In an era when goal-scoring is approaching a 50-year low, when even star players are admonished for not backchecking, when assistant coaches are mandated to find ways to shut down the opposition’s top scorers, one defensive giant continues to go unappreciated.
Guy Carbonneau is one of hockey’s all-time great defensive forwards, yet the hockey authorities on the Hall of Fame’s selection committee continue to ignore his accomplishments.
Since first becoming eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2003, Carbonneau has created nary a ripple of interest among the 18 voters, 14 of which are required to give a thumbs-up for a candidate to gain entry.
It’s convenient to induct the offensive gurus and goaltending greats. Superstars Mark Messier, Ron Francis, Ray Bourque, Paul Coffey and Patrick Roy among others in recent years made the decision too easy.
But greatness in the game of hockey should and does go beyond the obvious perusal of statistics. The defensive defenseman has been recognized with the induction of Rod Langway in 2002 and Scott Stevens in 2007. The goalie with the winning pedigree was recognized with Grant Fuhr in 2003, even though his statistics were far from extraordinary.
Even specialists and playoff performers have been given their due with the inclusion of Igor Larionov and Glenn Anderson this year, Dick Duff in 2006 and Clark Gillies in 2002. Players with injury-shortened careers? Pat LaFontaine in 2003 and Cam Neely in 2005.
So why has the defensive forward been given such short shrift by the Hall of Fame? Is it because defensive hockey isn’t all that exciting and is an element of the game the league has been making countless efforts to move away from? Would it be embarrassing to induct a defensive forward as the average goals-per-game dwindles down into the low fives?
Guy Carbonneau was a defensive great for most of his 18 NHL seasons. He was a huge reason why three of his teams went on to win Stanley Cups. He won the Selke Trophy as the game’s top defensive player three times and was runner-up twice. Only Hall of Famer Bob Gainey can match that number of five times as a winner or runner-up.
To strengthen Carbonneau’s case further, his offensive numbers (260 goals and 663 points) are superior to Gainey’s (239 goals and 502 points). Gainey was once called the best all-around player in the world by Russian coach Anatoli Tarasov because he had the ability to both contribute to the offense and stymie the opposition. Carbonneau was much the same player a decade later. A true defensive great.
So if the league gives out an award for defensive greatness among forwards, shouldn’t the Hall of Fame recognize that greatness as well? It’s hypocritical that it doesn’t, especially in an era when attempting to shut down the opposition is the common denominator in the game plan of all 30 NHL teams.
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