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Charlton's NHL: Bure Balks

Rick Charlton

December 11th, 2000

From headline to breadline.

From champ to chump.

It's becoming hard to dispute that the arrow fired into the Flames dressing room earlier this week, the intention being to cut out the mystical "cancerous" element, hit its mark with unnerving accuracy. 

Val Bure, benched for two games, has done nothing in the last few days but confirm the opinion that he's devolved somehow from the fun-loving Mickey Rooney we grew to love in these parts to someone even his teammates apparently feel more comfortable without.

Call it a trial separation if you will, the long-suffering spouse finally figuring out in the absence of the husband that all the things her friends had been saying about him were apparently true. No divorce yet - but the lawyers are getting in line.

Are there others in the room who share his point of view about the way Don Hay wants to guide this ship? Probably. The removal of the "A" from the sweater of Jeff Shantz was certainly a telling shot across the bow. But their ringleader has been surgically removed and GM Craig Button finally stood up to confirm that Hay is the guy calling the shots, not the players.

If Bure has sympathizers they are professional enough - or perhaps wise enough - to get on with life. Shantz in particular has had a wonderful couple of games since the law came to town.

Besides, as the last few games have illustrated, winning is more fun than losing, even if you don't like how it gets done. 

Throughout the actions of this week we can see the hand of Button involved behind the scenes, something we urged in our last column, the strangely coincidental retirement of Steve Smith being one example. We will give Smith credit for making the decision on his own but no doubt the GM stepped up and said he needed a captain who was going to be doing more than riding the exercise bike in perpetuity. Smith, trooper to the end, agreed, aided by the opinions of his doctors. 

And so the dominoes, long disarranged, finally begin to fall into line.

They have a captain in Dave Lowry respected by the young guys and veterans alike And they have a coach who appears to be finally gaining the attention of his subordinates.

The primary failure of many coaches trying to transition from junior hockey to the professional ranks is they tend to treat veterans like the juveniles they just left behind. Hay went overboard to the other extreme, giving too much respect to the adults under his command when a kick in the pants was needed. He puttered around the edges, benching Oleg Saprykin and Tony Lydman to little effect, as if those two were responsible for the troubles that were brewing.

For Hay, the banishment of Bure was essentially a survival effort - kill or be killed. And it was long overdue as dressing room leaders Denis Gauthier, Lowry, Smith, Bill Lindsay and last night Mike Vernon were quick to affirm publicly in print. There were elements in that room begging for just this scenario to happen and Hay took far too long to get it done.

But Bure is now isolated, alone in his obstinance, still well liked by his teammates, a personable and intelligent young man.


Yet the gaffs continue.

Bure's latest sin came Saturday when his yappy mouthpiece, agent Serge Levin, tried hard to defend a guy who isn't trying hard enough.

"What they're doing, I don't know," said Levin to the Calgary Herald. "I completely don't understand what the coaching staff is doing with him. I don't understand this approach. I don't understand his punishment. A scratch for what? Explain to me. I would like to listen. I don't hear explanation, just -- I'm sorry for my expression -- stupid words. I don't know what they're looking for. They talk, in general words, about, 'Well, he has to play better.' Of course, he'd like to play better. Of course, he'd like to score goals. Of course, he'd like to make many achievements. I ask tremendously for a trade. If they're not satisfied with his performance -- it happens sometimes, it's OK -- it would probably be better to trade him, to change him for another guy."

There's not much that can light a fire in the eyes of a GM or a coach faster than having a agent land in town and offer up public comments like that. Particularly when the GM and coach know the other players on the team are also listening in quiet disbelief at the temerity of it all. The comments all but guaranteed Bure would be sitting for the Carolina game.

In October Bure had dismissed his slump by saying he at least had a happy home life. At we congratulated him on his priorities but urged him to rent a copy of Bull Durham if for no other purpose than to get himself acquainted with the art of giving phony baloney quotes to the media. When the team is dying then you're dying as well. And don't forget it. Even if it isn't true.

Since then Bure has publicly denied he wants out of Calgary, only to have his agent state exactly that in the papers but apparently not to the GM. Bure has also said he's already trying hard enough and doesn't have to try harder but has no even strength goals in 47 straight games under two different coaches.

Vernon, quoted in USA Today, narrowed the Bure problem down nicely following the 7-2 win over Carolina. 

"He tries to do too much and carry the puck instead of taking it to the net or passing," said Vernon of Bure. "He's a competitor and I hope when he's in uniform that he'll come and compete like the rest of us.  We really don't have a 35-goal scorer on the team except for him."

And so there we have the bottom line from the dressing room, from Bure's peers. We like you, but you have to play smarter and you have to get your nose dirty like everyone else. Otherwise you won't play. You can fool the fans half the time, you can fool the media a quarter of the time, but you can't fool your peers at anytime. Even if you're fooling yourself all the time. 

Play smarter. Play harder. 

Is that really too much to ask?

From a chump maybe. But not from a champ.

IT WAS GOOD TO SEE JAROME IGINLA duking it out with Rod Brindamour the other night. We have stated in this space before that the definition of a power forward, which Iginla aspires to, involves more than scoring 40 goals. Add on the objective of being an total a...hole every time he's on the ice and Iginla will be closer to the mark of what it will take to land him at an all-star game or in an Olympics. Two goals and a fight is what his boxscore should look like every night.

ONE OF THE FIRST RULES OF MEDIA RELATIONS FOR HOCKEY PLAYERS should be never get into an argument with a guy with his own newspaper column. The player is never going to win. So give it up already Val Bure and your war with the SUN's Mark Miller. You'll never get the last word. The only rule that supercedes that is where a newspaper columnist should never get into an argument with a guy with his own television show, as the Herald's Bruce Dowbiggin discovered when he took on Don Cherry a few years ago. There's big and then there's bigger.

WORD OUT OF THE TABLOID PRESS IN OTTAWA that Flames President Ron Bremner is on his way out. There had been similar speculation earlier in the summer, with Bremner's name being roasted through the popular press, that he was on the verge of quitting, feeling the fight wasn't worth the public flogging he was getting. And one could certainly understand that point of view. Frankly, I would doubt he would be fired at this juncture but if he were to suddenly emerge with a new job in his natural element - broadcasting - I would be less than surprised.  




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