Thursday, October 31, 2013

The long-term implications of Bure to Florida

Fourteen years later: Ed Jovanovski and Kevin Weekes
 were two of Vancouver's key acquisitions in the 1999 trade.

It will continue to be the main sticking point for detractors of Pavel Bure's upcoming jersey retirement -- the trade.

Simply put, Bure wanted out. And that's gonna leave a sour taste in a lot of people's mouths long after November 2. But regardless of who was at fault for Bure's relationship with the team deteriorating, the trade ushered in a new era that the Canucks badly needed at the time.

Bald-deep in the Messier nightmare, Vancouver was a mainstay in the Western Conference basement. Rather than continue to shape the team around Bure, the trade allowed for then-marginal players like Markus Naslund and Todd Bertuzzi to develop in the team's go-to guys. It is, in fact, no coincidence that Naslund emerged as the team's leading scorer the same year Bure was dealt.

After an initial close call with the Rangers, Brian Burke succeeded in dealing the Russian Rocket, sending him to Florida, along with veteran defenceman Bret Hedican, prospect defenceman Brad Ference and a third-round pick in 2000.

Here's what Vancouver got in return:

By acquiring Mike Brown (no, not this, this or this Mike Brown), the Canucks were essentially swapping one first-round pick for another. Chosen ten spots after Brad Ference in the 2007 draft, Brown had a very promising rookie season in the minors before his NHL aspirations quickly fizzled out. In total, he played 16 games as a Canuck before being put on waivers. Meanwhile, Ference put in several serviceable years for Florida, but nothing that the Canucks were really missing out on. Consider Brown for Ference a very negligible loss for Burke.


Kevin Weeks represented another prospect with upside for Vancouver and made enough of an immediate impression that longtime backup Corey Hirsch was waived shortly after his arrival. Nonetheless, he inevitably failed to wrestle the starting job from Garth Snow -- a strong indicator that this was not, in fact, the Canucks' goalie of the future. By way of a four-man, two-pick trade with the Islanders, Weekes eventually turned into Felix Potvin, whose tenure in Vancouver was equally short-lived. About as nothing to see here as Weekes' current CBC analysis.


In the twilight of his career at the time of the trade, Dave Gagner was nonetheless a respected veteran that you can imagine Burke would have wanted to help steady the Canucks' struggling roster. He played the remaining 33 games of the season with Vancouver before retiring after 14 years in the NHL. 

Though the Canucks couldn't have had any long-term plans for Gagner at the time, he ended up coming back to the West Coast almost 10 years later as the team's director of player development. Now gone after five years, it appears that Gagner's biggest impact on the organization was injuring Cody Hodgson's back. Thanks for that one, Dave. 


So while the trio of Brown, Weekes and Gagner proved very quickly to be negligible acquisitions, the Canucks had a real opportunity to get a good chunk of Bure's worth back with Florida's first-round pick in 2000. Now, I don't personally think it's fair to play the who-else-was-available game that is so popular, because despite what analysts make it seem, the NHL draft is a straight-up crapshoot. 

It's rare that the game ends well and as you could have imagined, the selection of Nathan Smith is no exception. At 23rd overall, it appears that the Canucks' first choice in 2000 could have easily been any one of Brad Boyes, Steve Ott, Jason Williams or Niklas Kronwall -- all of whom remain impact players in the NHL. 

By comparison, Smith's career highlights begin and end with one count of drunken streaking. Eat your heart out, Chris Higgins!


Now, as mentioned, the largest-scale benefits of the Bure trade aren't even directly associated with the players Vancouver got in exchange. Clearly. But in Ed Jovanovski, the Canucks truly did secure a significant return. He was a high-risk, high-reward defenceman that, in retrospect, makes Kevin Bieksa look pedestrian. Case in point is this outrageously dangerous pass to Joe Sakic during the 2002 gold medal game. 

While Bure undoubtedly accomplished far more in Florida (back-to-back 50-goal seasons to lead the league in scoring) by comparison, Jovanovski stayed in Vancouver four more years than Bure did in the Southeast. More importantly, he was an essential piece of the Canucks' aforementioned rebuild and the ensuing juggernaut that was the West Coast Express era. 

On the strength of three straight 40-point seasons, Jovanovski remains the sixth-most prolific defenceman in Canucks history.

So while the sentiment towards the trade remains justifiably bitter, in the long run, you can't argue that both sides didn't emerge for the better. The Canucks were able to very successfully move on with a core that included Jovanovski, while Bure -- a highly private individual -- got to close out his career in the relative anonymity of Florida and New York. 

Nearly fourteen years ago, who would have thought that his return to the Vancouver spotlight would be a hero's welcome? 



  1. dave gagner's greatest contribution to the canucks was finding us his son's old peewee teammate, thereby giving us for free a solid bottom pairing d-man who may turn out to be an above-average number four someday.

    1. ooh good call. tanev definitely qualifies as a significant contribution.