Friday, July 13, 2012

The Rushin' Rocket and Geoff Courtnall's HOF foul

The Province ran an article today, blasting Mikael Samuelsson for a recent Swedish interview disparaging Alex Burrows and his finger-biting antics in the 2011 SCF.  Good for Botch.  But he and his paper missed another interview foul in their own backyard when they reached former Canuck Geoff Courtnall for comment regarding Pavel Bure's HHOF induction just over two weeks ago.  Read on for the article they should've printed.

My apologies to Pavel Bure.  For a blog sullying his good name by association, BTD has been woefully silent on last month's Hockey Hall of Fame induction.  Somewhere out there, sitting on millions of rubles and memories of Anna Kournikova, I know the Russian Rocket's been waiting for my two kopecks on the matter...

By now you've surely read the dozens upon dozens of articles covering the drama of Bure's overdue selection into the Hall.  If not, don't with anything in the media, they're all echoes of the same stories we've been hearing since his departure 13 years ago:

*Most electrifying Canucks player ever, yes.
*Most electrifying player of his time, (arguably) yes.
*Vancouver needs to retire his number, of course.
*The Canucks organization hated (and still hates) Bure, naturally.

The last one is questionable, but that debate is a can of worms worthy of putting the current Luongo-Schneider drama to shame.  (You can read the Sparknotes version of Bure vs. the Canucks in this Province article.)   At any rate, those four statements essentially form the skeleton for 99% of the media's coverage on Bure's pending induction.  That's why one particular article stood out last month in the wave of coverage following the announcement.

In an interview with The Province, former Canucks teammate Geoff Courtnall provided some bold insight into Bure's previous non-selections.  Word for word, Courtnall blamed the Hall for "prejudice towards Russian players in the NHL."  While it's not an original perspective (here's to you, Don Cherry), nor one of much consequence to Courtnall (I doubt he has any illusions of receiving a call himself from the HOF), it's interesting nonetheless. 

Here's why.  In addition to Russians, you can presumably extend this prejudice that some feel exists in the NHL towards Europeans, in general.  For all the hype Bure's HOF snubs have garnered over the last half decade, it's kind of poetic that in the year he does get the call, another glaring pass has been made towards Brendan Shanahan, a Canadian.  In addition to Bure, Shanahan was overlooked in favour of Swedish centre Mats Sundin (perhaps the Hall isn't so much anti-Russian as it is pro-Toronto).  It's hard to imagine such a prejudice as Courtnall has suggested exists when a Russian and a Swede get voted in for the Hall ahead of a Canadian with 600 goals.  The retired power forward and current league disciplinarian now enjoys the distinction of being the most prolific point-scorer in NHL history not in the Hall of Fame (among those who are eligible¹).

Besides Shanahan, another Canadian remains waiting in the wings in Eric Lindros.  The latter is arguably much less of a snub than Shanahan, but the former Flyer's injury-shortened career is almost a carbon copy of Bure's.  Along with Bure, pre-concussion Lindros had few peers to match his skill and dominance in the 90's.  Their stats are near-identical.  779 points in 702 games for Bure; 865 in 760 for Lindros.  Both starred in their teams one-off playoff runs – Bure in 1994 and Lindros three years later.  And while the Rocket garnered a few more individual awards by comparison (a Calder and two Maurice Richards), Lindros's Hart holds considerably more NHL cred.  Even off the ice, Lindros' departure from Philadelphia had all the controversy Bure's did in Vancouver.

So.  Geoff Courtnall.  While you gotta admire him coming to Bure's defence, his claim appears to be unfounded.  For what it's worth, his accusation does provide an effective starting point to analyze the Hall's incosistencies.  At any rate, Vancouver can finally put the issue to rest.

Regarding his play on the ice, the NHL was exceedingly lucky to have seen as supremely talented and entertaining a player as Bure was.  This city, all the more so to have had him on our side.  I can appreciate the reasons why he wasn't chosen in his first six years of eligibility – first and foremost, for lack of longevity – but byegones will be as such.   Starting now, we can officially appreciate Bure's place among the league's very best of all-time.  Meanwhile, Detroit and Philadelphia can continue the same weeping and wailing we've endured for our former superstar.  (Only difference is, Geoff Courtnall, theirs are Canadian.)


¹ Ahead of Shanahan are Jagr and Selanne, who are still active, as well as Recchi and Modano, for whom the three-year waiting period has not yet passed.  Next on the list is Pierre Turgeon.

*See the discussion regarding this article on the forums here.

Friday, July 06, 2012

The Kesler effect: Booth to hit 30?

Of all the Canucks players not named Luongo or Schneider this off-season, perhaps the only one to make any noise has been David Booth (See: Hunting video misguidedly published online).  Whether the Canucks winger should be condoned or criticized or his bear-hunting practices is borderline irrelevant completely up to non-hockey-related debate.

For that reason, it’s unfortunate that any mention of him until training camp will likely redirect attention to that incident (one Province column even facetiously asked in a headline, “Would Canucks trade David Booth after bear bait incident?”), cause speaking hockey, Booth represents the Canucks' central X-factor for the upcoming season.  If there's one player whose impending breakout season the team will benefit most from, it's Booth.  So to the multitudes on the forums heralding Zack Kassian for that role, sorry, but no.

When Gillis traded for Booth last October, the Canucks essentially flipped Mikael Samuelsson and change for a younger, more exciting version of the aging Swede.  At his best, Samuelsson represented valuable second-line scoring and upwards of fifty points you can bank on.  By comparison, Booth delivered 16 goals and 30 points over 62 games in a first year with Vancouver interrupted by major injury.  On a points-per-game basis, that ranked sixth among team forwards, behind the Sedins, Burrows, Kesler and Higgins.  That’s not quite as eye-popping as one of his forays to the front of the net can be, but it’s not a hugely underwhelming performance.  It's also consistent with his expectation to contribute top-six numbers.

Still, the organization and fans will undoubtedly, and even justifiably, want more in 2012–13.  The need is even greater with Kesler sidelined for the first month-and-a-half… though playing without a bonafide centre to start the campaign will logically work counteractively towards that. 

On the flip side, consider that even with a winger capable of scoring, Kesler became even more unwilling to make a pass last season.  (I don't care how many goals you scored two years ago, you can't shoot the puck through the defenceman's skates on every single rush.)  With Kes gone until mid-November, it could spark Booth to take more responsibility for his performance on the second line.  He will conceivably have more puck-time and, consequently, more opportunity to prove why fans voted him for the Most Exciting Player Award at the end of the regular season.  For the former Panthers cornerstone, a return to 30-goal form is not out of the question, even after his multiple concussions in 2009–10.

Though he's been inconsistent in his short tenure with the Canucks, the upside to Booth is that when he does make something happen, everybody notices.  It's legitimate reason to hope he can be a major part of this team for a long time. A little over a month ago, I wrote an article highlighting Henrik Sedin’s top five assists from the previous season.  So without further ado, as determined by Bure’s Triple Deke... Booth’s top five plays from 2011–12:

It makes Canucks fans and management alike salivate at what level he could attain if he did it on a consistent basis.


*See the discussion regarding this article on the forums here.