If I Had A Vote: Hall of Fame Edition

Later today, the Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee will be naming their selections for the 2020 class of builders and players. The Hall of Fame conversation is one that fascinates fans and industry people alike, as everyone has their own preferences as far as qualifications go, and their own biases towards players they feel should or shouldn’t make it.

While most of our minds remain off of hockey right now due to the whole “world collapsing around us” thing, there’s still room for discussion about this year’s class. So here are my thoughts heading into the announcement, which should come in a few hours.

A Preface

Since I just mentioned qualification preferences, I should probably make my own standpoints clear here.

For the record, I’m a “big hall” guy – meaning that I don’t believe in aggressive cutoffs for eligibility. I can’t foresee a year where I’d want fewer than the maximum players inducted in our near future, as there will always be players who were previously glossed over that deserve their time.

To me, the Hall of Fame is about the legacy you leave on the game, so I’m a lot more open to, say, star players who have shortened careers than most people – think your Eric Lindros, Peter Forsberg, Paul Kariya types in recent years. I do still think that an elite peak is very important to have, but am willing to make exceptions for players who transcend their talents (see someone like Willie O’Ree in 2018).

That won’t necessarily be reflected in this year’s inductees, but if you see me make statements down the line, keep that generally in mind.

Men’s Players

The biggest point of discussion in this day and age remains the men’s player class, which as a maximum of four players. My inductees for 2020 would be as follows:

Jarome Iginla – This one is the probably the least surprising, and the most inevitable.

Iginla’s NHL resume absolutely speaks for itself and checks most of the boxes that traditionally get a player inducted over 600 goals, exactly 1300 points, an Art Ross Trophy, two Rocket Richard Trophies, finalist appearances for the Calder and Hart (three times!), regular votes for the Lady Byng despite the award typically going to players with fewer penalty minutes, multiple years of Selke vote acquisition. He doesn’t have a Stanley Cup to his name (though ‘It Was In’ truthers will give an asterisk to that), but he’s done enough to invalidate that concern.

Internationally, Iginla has Gold Medals at the World Junior, World Championship, World Cup, and Olympic (x2) levels. He has Major Junior hardware from his time in Kamloops (two WHL titles and two Memorial Cups). Iginla was perhaps the best power forward of his generation, and a role model to millions. He’s an easy first-ballot pick.

Marian Hossa – I’ve seen a lot of confidence towards Hossa’s chances this year, and that makes me very happy. Truthfully, I thought this was going to be a tougher argument than it’s turned out to be, though the selection committee could still differ from the public when push comes to shove.

To me, Hossa might be the best two-way winger to ever play the game. People like to give that tag to wingers who were focused largely on the defensive side of that equation (think players like Jere Lehtinen and Bob Gainey), and Hossa has the misfortune of spending his prime in an era of the NHL that gave too much weight to being a centre when voting for the Selke Trophy, leaving him without one. But he still got votes on 13 different occasions, from as early as his Age 22 year to his Age 38 year, which is mystifying.

Hossa combined this with over 500 goals and 1100 points, and left his mark on every team he played for. He was a key part of those (regular season) dominant Senators teams at the turn of the century, he had three incredible years in Atlanta, his brief stints in Pittsburgh and Detroit will go down as both incredible showings and one of the most unfortunate attempts at ring chasing in the history of the sport, and he was a key part of Chicago’s three Stanley Cups between 2010 and 2015. He’s a lock for me.

Alexander Mogilny – As our perspective of the game evolves, we tend to go back and pick up a few players who were lost in the conversation along the way. I’m very happy that Sergei Zubov got his long-overdue induction last year, and if there’s anyone who has a strong shot at getting similar this year, it’s Mogilny.

Frankly, it’s pretty shocking that it’s taken this long for him, given that his last NHL game was 14 years ago. Finishing just under the 1000 games played and 500 goal marks likely doesn’t do him many favours, but Mogilny was one of the most electrifying players of the 90s and early 2000s, and a fan favourite on every team he played for, whether it was Buffalo, Vancouver, New Jersey, or Toronto. His 76 goal season 1992/93 is often forgotten because Teemu Selanne had the same total as a rookie, but Mogilny was only a year older and did it in seven fewer games.

He gave Pavel Bure a running mate in Vancouver, he put up over a point per game on a highly-defensive Devils roster in his 30s, and when people thought he was washed, he became the only great winger Mats Sundin ever had in Toronto.

