Yesterday, I started my series on the ‘Wow’ factor with part one, and it did not exactly go over well. It was mostly because I made a few ridiculous statements about Peter Forsberg having more Wow than Wayne Gretzky, so I should probably just address that now. Wayne Gretzky holds just about every record in the book, he has more assists than Jaromir Jagr has points, and he is accomplished at every level he’s ever played. His records speak for themselves. He was clearly the greatest player to ever play, and changed the game in many different ways. That said, the highlights don’t hold up by today’s standards. If you watched him in real time, I’m positive that he would have had you leaping out of your seat on a nightly basis; However, when we look at highlight videos of it now, it looks like someone just put Drake Caggiula in the beer league where he belongs and watched him rip up the league. Wayne Gretzky was that far above the competition. This wasn’t meant to be a knock on the great one, it’s just that those of us under 35 didn’t have that chance to appreciate him for what he was. If it helps, just think of this series as the ‘Wow’ factor for the past 25 years. Better? Hopefully. If not, feel free to use the comment section — It’s very good for telling writers how wrong they are.
Now, today’s piece is probably going to be even more controversial than yesterday’s because I am using a player who predominantly played for the Vancouver Canucks — Pavel Bure.
I hate the Canucks. I can’t even think about that team without feelings of rage. They employed so many dirt bags over the course of their history. Alex Burrows, Ryan Kesler, Todd Bertuzzi, Maxime Lapierre, Matt Cooke, Raffi Torres, and probably a ton more that I’m repressing. I grew up in BC, around all those goddamn Canucks fans, it was just as bad as you could possibly imagine. Unfortunately, they had a game changing hall-of-famer in Pavel Bure.
Take the time to watch that video and look at the tremendous skill of this player. He had the hands, the shot, and most importantly, blazing speed. Without the speed, Pavel Bure likely wouldn’t have accomplished anything at the NHL level. It’s also why he was done at 30. His performance at the Nagano Olympics exemplifies exactly what he does, and how he does it. In that short tournament, he was at his very best.
Pavel Bure scored five goals in that game, and almost all were just pure speed. Breakaway after Breakaway, he gets a ton of scoring chances. I’m not sure if he ever even learned to pass, it just wasn’t important.
Bure waiting outside his own blueline for a pass, and then blowing past everyone for a breakaway wasn’t just the Wow factor where it felt like there could be a goal at any given moment, it was also how he changed the game.
He didn’t change the game simply by being fast and having more players try to be fast. Players have been trying to do that since the invention of hockey. No, Pavel Bure changed the defensive side of the game.
Back in the early 90s, players didn’t really have any form of shutdown defense. They had their blueliners try and maintain possession the same way they do now, but in the offensive zone, they would be trying to score. The transition wasn’t a huge concern because they were fast enough to catch players going the other way. If they were really lucky, they could get someone with a huge hit that would probably be illegal by today’s standards.
Bure was not a possession player. He felt his best chances would come off of turnovers and high quality scoring chances. He shot 14% at the NHL level, if the stats community was around back then, they’d have been yelling about regression for every game of his career. Except maybe bituman.
Bure was scoring goals (not assists) on every team for just over a decade doing this. Eventually teams started using the trap system, keeping a defenseman well back at all times to slow this kind of play down. Without Bure, I doubt we get the dead-puck era. He was the reason teams started playing boring hockey. Apparently you can’t have fun and exciting plays without an NHL coach trying to ruin it. The Devils really should send him a Stanley Cup ring, without him lighting up the league scoring 437 goals in 702 games, they don’t play the trap and they probably don’t win.
See, there we go, we got through another example of the ‘Wow’ factor. These pieces were actually supposed to be what the wow factor is, but seem to be getting confused with who exemplifies it best. Bure is an example of speed being a ‘Wow’ factor. Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting that he’s better at that than Gretzky. I reserve that only for Forsberg.