How Pavel Bure Almost Became the Next Face of the NHL as of 1995.
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10-27-2013, 03:48 AM
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How Pavel Bure Almost Became the Next Face of the NHL as of 1995.
As Pavel Bure's jersey retirement approaches, I think the majority of fans will reflect on his on-ice accomplishments. He was certainly one of the most exciting players to watch on the ice, and this definitely made him one of the most marketable players in the league. Off ice, however, one of his most overlooked achievements was the extent to which he generated overall enthusiasm around the league and became one of the most appreciated players of the early 1990s. Pavel brought excitement as people of all ages flocked to see him; in Vancouver, he was the most recognizable person in town. In other NHL markets, he created an aura of excitement whenever he visited. He was on the verge of becoming a celebrity across the league, and the NHL recognized this. While these days he is appreciated for his contributions on the ice, many seem to forget the extent of Pavel's popularity at the time and the plans the NHL had made to market him as their next poster-boy:
Bure can't bear standing in glare of publicity MARKETING MANIA / The Canucks and the NHL have a vested interest in the selling of Pavel Bure
Campbell, Neil A. The Globe and Mail [Toronto, Ont] 27 Mar 1995: D.1.
"Our estimate is that within five years Pavel's full marketing potential should be understood."... Bure's exquisite skill, his back-to-back 60-goal seasons and his fine play during the Canucks' run to the Stanley Cup final last spring suggest he is likely to spend most of his career near the top of the hockey heap.
"I don't know yet," he said when asked if he feels he has the personality to emerge as the media and advertising icon the Canucks and the NHL desperately want him to be. "We have to start to do this (marketing) thing and see where it goes. I do want to do it, but... Maybe I wouldn't mind, but I don't know. I don't know if I want to be (a marketing icon) or not." The Canucks have certainly been working hard, and in concert with the New York-based firm J. Michael Bloom, to milk Bure's marketing possibilities fully:
The NHL has bought marketing rights to seven Russian hockey teams - uniform jerseys coming soon to a store near you - and Bure will be the pitchman. Canstar is beginning a hockey-equipment campaign based around Bure and a Pavelocity slogan. Nike is apparently extremely interested in using Bure, both in cross-training advertising and in a street-hockey/rollerblade campaign. Coca-Cola and General Motors are other possibilities, as is a Pavel candy bar.
"We have reason to believe he could achieve the (endorsement) levels of Mario Lemieux, perhaps even Wayne Gretzky at some point," Ringdal said. "He would do it in a different way, of course. Wayne is very articulate. Mario has other qualities. Pavel is extremely attractive in an appearance way. His characteristics as a hockey player, his special acceleration, could be played upon.
"Because of his language barrier and his personal demeanour he comes across in a James Dean sort of way. He's got the look and the attitude." It is a look and attitude that not only the Canucks hope will sell. The NHL is watching keenly. Commissioner Gary Bettman joined the league from the National Basketball Association, which rose to popularity by hanging on to the winged sneakers of individual stars such as Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. With the NHL soon to appear on Fox TV in the United States, Bettman seeks marketable young talent to replace fading icons such as Wayne Gretzky.
"Gary and I were lawyers at the same New York City bar association," said Marc Perman, Bure's New York-based commercial agent. Perman works for the J. Michael Bloom agency and his other clients include commercially successful basketball superstar Charles Barkley. "It was Gary who got me involved in this. The league has a real vested interest in making Pavel happen." Neither Perman nor Ringdal think Vancouver will prove a handicap in the selling of Bure. They think of him as an emerging star in an emerging city. "Obviously it would be ideal if he played in Los Angeles or New York," Perman said.
Paul Hunter's article, written from a Torontonian perspective, provides a very captivating look at Pavel's appeal and how it transcended boundaries. He was not only popular amongst hockey fans but even non-hockey fans:
Bure's electrifying play is taking NHL by storm: [AM Edition]
Paul Hunter TORONTO STAR. Toronto Star [Toronto, Ont] 07 Jan 1993: D3.
On Church Street, outside Maple Leaf Gardens, the ubiquitous horde of autograph seekers was about three times its normal size.
Inside, the gaggle of reporters was equally disproportionate.
This was no ordinary game-morning skate. The Russian Rocket had touched down in Toronto.
Pavel Bure, the 21-year-old who sets teenage girls - and opposition defences - aquiver was in town with his Vancouver teammates to weave his magic.
