Pavel Bure was one of the most exciting players of the NHL’s modern era, but his exclusion so far from the Hockey Hall of Fame has raised questions.

I realize this topic is a tad overdue, but I was very busy over the past three weeks at the NHL entry draft and the recent UFA signing frenzy, so I’ve only finally had time to address this topic now.

It’s been several weeks since the Hockey Hall of Fame announced former NHL stars Joe Nieuwendyk, Doug Gilmour, Ed Belfour and Mark Howe as their 2011 inductees.

In the wake of that announcement, however, some hockey fans have wondered why former NHL superstar Pavel Bure was passed over.

Bure supporters for the most part aren’t questioning the validity of Niewendyk, Gilmour, Belfour and Howe as HHOF inductees, but believe “The Russian Rocket” to be at least as much a deserving candidate as Nieuwendyk and Gilmour, perhaps more so than Belfour, and definitely more than Howe.

If we go by career stats for forwards, the numbers of Nieuwendyk (564 goals, 1, 126 points) and Gilmour (450 goals, 1,414 points) were superior to Bure’s 437 goals and 779 points.

Nieuwendyk and Gilmour however had careers which lasted far longer than Bure’s injury shortened one, and stats wonks will tell you Bure’s average goal production per game (.623) was third best in the NHL, behind only Mike Bossy and Mario Lemieux.

If we consider NHL hardware, both Stanley Cups and individual awards, Niewendyk (3 Stanley Cups, Calder trophy, Conn Smythe trophy), Gilmour (1 Stanley Cup, Selke trophy) and Belfour (1 Stanley Cup, Calder trophy, four Jennings trophies, two Vezina trophies) had an edge over Bure’s Calder and back-to-back Rocket Richard trophies.

Howe, however, never won an individual award or a championship at the NHL level, which is one reason Bure fans find it difficult to believe he merits recognition over their guy.

That being said, Howe was up for eligibility for the Hall for many years, whereas  Bure has been eligible for a considerably shorter period of time. Perhaps the selection committee felt they were righting a wrong by inducting the long-time blueliner, who had his best hockey years in the WHA, and his best NHL seasons in the 1980s with the Philadelphia Flyers.

The selection committee never publicly explains how they arrive at the selections of their annual inductees, so we’re left to guess why Bure got passed over this year.

Perhaps they’re uncomfortable over his past off-ice associations.

During the late 1990s, Bure became the subject of three separate investigations by ESPN, PBS and CBC regarding his relationship with suspected Russian mobster Anzor Kikalishvili and the late mob boss Vyacheslav Ivanov.

Bure denied the allegations as merely rumors, and to date there’s been no evidence tying him to any illegal activity.

As a result, the worst that could be said of Bure is that he had a lousy choice in friends away from the rink.

It has also been suggested the committee, made up primarily of Canadians, were exhibiting a bit of prejudice toward Bure, a Russian, in favor of three Canadians and an American.

Committee member Pat Quinn, who as Canucks GM/head coach both drafted and coached Bure, was singled out by Tony Gallagher of the Vancouver Province, who suggested the question might arise that Quinn might’ve stonewalled the Russian’s induction because of their previously contentious relationship, though Gallagher quickly added suggesting such a thing was “unfair”.

While it’s true the HHOF has dragged its feet over the years in giving recognition to European stars, there’s no evidence the committee members have any bias toward North Americans and prejudice against Russians in general, and Bure in particular.

Valeri Bure, Pavel’s brother, suggested Canucks GM – and the brothers former agent – Mike Gillis may have indirectly had something to do with it, lashing out in a recent tirade during a radio interview on Gillis’ seeming unwillingness to honour Pavel by retiring his number.

The notable Canucks blog Orland Kurtenblog also suggested Bure’s Russian mafia ties, but also brought out the contentious contract holdout which resulted in his being dealt from Vancouver to the Florida Panthers midway through the 1998-99 season.

Whatever the reason for Bure’s exclusion this year, rest assured he’ll be a favourite for induction in the coming years.

He was simply too great a player not to be inducted into the Hall. A big star in Europe before making the leap to the NHL in 1991, Bure was one of the most electrifying offensive players in NHL history, with two 60- goal season in the early-1990s, and three 50-plus goal performances between 1997-98 and 2000-01.

That he was able to score fifty-or-more goals in three seasons during a period commonly referred to as “The Dead Puck era” (when obstruction masquerading as defensive hockey killed offensive production), and did so on teams where he lacked quality teammates, is further testament to Bure’s greatness as a goal-scorer.

To this day, he holds several team offensive records with the Vancouver Canucks and Florida Panthers.

Alas, like Bobby Orr before him, Bure’s career was shortened and ultimately ended by knee injuries which required seven surgeries, including two reconstructions.

It’s only a matter of time until Bure gets his just recognition from the Hockey Hall of Fame, and hopefully he won’t have to wait much longer.