Thursday, December 16, 2010

Why Pavel Bure Left Vancouver

It's been quite a few years, but the issue of Pavel Bure's departure from Vancouver has recently resurfaced.  When Bure played for the Canucks and requested a trade, there was a lot of secrecy and mystery around the situation at the time.

As a kid in High School, I was more interested in the Canucks on the ice as opposed to off the ice.  Bure's reputation in Vancouver appeared to largely be that he was the amazing player that he is, but also someone who was horrible with fans and not much better with the media.

GM Mike Gillis (and former Pavel Bure agent) appeared on the TEAM 1040 recently and indicated (at least when reading between the lines) that Pavel's number will not be retired by the team.  Instead, the team will do something else special for him.

Tony Gallagher reported about Bure's experiences years ago, and has republished that article after the recent discussions surrounding his Vancouver legacy.  The article is from January 20th, 1999.

Have a read for yourself, but here's the Coles notes:
  1. Bure arrived in LA waiting to meet with the Canucks who left him sitting for weeks.
  2. Bure was asked to pay $50,000 of his salary towards buying him out of his Russian contract
  3. After winning the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year, the Canucks felt he needed to prove his value more before signing a new contract.
  4. After agreeing to a contract of similar value to Sergei Fedorov and Alexander Mogilny, the Canucks pulled the rug out from under Bure by making the numbers in Canadian dollars instead of American dollars, a very uncommon practice. 
  5. Canucks refused to pay a signing bonus they owed him.
  6. Broken promises about moving Pavel, and a handful of other instances destroying trust.

In light of this, I personally have a lot more sympathy for Pavel than I did at the time.  He probably had to undergo unfair treatment from fans and the media who did not have the whole story.

When it comes to retiring his jersey though, who even knows if Pavel would want that from an organization that in his mind mistreated him so?

Stan Smyl, Trevor Linden and Markus Naslund were long-time captains.  They were ambassadors of the game, excellent hockey players, great in the community, are well-respected both on the ice and off.  Pavel Bure may have the on-ice credentials - as he was probably better than all three of the current players whose banners hang from Rogers Centre.

However, while skill set is one of the criteria to get your jersey retired, I'm not sure Pavel has checks in all the remaining boxes.  Bure did not spend his entire career in Vancouver, although I suppose he is best remembered as a Canuck.  Moreover, Pavel does not have the reputation as a leader that Smyl, Linden and even Naslund have, nor the longevity, nor the reputation for community involvement.

It may be a shame that Pavel's number will not be retired by the Canucks any time soon, but probably the right decision.

From the Province:
Pavel Bure's reasons for leaving the Canucks began accumulating before he'd even arrived in Vancouver.

Upon arrival in New York to join the Florida Panthers after his Sunday trade from the Canucks, Bure finally sat down to outline his reasons for wanting to leave.

He was convinced to do so only because he wants Canucks fans to know his reasons had nothing to do with the city, the people or even the rain. In one discussion, he detailed years of pent-up frustration over the silence he's maintained. The litany of neglect from Canucks management seems almost too absurd for words.

For starters, he first asked to be traded in 1993, five years and three months ago. But by far the most significant reason for wanting to leave came when, he said, somebody in Vancouver management made up a story that Bure threatened to withdraw his services during the '94 playoff run to the Cup final.

``Somebody from management planted that story,'' said Bure.

``They said I threatened not to play and it really pissed me off.

``It's a lie,'' said Bure with steel in his eyes. ``I don't want to say who did it because I don't want to say what I don't know. But I know one thing: I was promised to be traded. The contract was done before the playoffs even started. Ron (Bure's former agent Salcer) agreed with Pat (former GM Quinn) before Calgary. But the story was put out all over and by the time it was denied by Pat Quinn and everybody else, it was too late. It looked like a cover-up.''

While Bure would in no way even indicate whom he thought it might be, reason would indicate it was either then-acting assistant GM George McPhee or then-owner Arthur Griffiths. Quinn has indicated to some insiders he was led to believe Bure had threatened to withdraw his services by ``my guy'' but now says privately and publicly it never happened.

``At that point I just decided to get out for good,'' said Bure.

``It's just not the way you should do business.''