In a 5-2 win against the Leafs last night, he potted a goal and an assist in what, for him, was an average outing. Though not quite at full amperage, he still managed to electrify the crowd with his now familiar bursts of speed and ballet-like moves.
For the first time in its history, Vancouver - the team that lost the chance to draft Gilbert Perreault on the spin of roulette wheel - has perhaps the most exciting player in the game.
Pavelmania is sweeping the west coast.
Vancouver sports stores have trouble keeping his No. 10 jersey in stock. At the Pacific Coliseum fans come to chant his name. Even in Toronto, more than 500 admirers lined up for hours at a downtown store last year to get his name scrawled on a piece of memorabilia.
"Lots of people come up to me and wish me luck or just shake hands - nice people," he says.
In the fan balloting for this year's NHL all-star team, those nice people gave Bure more votes than Luc Robitaille or Steve Larmer to make the Russian one of the starting wingers on the Campbell Conference team. He even outpolled such luminaries as Wayne Gretzky, Steve Yzerman and Jeremy Roenick.
His popularity is something even Bure himself doesn't fully understand.
"I don't know why (I'm so popular). I get so much attention from the media. In Russia it was not like this. In Russia, sometimes you'd be in the newspaper; sometimes on TV but here it is every day. Even after practice I have to talk to reporters.
That Bure, the NHL's top rookie last season, is from hockey's once-hated evil empire makes this outpouring of admiration even more notable. But this is not about borders. It is about the pure pleasure of watching a player with boundless grace raise the game to an art form.
"He's easily the most exciting player in the league," team captain Trevor Linden said yesterday.
December 07, 1992
Moscow-born right wing Pavel Bure is having a blast in Vancouver
Glen Ringdal's job suddenly got much easier on Oct. 31, 1991. That was the day the Vancouver Canucks signed Pavel Bure. At long last Ringdal, the Canucks' marketing director, had someone to market.
Finally, the tact gives way to candor. "I guess there were no real stars before Pavel, who holds the audience captive every time the puck is on his stick," says Ringdal. "The fans liked Harold. What you have with Pavel is more of an idolization, like you get with certain musical artists. Like you got with Elvis."
Hyperbole? Two thousand people attended Bure's first practice in Vancouver, on Nov. 3, 1991. The freebie 8-by 10-inch glossies of Bure that the Canucks once distributed before home games now sell for up to $25 on the memorabilia market. There was such a crush for the pictures, says Ringdal, that "the people handing them out were getting mauled."
"He can take the puck from behind our net, carry it down the ice and score," says Linden. "That's rare."
That's Bure. With 24 goals at the end of last week, he was on a pace to score 81 this season. In their 22-year, Stanley Cup-less history, the Canucks have never had a 50-goal scorer. Until Bure won last year's Calder Trophy as the league's best rookie, no Vancouver player had ever won an NHL postseason award. Linden, the Canucks' former glamour-puss, now gets letters like this one:
You've always been my favorite Canuck, so could you get me Pavel's autograph?
"Humbling," says Linden. Overwhelming, admits Bure, who has hired someone to deal with the sacks of fan mail. The Russian Rocket, as Bure has been christened locally, is seen all over town. There he is, decked out to resemble James Dean, in a fashion spread in Western Living magazine, which gushed, "We think [Dean's] Little Boy Lost good looks have been reincarnated in Pavel Bure." And there he is in Canuck ads in bus shelters and on billboards: Where Linden's photo once appeared, there is now a picture of Bure, a rocket on his back, with a caption reading, WE HAVE LIFTOFF.
Unfortunately, one of Pavel's greatest curses was simply playing for the Canucks instead of another team; as Perman mentions, had he played for the Kings or Rangers he would have had automatic success from a league-wide marketing standpoint. Instead, few fans outside of Vancouver ever had a chance to watch him, perhaps lending to the reasons for so many misconceptions about his early game and the extra work needed to market Pavel. Had he been in a larger market, his on-ice feats would have done all of the work necessary. Being in Vancouver certainly obscured Pavel to some and to this day complicates many fans' understanding of his early game:
Bure, Kovalev battle for title of top Russian in Stanley Cup: [FINAL Edition]
Beamish, Mike. The Vancouver Sun [Vancouver, B.C] 02 June 1994: C3.