Mogilny is also noteworthy to the history of the game due to his defection from the Soviet Union, the first NHL draftee to ever make the jump – a very risky proposition for one of the Red Army’s top prospects ever at the time. He’s got triple gold (Stanley Cup, Olympics, World Juniors) status, a World Championship, an unofficial Rocket Richard, and a Lady Byng victory. The best time to induct him would’ve been a decade ago – the second best is today. I think it happens today.

Patrik Elias – This is is the biggest longshot of my four, and likely the player who will get the Zubov/Mogilny argument in a couple of years. If the committee doesn’t shock us today, I will 100% come back to this topic later and make an expanded pitch for him.

But for now, Patrik Elias should be in the Hockey Hall of Fame. The argument against him is understandable on the surface; he doesn’t really have the counting stats (408 goals, 1025 points in 1240 games), and he doesn’t have the awards (one first-team all-star and a Calder Trophy finalist). He has two Stanley Cups, but not a lot of International Glory, as he was just barely too young to make it to the Czech roster in Nagano.

He still should be in, though. He was a key component in those two Stanley Cups for New Jersey in 2000 and 2003, and when you look at the body of work, you find that he’s a rare case of a star player with deflated numbers rather than inflated ones. Spending his entire career with the Devils, and his prime at the peak of their highly defensive counter-attack system did him absolutely no favours on the score sheet, and he still managed to push the team’s tempo up just enough to rake in a few point-per-game seasons, including a 96-point year in 2001.

He was an elite two-way presence, not unlike the aforementioned Hossa, and the chunk of his career that came in the data era looks very good from an underlying numbers perspective; despite being at the end of the Devils’ run of dominance and encompassing ages 31 to 39, Elias put up roughly a 55% Corsi in the last 569 games of his career, always on the positive side of his team relatively speaking. It stands to reason that we undervalued his personal dominance as a play-driving, point-getting forward because we saw the Devils as an inherently defensive, low-event squad; but they don’t find anything close to success in his tenure without him.

Women’s Players

The selection committee has been inducting Women’s Hockey players since 2010, when they added Angela James and Cammi Granato to the Hall.

Admittedly, it’s more difficult for me to give firm answers here, as a more casual fan of the women’s side of the game. So in a lot of respects, I’m appealing to authority here.

The Athletic did a Hall of Fame mock committee┬áthis week and their 18-writer group came up with Jennifer Botterill and Natalie Darwitz. As a Canadian, it’s pretty easy to see the argument for Botterill, as she was a key member of three Olympic Gold Medal teams (2002, 2006, 2010), won 5 World Championships, and was named the best NCAA player twice.

With Darwitz being American and not one of their heavily-marketed players, it’s more difficult for me to have strong feelings. I would have to largely rely on the results that she had, and ultimately, she wasn’t on either American Gold Medal team, and she doesn’t have the same individual accolades. She also didn’t play professionally.

All things considered, it’s pretty difficult to make “objective” cases for many women who had incredible careers, but weren’t quite in the greatest ever conversation. It’s not like the men’s game where you have tons of reference points to work with and the NHL to work as a control for tangible results, and that’s due to our collective failure to build a robust system for the women playing in the past and to an extent, the present.

The mock committee voted in these two players unanimously based on convincing pitches from individual writers, which makes me wonder about how the selection committee comes to their conclusions, and whether or not they should, at least for the time being, expand said committee to include a group that carries more weight on electing women’s players for the time being, as they’ve done in Baseball for certain categories in the past.

So with all that said, I’m a yes on Botterill, and an “I don’t know enough to answer” on Darwitz.

Builders

The “builder” category tends to include anyone who has made an impact on the game off the ice – in other words, a catch-all for anyone involved in the sport that you can’t justify as a player.

I’m not super fussed about this category, because a lot of it is subjective, from the how much weight we give to ex-players’ playing careers to what reasons we give for why they deserve to get in. Frankly, there are probably a ton of people you can list and I’d say “sure”.

If there’s anyone I would insist on getting in, though – at some point we should probably get over ourselves and put Paul Henderson in this category – hopefully while he’s still alive and strong enough to be a part of it.

Yes, the bulk of his legacy comes from his on-ice play, and more specifically, a few weeks of his on-ice play. His professional results are nothing to scoff at, but aren’t particularly close to Hall-worthy, so getting him in as a player even in a weak year is going to be difficult. However, that very short peak involved him being the most important character in one of the most important moments in the history of the sport, and he’s used his legacy to motivate and inspire millions of people, and to grow the sport. The story of hockey cannot be told without him, and to go back to my preface, he is the very spirit of what the Hall should be about.

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