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Tuesday, March 19, 2002
Updated: March 21, 2:35 PM ET
Stats Class: How good is Bure?

By David Schoenfield
ESPN.com

A friend of mine who is an intense New York Rangers fan nearly went into convulsions when hearing the Blueshirts had acquired Pavel Bure.

"But he doesn't play defense!"

A few other choice words were offered about Bure's lack of toughness and unwillingess to help in the defensive zone. Indeed, with the Rangers just two points out of the playoff race in the East, it would seem they needed to add defense, not more offense: they've allowed 3.10 goals per game, 29th among the 30 teams. On the other hand, the Rangers are 11th in scoring (2.70 goals per game).

Despite Bure's prolific goal scoring -- he has more goals over the past three seasons (139) than any player in the league -- his reputation around the NHL has been declining, especially for a player making $10 million per season. In analyzing the trade, ESPN's Darren Pang wrote, "Bure has many detractors in the NHL, and they are mostly the players that he plays against and with. He has become a one-dimensional 'cookie monster,' who has conveniently cut the ice in half."

Strong words. Sounds like my friend. But, the ultimate question is this: Does Bure make his team better, even with his problems on defense? It's a difficult question to answer, but by breaking down some statistics and comparing Bure to other players, we can get an idea of his value to a franchise.

We'll compare Bure to the other top five goal scorers over the past three seasons -- Jaromir Jagr (121 goals), Joe Sakic (106), Brendan Shanahan (105), Jarome Iginla (103) and Mike Modano (103) -- by looking at each player's plus-minus compared to his team's plus-minus. Plus-minus removes power-play goals scored and allowed to give us the goal differential while the player is on the ice in even-strength situations. By checking the team's plus-minus, we can see how he performs compared to the rest of his teammates.

Here's Bure, with his games played and plus-minus, his team's overall plus-minus, the team's plus-minus when Bure wasn't on the ice and the goal differential with Bure vs. without Bure.
Pavel Bure
Year   Games  +/-   team    w/o   Diff.
                     +/-
2000    74    +25    +24     -1    +26
2001    82     -2    -28    -26    +24
2002    56    -14    -35    -19     +5

What do the numbers mean? In 2000, Bure (and his linemates, of course) turned what was essentially a mediocre team into a good team: the Panthers finished fifth in the Eastern Conference with 98 points. The team was plus-24 and Bure was plus-25, as he ranked second in the NHL in scoring. There is no doubt he made the Panthers better.

In 2001, Bure was just minus-2 ... but the team was minus-26 without him. The Panthers were bad when he wasn't on the ice but played almost even-handed when he was on the ice. Again, I would say he helped the team.

This year has been a different story. The Panthers are once again awful, but Bure hasn't raised the level of the team; they're almost as bad when he plays as when he doesn't. While the knocks against his defense are valid, it's a lack of offensive production that is bringing down his plus-minus: he scored 59 goals in 82 games last season, but has just 22 in 56 games this season.

Here are the other players:
Jaromir Jagr
Year   Games  +/-   team    w/o   Diff.
                     +/-
2000    63    +25     +7    -18    +43
2001    81    +19    +27     +8    +11
2002    56     -5    -24    -19    +14

Joe Sakic Year Games +/- team w/o Diff. +/- 2000 60 +30 +25 -5 +35 2001 82 +45 +57 +12 +33 2002 70 +10 +26 +16 -6

Brendan Shanahan Year Games +/- team w/o Diff. +/- 2000 78 +24 +43 +19 +5 2001 81 +9 +21 +12 -3 2002 69 +25 +42 +17 +8

Jarome Iginla Year Games +/- team w/o Diff. +/- 2000 77 0 -30 -30 +30 2001 77 -2 -28 -26 +24 2002 70 +29 -5 -34 +63

Mike Modano Year Games +/- team w/o Diff. +/- 2000 77 0 +6 +6 -6 2001 81 +26 +31 +5 +21 2002 64 +13 +3 -10 +23

The best comparison to Bure is Iginla, a right winger on a non-playoff team. When Iginla is not on the ice, the Flames are even worse than the Panthers: an atrocious minus-34. But Iginla is plus-29, an amazing 63-goal differential when he's on the ice. He may be the best player in the league this year and it's safe to say that Bure is not in his class as an all-around player.

These numbers also validate Sakic's MVP trophy from last year. While it's easy to rise above lousy teammates, Sakic managed to rise above good teammates, creating a 33-goal differential compared to his teammates when on the ice. That is a sign of greatness.

As for Bure, there are questions that cannot be answered, such his motivation and how quickly he'll fit in with the Rangers' system. Will he squeeze the Blueshirts into the playoffs? My best guess is if he plays like he has this season with the Panthers, the answer is no; if he elevates his game back to previous levels, it just may be enough to get the Rangers the eighth seed.

David Schoenfield is an editor at ESPN.com.