RYE, N.Y. -- Pavel Bure's Stanley Cup final debut could be compared with a Broadway play that drew mixed reviews. The public scored it low in artistic appeal; the critics saw some merit.
``Everybody says we shut Pavel Bure down,'' said the Rangers' Craig MacTavish. ``But yet, he makes the play to win the hockey game. Now if that's shutting a player down, that speaks volumes for the player.''
Since New Yorkers only see the Russian Rocket zip across their their TV screens on late-night, pick-of-the-month highlight clips
, his flight into Madison Square Garden was eagerly anticipated.
Kovalev, 21, wants to be known as the NHL's best Russian, or at least Bure's equal.
``I think the fact he's playing against Pavel Bure has really motivated him,'' said Ranger coach Mike Keenan.
Stephen Brunt articulates the sheer pleasure of having the opportunity to watch Bure; through this lens, we can understand that the hockey world rarely saw Pavel, but when they did they were in awe:
Bure stands alone in his own world of possibilities
Brunt, Stephen. The Globe and Mail [Toronto, Ont] 19 May 1994: E.8.
With the Vancouver Canucks pressing hard in the first period last night, Pavel Bure picked up the puck behind the Toronto Maple Leafs' net... he paused for an instant and flipped the puck over the mesh in a high, tumbling arc... And then -- think of a quarterback running to catch his own pass -- somehow Bure was there when the puck landed in the slot, before his teammates, before the Leaf defenders. He wheeled and snapped a shot on net.
As was the case after Wayne Gretzky's bounce-in goal last spring, the one that finally broke the Maple Leafs' heart, a debate began as to whether Bure was trying to do what it seemed he was, or whether it was just a bit of dumb luck.
A lesson learned: there's usually no point in questioning genius. Among the Vancouverites, it was just another piece of ho-hum brilliance from the most explosive player in the sport.
This was not, however, a case of style without substance.
On the Maple Leafs' side of these playoffs, it's rarely been so intense. Toronto has no Bure, though, and if anything, that was the difference. The Leafs' greatest artists, even the splendid Doug Gilmour, are more of the house-painting variety, providing high value for honest toil, but nothing to take your breath away.
Bure is a nonpareil, a van Gogh, a Picasso, a Charlie Parker. Like those other great No. 10s -- Pele, Maradona, Roberto Baggio, not Bill Berg -- he is someone who sees in his game a world of possibilities that just never occur to others... His early flourish last night was followed closely by his scoring the first goal of the game, a beautiful solo effort in which he left a Toronto defenceman flat on his back before firing the puck high past Felix Potvin.
There were other chances to follow, none of which Bure could finish. "I was frustrated when I couldn't score," he said. "I could have scored tonight four or five times." His most significant shift may well have been one that didn't put his name on the scoresheet. When the Canucks scored the game winner on a third period power play, as Jyrki Lumme cruised in from the blueline to pick up a pass in the slot, it was Bure's presence in front of the net that held the attention of the Toronto defence... And then, in the final minute, with Potvin on the bench for an extra attacker, Bure stayed on the ice not for the circus act, but for his defensive abilities, to help steer away the final Toronto surge.
That's like asking van Gogh to paint your bedroom or Bird to play polka... But those who know the muse can do it any way they choose.
Especially considering the Canucks were a very defensive team, Bure was the sole attraction for many fans when they had an opportunity to watch his team:
Canucks hand Habs rare home defeat: [Final Edition]
The Ottawa Citizen [Ottawa, Ont] 29 Nov 1992: C3.
Peter Nedved scored two goals as Vancouver handed Montreal a rare home defeat with a victory over the Canadiens on Saturday night.
Nedved's second of the game and 14th of the season 2:53 into the third period proved the game-winner in a shootout between
two of the league stingiest defensive sides.
Sergio Momesso, Gerald Diduck, Greg Adams and Pavel Bure also scored for the Canucks, who showed little fatigue in their third road game in four nights.
Vancouver improved to 14-9-2 and became the first team from the Campbell Conference to defeat Montreal in nine games this season. It was only the second loss in 14 home games for the Canadiens.
Bure ignites Canucks attack: [Final Edition]
Edmonton Journal [Edmonton, Alta] 13 Oct 1992: D4.
CANUCKS 8 JETS 1
Pavel Bure scored four times Monday night, including three in the second period, when Vancouver manhandled the Winnipeg Jets 8-1 in a rare show of offensive firepower for the
Bure added his fourth marker in the last period - his second shorthanded effort of the night.
