Helping the Russian Rocket soar
Before Vancouver Canucks fans knew Mike Gillis, they knew of Mike Gillis.
The Canucks current general manager was the man behind Pavel Bure for the majority of his career in Vancouver, and nine of his 12 years in the NHL, working as his agent.
With the exception of teammates, few people were closer to Bure throughout his career than Gillis, who met the Russian Rocket through Geoff Courntall prior to the 1994-95 season.
Gillis became a player agent in 1991 after earning a law degree from Queen's University in 1990; he represented a who’s who list of the NHL’s elite in 17 years of negotiating contracts, giving advice and managing player affairs.
Is he surprised Bure’s name has been called and an induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame will take place this Monday?
Нет, нет, это не так. (No, no he’s not)
“I think he was the best goal scorer of his generation, one of the most talented players that I’ve ever seen who could do it all: skating, puck carrying, score goals and score big goals when he needed to,” said Gillis.
“He was an all-star and one of the best players in the league. If he didn’t get injured, I think he would have gone down in history as one of the greatest players who ever played.”
One of the greatest players who ever played?
Bure’s stats certainly back that up.
The 113th overall pick from the 1989 NHL Draft had 779 points (437-342-779) in 702 regular season games and 70 points (35-35-70) in 64 post-season games.
Winner of the 1992 Calder Trophy, the Russian Rocket was a blur on the ice in Vancouver, Florida and New York; every time he touched the puck the reaction was cheer or fear, depending on if Bure was on your side or not.
Bure had back-to-back 60-goal seasons in his second and third years in Vancouver, topped 50 goals five times, which led to a pair of Rocket Richard Trophies in 1999-2000 and 2000-01 and his .623 goals-per-game average still ranks fifth all-time among NHLers with 200-or-more goals.
All that and Bure’s accomplishments on the international stage playing for his country at junior and world championships and the Olympics haven’t even been mixed into this cocktail.
“And it wasn’t just his play that made him special,” added Gillis. “He’s a great guy, a very generous guy. He lived quietly, didn’t really like the limelight away from the rink very much and he was a very private person, but was very honourable and a really nice guy.”
It’s safe to assume that with how private Bure liked things back in the day, he’d be more than slightly uncomfortable playing in today’s NHL with its 24/7/365 social media spotlight.
The Russian Rocket hasn’t stepped onto the ice professionally since 2003, yet his skills and mystique remain discussed in sports pages, message boards and online with regularity.
Gillis isn’t surprised by that either.
“He’s a great guy and he was a great hockey player. There’s a lot of things that haven’t been said about reasons that he had to leave here that I don’t think that will ever be said, for good reason, but he was a fan favourite and rightfully so.”
Gillis and Bure stay in touch periodically and had dinner in Miami the last time the Canucks were in Florida. Gillis no longer describes their relationship as close, but when he thinks back to his time as an agent, memories of the good old days with Bure surface quickly.
“I spent a lot of time with him, I liked spending time with him. He’s always been a very inquisitive guy and he’s got a great sense of humour, so it was a lot of fun being with him.
“I enjoyed working with him, I had a great time with him and I think he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.”