Saturday, October 26, 2013

Pavel Bure, Alex Ovechkin and other All-Star voting fallacies

Counting down to Bure night, this is the third in a 10-day series of posts that I now regret promising chronicling the Russian Rocket's career.

With Bure night exactly a week away, the Canucks are returning home from their road trip where they'll await Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals on Monday. Ovie's pure skill and goal-scoring ability have drawn him comparisons to Bure ever since he broke into the league.

This past off-season, Ovechkin made headlines when he was dubiously voted to both the First and Second NHL All-Star Teams. Thanks to a collective balloting error from the Professional Hockey Writers Association (PHWA), he was named to the First Team as a right wing and the Second as a left. As you can imagine, it was the first such All-Star deuce in NHL history (I feel like somewhere Roberto Luongo's ears just perked) and effectively cheated Taylor Hall out of a Second Team spot.

So what does this have to do with Pavel Bure? Well, the Writers Association does in fact have a history for this sort of thing. Only the reverse happened to Bure following his rookie campaign in 1991-92.

Bure, the victim of voting error, and Ovechkin, the beneficiary.

Despite dressing for just 65 games, Bure's 34 goals and 60 points established Canucks rookie records¹ and ranked third among first-year players league-wide. Due to the legal proceedings required for Bure to transfer from Russia to the NHL, he didn't start the 1991-92 season until November. By comparison, the two rookies ahead of him, Tony Amonte (69 points in 79 games) and Kevin Todd (65 points in 80 games), had much fuller campaigns to accomplish their superior totals.

With that in mind -- and on the strength of 22 goals in his final 23 games -- Bure was awarded the Calder Memorial Trophy, ahead of fellow nominees Nicklas Lidstrom and Amonte. Along with Pat Quinn's Jack Adams that year, it was the first major award won by a Canuck in league history.

When it came time to announce the NHL All-Rookie Team, however, Bure was curiously left off the squad. For awards such as the Vezina, in which the voters are different than for the post-season All-Stars (GMs for the former, PHWA for the latter), such a scenario might actually make some sense. Not so for the Calder and All-Rookies, as the writers vote for both.

In similar fashion to the Ovie debacle, the voters' confusion as to which side Bure actually played on resulted in his ballots being split between both wings.² Only rather than being voted to the All-Rookie Team twice, a la Ovechkin, he didn't receive enough ballots for either wing and was left off the squad altogether. (You're welcome, Gilbert Dionne.)

As a result, Bure became -- and remains -- the only Calder-winner to have been paradoxically left off the All-Rookie Team. Consider Ovie's redundant All-Star nod a reconciliation gift to Russia from the hockey gods voting media.

Ultimately, the Calder is a distinction of far higher profile and Bure's career is decorated enough that an All-Rookie snub is negligible. (In the face of IIHF and Hockey Hall of Fame nods, as well as his upcoming celebration at Rogers Arena, I doubt he loses any sleep over it.) Nonetheless, with Bure providing glaring precedent for the PHWA's latest voting misadventure this past summer, there appears to be considerable grounds for a serious revision in the balloting process.

As an interesting aside, Todd Bertuzzi also received a similar All-Star Team snub in 2002. Second runner-up for the Art Ross, he ranked third in voting on the left wing -- his wrong wing -- and sixth on the right. With 81 voting points for the left wing and 27 for the right, the combined total would have put him well ahead of Bill Guerin, who had 44 voting points on the Second Team's right wing.³

Nowadays, wingers are voted into the All-Rookie Team without the left or right distinction -- a policy that the league might be wise to expand to their All-Star Teams, as well.


¹His 35 goals surpassed Linden's 30-goal mark (1988-89), while his 60 points tied Ivan Hlinka (1981-82)
²As described by Joseph Romain and James Duplacey in Hockey Superstars (1994)
³Voting details from NHL FaceOff 2003 NHL Yearbook

See other posts from the BTD's Bure series:
Oct 24 Bure's Top 10 Goals as a Canuck
Oct 25 Top 10 Honourable Mentions
Oct 27 The staying power of Bure's 60-goal record
Oct 28 Bure and the progression of the Canucks' point-scoring record
Oct 29 The Bures, the Sedins and fraternal scoring supremacy
Oct 31 The long-term implications of Bure to Florida

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