In fact, without Bure, the team really was not that good:
Bure's ill-timed faux pas could be decisive major, misconducyt hedlyne here for Mike on Monday morning please: [FINAL Edition]
Beamish, Mike. The Vancouver Sun [Vancouver, B.C] 06 June 1994: D2.
Older hockey fans, if asked what they best remember about Maurice (Rocket) Richard, the player, undoubtedly would point to the eyes.
Magnetic like his namesake, Pavel Bure is a spiritual descendant of the original Rocket in at least one other respect. When he isn't scoring in bombastic clusters, the Russian Rocket is embellishing his reputation as a guy not to mess with.
``He's got legs like a horse and when he delivers a blow you think you've been hit by a train,'' says Bure's agent, Ron Salcer.
It's the cruel beauty of the Rocket. He carves out his own space, literally.
When Bure crushed Shane Churla's head with his flying elbow in the second round of the playoffs against Dallas, the series pivoted on the blow. To see their toughest player reduced to insensibilty took the effervescence out of the Texas team. The Stars' Stanley Cup bubbles went flat.
Unfortunately, for Canuck fans, it is time to accept the other part, the downside risk when Bure resorts to his own brand of retributive justice (to borrow a phrase from Mike Keenan's Thesaurus): namely, that he isn't very valuable sitting in the press box.
Sent to the showers for high-sticking
and cutting the Ranger defenceman at 18:21 of the first period, the game tied 1-1,
Bure exposed the Canucks as a one-ring circus. His value as a franchise player increased by the minute as the Canucks, rudderless without Bure, floundered and and fell 5-1 to the Rangers.
``We play a much sounder game defensively when Pavel's flying, as he was in the first period,'' says Cliff Ronning.
``When we lose him, it's important that other guys help out more offensively.''
In regards to his importance, Pavel was considered by many to be a top candidate for the 1993 Hart Trophy. I've already posted Bob McKenzie's thoughts in another post in which Pavel is named a top candidate. This certainly added to his popularity at the time:
Wide-open field for NHL's MVP: [Final Edition]
Matheson, Jim. Edmonton Journal [Edmonton, Alta] 31 Jan 1993: C6.
In the last 10 years there's only been two close votes for MVP. In 1981, Wayne Gretzky beat Mike Liut, who's now going to law school and working for the players' association, by five votes. In 1990, Mark Messier edged Ray Bourque by two votes in the closest race in history.
This year's race could be the most wide-open in 25 years. It's easier to say who won't win: Mario Lemieux, Messier, Gretzky, Brett Hull, Brian Leetch or Bourque. Unless Lemieux makes a remarkable return in a month after radiation treatment,
here are the six leading candidates:
, Pat LaFontaine, Adam Oates and Alexander Mogilny - four guys chasing the absent Lemieux for the scoring title -along with Chicago's Chris Chelios and Ed Belfour.
* Here's one man's mid-season vote:
1. Chelios 2. Bure 3. Belfour.
Bure is the most exciting on the list, probably the fastest at making moves in traffic.
He could become the seventh guy to score 70 goals and first European to legitimately have a shot at the MVP. The fact his Vancouver team is challenging for No. 1 overall gives him an edge over the first four guys on the list.
Perhaps the reason for so many misconceptions about Pavel's early game stem from the lack of opportunities for fans from other markets to watch him. There are many, many articles available from the period to establish that he was crucial to his team both offensively and defensively. I elaborate on that point in more detail here:
Despite these few chances to watch Bure, though, he was a very popular player around the league; as noted earlier, he was a favorite in the 1993 NHL All-Star fan balloting. Bure's popularity across the league in the early 1990s was astounding. He looked to be one of the next faces of the league if not for three factors: 1) his injuries, beginning in 1995, which had a substantial effect on his performance the following few seasons and ultimately ended his career; 2) his relationship with the team, which at times caused him to be looked upon as a villain; 3) his own humility and unwillingness to be viewed as a superstar.
The third point is articulated here:
The ripple effect of Pavel Bure's pectorals: [National Edition]
Banks, Kerry. National Post [Don Mills, Ont] 06 Nov 1999: B3.
