During the remainder of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the offseason, we’re going to look into all things Florida Panthers. Yes, that includes the draft and free agency, but it will also shed a little bit of light on a franchise that doesn’t get a lot of love.
One series will focus on the best players that have ever suited up for the Panthers, comprising the team’s all-time unit. The series will include two wingers, a centerman, two defensemen, and a goaltender, leading into a top 10 list of the greatest Panthers of all-time.
First up for the all-time team is not only one of the greatest Florida Panthers of all-time, but one of the most dynamic goal-scorers ever: “The Russian Rocket” Pavel Bure.
Before the Panthers
Times were different in the late 1980s. The NHL was almost entirely composed of Canadians with Americans and foreign-born players making up a very small percentage. The Soviet Union, in particular, had its share of talented players, yet very few had made the jump into the NHL at that point.
This is why Pavel Bure fell to the 113th pick overall in the 1989 NHL Entry Draft. He continued to play for the Russian Red Army team until finally debuting with the Vancouver Canucks during the 1991-92 season. Bure did not disappoint.
He would capture the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year that season and follow it up with back-to-back 60-goal, 100-point seasons. Over seven seasons in Vancouver, Bure would hit the 50-goal mark three times but wound up leaving on something of a sour note.
Bure would hold out well into the 1998-99 season, returning home to Moscow until something could be done about his contract. He was traded to the Florida Panthers instead. He, Brad Ference, Bret Hedican and Vancouver’s third-round pick in 2000 went to Florida for Dave Gagner, Ed Jovanovski, Kevin Weekes, Mike Brown and Florida’s first-round pick in 2000 (which ended up being Nathan Smith).
Why He’s on the All-Time Team
Bure made his impact from the moment that he stepped on the ice in Florida. Though he played just 11 games in the 1998-99 campaign, he had 13 goals and 16 assists during that time. He would explode offensively in 1999-00, racking up 94 points on a league-leading 58 goals in just 74 games. More importantly, he re-established himself as one of the premier goal-scoring threats in the game.
In a full 82-game 2000-01 campaign, Bure would have repeated success. His 92 points would be the fourth-best in his career and the 59 goals he scored that year would again lead the league in that category. At the end of the season, Bure was the unquestioned best goal-scorer alive.
The 2001-02 season was a tumultuous one. Bure dealt with groin injuries throughout the year and it was known that he’d had recurring knee problems. Bure would suit up for the Panthers in 56 games that season, leading the team in scoring for the third straight season with his 49 points.
On March 18, 2002, Bure’s tenure in Florida came to an end. He was dealt to the New York Rangers with the Panthers’ second-round pick in 2002 for Filip Novak, Igor Ulanov, the Rangers’ first and second-round picks in 2002, and their fourth-round choice in 2003.
Bure’s Legacy in Florida
Despite just 223 games in a Florida Panthers’ uniform – and a career that was clearly starting to be impacted by his knee problems – Bure’s legacy in South Florida is cemented. Just as many people remember his time in Florida as they do in Vancouver, where had arguably his greatest successes.
Bure brought attention to South Florida while the team struggled with mediocrity and failed draft picks. No one matched his propensity for putting the puck in the net during the late 1990s. Bure carried the franchise on his back in his short time there and it is only reasonable to wonder what could have been if he had a greater supporting cast during his time there.
Despite his 223 games, Bure sits fourth all-time on the Panthers in goals with 152 and his 251 points puts him just outside of the top 10. All of these are considerably impressive, and it is only reasonable to assume that he would have a stranglehold on every Panthers record had he remained with the franchise for longer.
Related: Panthers’ Jersey History
Bure was one of the most recognizable names of the 1990s and his ability to score during the most notoriously tough defensive period in league history should be noted. When teams like the New Jersey Devils were stifling creativity with a suffocating defensive game, Bure rose above it – or more accurately, sped right by it.
There may be others who have more goals than Bure in the annals of Panthers history, but there may not be a better goal-scorer in the history of the franchise than “The Russian Rocket”.