The Florida Panthers‘ history has been — with the exception of the 1996 Stanley Cup Finals run — one of the most lackluster in NHL history. One exception is during the brief period when the “Russian Rocket” Pavel Bure ruled the ice in South Florida in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Bure made his name with the Vancouver Canucks before a contract dispute had him traded to the Panthers (most notably for current Panther Ed Jovanovski) in 1999.
While he was only a Panther for parts of four seasons, two of those seasons saw Bure lead the NHL in goals scored. Bure was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2012, and had it not been for the many injuries he sustained, he would have likely retired as one of the greatest goal scorers in the history of the game. Given his accomplishments in Florida (and the Panthers’ lack of anything resembling success) it would be fitting for the team to retire his No. 10 jersey just like Vancouver did last season. Given the fact his tenure with the Panthers was nowhere near as tumultuous his tenure with the Canucks, a number retirement for amazing (albeit brief) time in South Florida is not unreasonable.
While the Panthers gave up what at the time appeared to be king’s ransom to acquire Bure in 1999, their return on investment was amazing as he posted seasons of 58 and 59 goals in 1999-2000 and 2000-01 respectively. While the team’s only postseason appearance was a four-game sweep to the eventual Stanley Cup champion New Jersey Devils in 2000, Bure’s impact was second to none. Due to the team being essentially broke after the 2002 Winter Olympics (where Bure and Team Russia captured a Bronze Medal) Bure was traded to the New York Rangers in a deal that saw no players of note going to the Panthers. While Bure’s numbers on Broadway were great (50 points in 51 games over two seasons), the team struggled and Bure’s injury woes continued to the point that he played his last professional hockey game in 2003 at age 32. It’s not unreasonable to look at the trade to New York as the beginning of the end for both sides as the Panthers quickly became one of, if not the most irrelevant team in sports, and Bure’s career was over less than a year after the trade.
While Bure’s time in South Florida was brief, his impact was immense as his electrifying display of speed and skill made the Panthers relevant. It’s worth noting that the Panthers had as many postseason berths with Bure in the lineup (one) as they have had since he was traded to the Rangers in 2002. (For what it’s worth, both appearances were losses to Stanley Cup Finals bound New Jersey teams). Given that Bure still spends the bulk of time in South Florida, it would behoove the team to retire his number as a sign of mutual respect for the impact the region, the franchise and Bure had on another. Besides, after seeing dinosaur Ed Jovanovski (who was on the Finals team in 1996) lumbering around the ice the last few seasons, the fans deserve a better connection to the team’s better days.