In Bure's case, the attraction is magnified because he projects an androgynous allure, as James Dean did. He appeals to both men and women. A few hockey players in the past have possessed this quality. Author Roy MacGregor, citing the young Wayne Gretzky as an example, told me: "I've always thought that Gretzky resembled Princess Diana. You could see it especially in his downcast eyes and shy smile. It was a very disarming quality. Bure has the same appeal. It cuts across all kinds of levels."
As part of Bure's new $25- million (US) contract, the club had acquired the marketing rights to his image and likeness. According to the deal, the team would earn the first $500,000 from selling Bure's rights, with a 50-50 split taking effect past that point. The team believed it could eventually recoup a fifth of its overall investment by selling the photogenic Russian's marketing rights.
To help make this a reality, a New York-based talent agency, J. Michael Bloom and Associates, was hired to develop marketing vehicles for Bure. Projects considered included a pictorial biography; a video about his life and times; a bit part in a new Mighty Ducks hockey movie; a hockey-equipment advertising campaign with Canstar based around a "Pavelocity" slogan; endorsements for Nike, Coca-Cola and General Motors; and even a Bure candy bar.
None of these endeavours bore fruit. In fact, nothing of any significance was ever accomplished in terms of marketing the NHL's flashiest player,
due largely to Bure's lack of interest in becoming a public-relations tool.
Although the Russian Rocket was a dedicated athlete, he was always a reluctant superstar.
Banks, Kerry. "The Ripple Effect of Pavel Bure's Pectorals." National Post: 0. Nov 06 1999. ProQuest. Web. 27 Oct. 2013 .
Beamish, Mike. "Bure, Kovalev Battle for Title of Top Russian in Stanley Cup." The Vancouver Sun: 0. Jun 02 1994. ProQuest. Web. 25 Oct. 2013 .
Beamish, Mike. "Bure's Ill-Timed Faux Pas could be Decisive Major, Misconducyt Hedlyne here for Mike on Monday Morning Please." The Vancouver Sun: 0. Jun 06 1994. ProQuest. Web. 25 Oct. 2013 .
Brunt, Stephen. "Bure Stands Alone in His Own World of Possibilities." The Globe and Mail: 0. May 19 1994. ProQuest. Web. 17 Oct. 2013 .
"Bure Ignites Canucks Attack." Edmonton Journal: 0. Oct 13 1992. ProQuest. Web. 25 Oct. 2013 .
Campbell, Neil A. "Bure can't Bear Standing in Glare of Publicity MARKETING MANIA / the Canucks and the NHL have a Vested Interest in the Selling of Pavel Bure." The Globe and Mail: 0. Mar 27 1995. ProQuest. Web. 23 Oct. 2013 .
"Canucks Hand Habs Rare Home Defeat." The Ottawa Citizen: 0. Nov 29 1992. ProQuest. Web. 25 Oct. 2013 .
Hunter, Paul. "Bure's Electrifying Play is Taking NHL by Storm." Toronto Star: 0. Jan 07 1993. ProQuest. Web. 23 Oct. 2013 .
Matheson, Jim. "Wide-Open Field for NHL's MVP." Edmonton Journal: 0. Jan 31 1993. ProQuest. Web. 25 Oct. 2013 .
Pavel had an incredible amount of marketing potential with his style of play, excitement factor, and especially his appearance. He had an appeal that extended beyond the interests of the diehard hockey fan. In Vancouver, he was already
most popular person in the city -- a true celebrity -- and he was the primary reason for the exponential growth of hockey's popularity here. He was a rock star in Vancouver and was always the talk of the town even amongst non-hockey fans. The league was ready to introduce him to the entire hockey world. If not for his injury in 1995 and his poor relationship with management, he might very well have been pushed to become the next face of the NHL. Upon returning from his first major, he was injured again for the entire 1996-97 season, then he held out for half of the 1998-99 season. Once he was traded, he was buried in Florida and never reached that level of star power again despite his personal on-ice success.
Bure seemed on his way towards becoming the league's next poster-boy and had all of that taken away from him very quickly. The NHL had already begun plans to market him aggressively to the hockey world, but his injuries, quarrels with upper Canucks management, and consequent reluctance to take part in their marketing plans threw all of that off course.
Perhaps Pavel was unfortunate to have been drafted by Vancouver. While next week we celebrate his number retirement at Rogers Arena, we also may reflect on how much greater his career could have been both in his on-ice accomplishments and his off-ice recognition. He was at a point in the early 1990s when he very well could have become the next face of the league if not for injuries and personal decisions.
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