News from June 1989
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The most tallented prospect available for the 1989 NHL Entry Draft is Pavel Bure, but it's a cinch he won't go in the first round. That's because Bure bunks in Moscow and patrols left wing for the Central Red Army team. Barring a defection, his date of arrival in North America is unknown.
The Controversial Draft Selection of Pavel Bure
The 6th Round of the 1989 Entry Draft (on June 17, at the Met Sports Center, Bloomington) brought some intrigue and excitement to a normally sleep inducing portion of the draft. Some of the biggest talents in the draft carried some baggage. Bobby Holik, Pavel Bure, Mats Sundin and others were available for the picking. Mats Sundin was eventually selected by the Quebec Nordiques first overall, and became the first Euro player to be picked first. Holik, was chosen 10th by the Whalers.
In 1986, the NHL started a new rule stating that players under the age of 19 could not be selected after the first three rounds of the draft. This was supposed to give players who were overlooked the previous season, another chance to make the National Hockey League. The rule had its exceptions however. One exception was considered to be two years of European play, with 11 games per season considered a season. Pavel Bure was 18 at the time of the Canucks selection. He had played 32 games with Central Army in 1988-89, but in 1987-88 he played only 5 (6 games short of eligibility), according to the NHL records. The Canucks brass felt otherwise.
It is believed that the reason the Canucks were so confident in the drafting of Bure was due to the fact that Vancouver had a spy for them in Moscow. The spy's information led the Canucks to believe that the NHL's information was incorrect. Brian Burke later echoed those events of the spy in Moscow, but would not reveal his name. The spy had told him that Bure had plated in nine regular season games, plus two exhibition contests. The Canucks were still not positive of the eligibility of Pavel Bure, but they discovered that other teams' tables were considering and discussing the possibility of taking Bure. The Canucks had planned to select him in the 8th round, but learned that Edmonton planned to select him soon, as did the Rangers, Jets and the Red Wings.
The Canucks decided to use their 6th round choice to select Bure, trying to jump the gun before the other teams did. Head of Scouting Mike Penny convinced Canucks GM Pat Quinn to select Bure, taking into account that a 6th round choice is always a big risk. The Canucks selected Pavel Bure 113th, three picks before Detroit, and seven before Edmonton. The words had barely come out of NHL vice president's mouth when the outrage began. Every team's table in the bunch was yelling expletives at everyone at the Canuck table.
Eventually, teams complained that the pick was invalid, including letters from the Capitals and Whalers. Teams complained that because the NHL's own record book claimed he was invalid, that it was unfair to have the Canucks choose him even if they could prove it to be legal, as every other team was misled by the NHL themselves. 11 months later... NHL president John Ziegler finally made his decision. The pick was invalid, and Bure would be pooled back into the 1990 Draft.
Pat Quinn told reporters the next day, "I don't agree with the result obviously. But I want to meet with Ziegler and find out what appeal procedures, if any, are open to us." Brian Burke simply added, "I'm just astounded by the decision. I'm outraged." The Canucks decided to prove to Ziegler that his ruling was the incorrect one. With the next entry draft only one month away, they had very limited time. They asked Igor Larionov, who was back in Moscow, to try and dig up any information he could find. Larionov came in contact with Russian journalist Igor Kuperman, who was at one point in his career a sports statistician.
Kuperman was able to find six games credited to Bure, in addition to the five games already listed to Bure in Central Army. Amazingly, they were all exhibition games. In one game, Bure played only one shift, but it counted as the 11th game. The package of stat sheets with Bure on them was mailed to John Ziegler as proof of Pavel's 11 games played.
On the night before the 1990 Entry Draft, the Canucks were given the word from Ziegler that his ruling had been overturned, and that the Bure pick was valid. The Canucks were free to negotiate a contract with Pavel Bure. Many felt that the decision was held off until the night before the draft, only so that the opposing NHL teams would have no time to protest.