at 07:48 PM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

I think you are trying to assert that Bure had a higher peak value than Bossy because Bossy clearly had a bigger value over his career.  Although I do not dispute your numbers, I would dispute any conclusion that it shows Bure was a better player even in his peak.  The information you are neglecting is that 1) Bossy had more assists and hence more points 2) Bossy had a more successful playoff career winning a Conn Smythe 3) Bossy was better repected among players of his position.  He was a five time first team all star to Bure’s one.

Your comparison flatters Bure significantly.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 07/03/12 at 09:22 PM ET

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imageThe Puck Stops Here was founded during the 2004/05 lockout as a place to rant about hockey. The original site contains over 1000 posts, some of which were also published on FoxSports.com.

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