While it might be best to outline Bure's reasons for leaving in order of significance, we have chosen to start from the beginning in order to convey the cumulative effect. And so best to begin when he first left Russia and landed in L.A., where he stayed at Salcer's house.

``I was down there for two weeks before (Canucks management) showed up,'' Bure said. ``It was really hard. I thought they'd be waiting for me when I got there but there was nobody. I'd heard all this about how badly they wanted me and then I'm down there wondering what's going on. Then they finally send down Brian (Burke). We have a quick lunch and then it's another 10 days before they have me fly to San Jose to meet the rest of the guys.''

The club was waiting to settle a court case with the Russian Red Army team that had Bure under contract. 

The Canucks ended up buying out those rights for $250,000. Bure had to chip in $50,000 of it out of his first contract to pay off the Russians.

'`In my first year they admitted my first contract ($600,000 Cdn) was not enough, but when we went to talk about it they said, `Hold on, you have to play a little bit more. You have to prove it to us'.''

This started a long, torturous period of stonewalling by the Canucks on a new deal, which led to Bure's first request to be traded in November of 1993.

After 17 months of negotiation, a five-year, $14.7-million contract -- almost identical to the ones Sergei Fedorov and Alex Mogilny were signing in Detroit and Buffalo at the time -- was agreed upon.

Or at least Bure thought.

When he sat down to sign it, he found the Canucks had put everything in Canadian funds when in fact Fedorov and Mogilny were getting U.S. funds. No NHL star ever signs a Canadian-funds deal and the Canucks knew this.

``I was really happy with that contract. I would have been happy to sign that deal (in U.S. dollars). But then I finished the season with another 60 goals. And the market was going up.''

``About two months later, when I was starting slowly, they (most likely McPhee) told me, `You were lucky to get 60 goals,' and that I would never do it again. They told me I'd be lucky to get 30 again. I told them, 
`Forget about the contract, just trade me. You don't trust me, just trade me.' ''

``After that they said, `Sorry, let's start a whole new relationship.' But then (before he'd even signed the new contract) I'm already hearing how I threatened not to play in the playoffs.''

When a $25-million-US, five-year deal with staggering bonuses was finally agreed upon before the '94 playoffs, it was executed just before Game 3 of the final against the Rangers in Vancouver. Quinn apparently was not present at the signing. Bure refused to sign without Quinn there. Quinn was told of this and came in.

``I just felt like he didn't want to give me that contract and I really didn't want the contract.

``I asked for a trade, don't give me a contract! Ronnie said to sign the contract, but I had asked for a trade before that.''

``Part of the signing bonus was due on execution of the contract, but they were three months late. I didn't get any money until September.''

``I specifically asked Ron to put in (the new deal) that I was to get paid (if there was a lockout) because I thought there probably would be one. And the contract is pretty clear that I was to get paid.

``But they refused.''

Bure remained out of training camp after the lockout for five days, but was talked into going back after the 

Canucks agreed to negotiate. Quinn claimed he was told by the league not to pay guaranteed contracts until it was settled for all NHL players. But the issue dragged on and on and Bure became increasingly steamed.

``I didn't want to sue the team. I didn't think it would be proper to sue the team you were playing for.''

Bure was owed $1.7 million US under the terms of the deal, but after agent Mike Gillis became his agent, he managed to get $1 million of it paid.

``I finally got part of that money three years later.''

Before last season Bure met with Quinn and said that after his two seasons of injury maybe he would get an extra push if he was to be traded. Quinn told him he didn't want to trade him, but if that's what he wanted, he would.

Quinn then asked him to get playing well so the club could get market value for him, but 20 games into the season Quinn was fired.

``Every time I asked to be traded, they always agreed to. Nobody ever said, `We're not going to trade you.' But they always lied. They never did.''

Enter Mike Keenan. It was at this point Bure said he reconsidered the request quietly to himself because he liked the way Iron Mike was running the show. He was playing 27 or 28 minutes a night and loved it. But he decided there had been too much water under the bridge to turn back.

``I can tell you honestly I had no problem with Mike whatsoever and I loved to play for him. He was the coach and general manager at that time and I had 39 goals and a big bonus for 50. He called me in the office and said, `Listen, don't worry about 50 goals. I'll get you 50. I'll help you to do it.' And he was the general manager. I really like Mike.

