Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Snubs

With the Stanley Cup Finals having ended a couple weeks ago, I thought my days of opining about hockey were pretty much over until the next season and post-season roll around.

But it turns out that the key words in that sentence were "pretty much," for this year's Hall of Fame class was announced on Monday and I have some beefs to bellyache about.

To be sure, each of the people who made it in does deserve to be there. However, some of them could have waited another year or two in favor of other players who are just as deserving and have been waiting longer.

As far as who not only could have waited, but in my opinion absolutely should have waited, that person is noted cheap shot artist Chris Pronger. He was indeed one of the better defensemen to ever play the game, but he spent a large part of his career either in or on the wrong side of the gray area and was suspended eight times by the NHL. So why does he get enshrined in his first year of eligibility while these other guys have to wait?


Dave Andreychuk
I won't deny that I have a rooting interest where Andreychuk is concerned, for he captained my Tampa Bay Lightning to the Stanley Cup in 2004 and I have met both him and his father (and can attest that they are among the nicest people you could ever meet). Nonetheless, the hockey facts speak for themselves and Dave Andreychuk should have been enshrined in the HOF well before now.

Throughout history, approximately 5,900 people have played in the NHL. Only 42 of them (seven-tenths of one percent) have scored 500 goals, and only 18 (three-tenths of one percent) have scored 600. Dave Andreychuk scored 640 over the course of his career. He scored more power play goals than anyone else who has ever laced up a pair of skates. He is the only member of "The 600 Club" not in the HOF -- other than Teemu Selanne, who just retired and therefore won't be eligible until 2017.

Hockey people love to sing the praises of leadership and character, and Andreychuk possesses both of those qualities in abundance: Prior to the 2001-02 season -- when he was late in his career, had yet to win the Cup, and was an unrestricted free agent -- he surprised everybody by signing not with a Cup contender but with the downtrodden Lightning, for the express purpose of turning around the team's culture and making it a winner... When they were eliminated from the playoffs that season, he turned down an offer from management to trade him to a contender, insisting that his work with the Bolts was not yet done... The following year, head coach John Tortorella made Andreychuck the team captain and the Bolts proceeded to make the playoffs for the first time in seven years, advancing beyond the first round for the first time ever... Then, the year after that, they won the Stanley Cup with Andreychuk, 40 years old at the time, contributing 14 points during their playoff run.

He has been eligible for the HOF for six years now and is still awaiting the call. The only conceivable reason someone might give for this snub is that his numbers are not as impressive considering he played the sixth most games in history; but even that claim is demonstrably bogus, for of the five people in front of him on the "games played" list, only two have more goals, and all four of the five who are eligible for the HOF are in it. Also, if you look at Andreychuk's per game numbers, they are every bit as compelling as those of people who have long since been enshrined -- for example, his .390 goals per game is right in line with Mark Messier's .395, and is arguably even more impressive than Messier's when you consider that Messier spent much of his career surrounded by arguably the best supporting cast in hockey history.


Mark Recchi
Recchi is the only other unenshrined player in the top six of the "games played" list, and his exclusion is also mystifying.

With an NHL career that started in 1988 and ended in 2011, he has the distinction of having played in four different decades and being the last player to retire who was active in the 1980's. He averaged almost a point a game across the course of 1,652 career games. He is one of only ten players to win the Cup with three different franchises, and one of only eight to win it in three different decades. In 2009 he became the oldest player to have five assists in a single game, and in 2011 he became the oldest player to score a goal in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Recchi and Pronger both became eligible this year. Can someone please explain to me why the former is made to wait while the latter is not?


Sergei Makarov
A case can be made that Sergei Makarov belongs ahead of both Andreychuk and Recchi on the snubbed list.

One-third of the vaunted KLM Line from the Soviet National Team that dominated the world in the 1980's, Makarov left an imprint on the game of hockey like few others before or since... With him on the roster, the team never failed to medal in an international tournament (Olympics, World Championships, and World Junior Championships) and compiled a total haul of thirteen gold medals, three silver, and three bronze... He piled up 1.18 points per game in international play from 1978 to 1991, and 1.37 per game while playing for the Soviet Championship League's Traktor Chelyabinsk and CSKA Moscow from 1976 to 1989.

Makarov was 31 years old when the USSR, in its waning days, finally allowed its hockey professionals to come play in the NHL. In his "rookie" year with the Calgary Flames he accounted for 86 points while posting a 25.9% shooting percentage that topped the NHL, besting even Mr. Gretzky and Mr. Lemieux. After awarding him the can't-deny-him Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year, the NHL changed its guidelines by instituting the so-called "Makarov Rule" that limits the trophy's eligibility to players who are younger than 26. In the end, Makarov played six seasons in the NHL (four for Calgary and two for San Jose) from 1989 through 1995, and after sitting out 1995-96, an attempted comeback with Dallas was aborted after four games. He then retired at the age of 39.

He has been eligible for the HOF for a decade and a half, and there is absolutely no excuse for the selection committee continuing to keep him on the outside. After all, the shrine for which they work is not called the NHL Hall of Fame or North American Hall of Fame -- it is the Hockey Hall of Fame.


Alexander Mogilny
Speaking of Russians getting snubbed, why is Alexander Mogilny still waiting to get the call?

After being drafted by Buffalo with the 89th overall selection in the entry draft, he defected to the United States in 1989, chose uniform number 89 (of course), and played in 65 games for the Sabres during his rookie season of 1989-90... He scored 15 goals that first season, followed by 30- and 39-goal outputs the next two... Then, in his fourth year playing over here, he exploded with 76 goals in the 1992-93 season. In the 22 years since then, no player has managed to reach the 70-goal mark and only three (Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, and Steven Stamkos) have managed to reach 60.

Although he was traded to Vancouver after just five seasons in Buffalo, Mogilny still ranks as the thirteenth-highest points producer in Sabres' history, and keep in mind that Sabres' history includes Pat LaFontaine, Thomas Vanek, Dale Hawerchuk, Craig Ramsay, Phil Housley, the afore-mentioned Dave Andreychuk, and the entire French Connection Line.

In the end, Mogilny played 16 seasons in the NHL and averaged more than a point per game. He won the Stanley Cup in 2000 and Lady Byng Trophy in 2003. In addition, he won an Olympic gold in 1988 and a World Championship gold in 1989. Plus, Mats Sundin described him as the best player he ever played with, while Pat Quinn described him as the most talented player he ever coached.

He has been eligible for the HOF for six years. Induct him already!


Obviously, I am annoyed that these four players don't already have their places in that handsome old building at the corner of Front and Yonge Streets in Toronto. If they still don't have their places at this time next year, I will be even more annoyed!