He claims Keenan's style didn't bother him much and shrugged off the ``you little suck'' name-calling incident the coach engaged in during a game in Ottawa last season.

``That didn't bother me,'' Bure said.

``I played for (Viktor) Tikhonov so that was nothing.''

However Keenan did trade his friend Gino Odjick, which was by this time, the icing on the icing of the cake.


  1. Pavel should have his number up in the rafters.... Best Canuck ever

    1. There you go buddy!! ask you you shall receive! Especially when you're right ;)

  2. feeling personally responsible for starting the "Bure sucks" chant in GM place when he returned with Florida only not to play (broken finger), I do have a couple things to say about this:

    1. If you read between the lines, yes he go screwed by an organization that didn't care about players, teams, or the fans.... it was about $$$ at that time

    2. A big portion of this was about pride/money and how he was compared to his russian line mates (federov/mogilny)

    3. Initially he had a bad agent that should have read the fine print...

    Outside of all the cr*p above, he was\s single handidly the best athlete that has ever walked through the Canuck doors. I would challenge someone to name a better one. He deserves the notification of being recognized as one of the best. He took over games, playoffs (with elbows or goals), and excited fans. #s are meant to be retired because of contribution to the club. What he did for hockey in Vancouver will always be remembered, whether in the first game going end to end, or going puck off skate on a break-a-way, or simply because of the "bure bure" song ( which no other canuck player has a song)
    He should be part of the history of this club.... which means, his number should be retired. No other player in Canuck history has brought excitement to Vancouver the way the Bure did. this contribution alone deserves him his # retirement.

  3. I agree with the points that you make. When I re-learned the details of this story I was surprised that I was unaware of how poorly he was treated.

    When people were debating whether Naslund's number should be retired or not, my opinion was that I would be happy with it if Linden and Smyl were. If they think his name belonged beside theirs - then great.

    I wonder what the players would think of Pavel being up there. The Panthers and Rangers won't be retiring his number right? So if it's anyone, you think it'd be the Canucks. Seems funny for one of the game's most amazing players to have his number retired NOWHERE.

    He was pretty awesome when he was here, and I'm not saying these other players contributed as much, but why not Mogilny or Bertuzzi?

    Either way - I agree with your points (although Bertuzzi does have a song too... Heavy Eric has done quite a few!

  4. this is a very one-sided article. Other than Bure, I don't recall any other players saying the organization treated them horribly.

    Also, tony gallagher , the province journalist, did not get along with Brian Burke. So the article is going to be biased.

    Furthermore, Bure also burned bridges with his other teams as well.

    No he doesn't deserve to have his jersey in the rafters.

  5. Thanks for your comments Nicole, I do think the argument is one-sided lately because they see how awesome he was on the ice.

    I won't lose sleep at night over him not having his number retired.

  6. I just wanted to say that you have to be more than a great player to be retired to the rafters. You have to have made contributions to the community, and to the city which Pavel did not as much as others. I would rather he be remembered another way then his number retired.

  7. Bure was the best player EVER and anyone who says otherwise is just jealous! Nobody has ever come close to matching his skill and speed!!!

  8. Re NicoleJul 20, 2011 03:07 AM
    "this is a very one-sided article. Other than Bure, I don't recall any other players saying the organization treated them horribly"
    Nicole you need to talk to Cliff ronning and gino....they were treated pretyy badly by the orginization and I am srue they were NOT the only onles.

  9. I think that Pavel Bure should have his number retired to the rafters as he was the most exciting player ever for the canucks. He should be judged for his skill on the ice and what he did for the canucks. because he was not a Linden, or Naslund as far as helping in the community, he was far the best player on the ice and that is what the fans paid their money for......He has given me much joy watching the Canucks. I dont remember hockey names that were good in the community that I would want their numbers retired because of what they did outside the business of hockey. Its nice that players go visit the kids and spend some time with them, but I like it when a player can make my toes curl whenever he touches the puck, you just knew he was going to do something magical..... thank you Pavel for the memories

  10. GM Place (Rogers Arena)....the house that Pavel built.