The Hockey Hall of Fame’s selection committee was faced with a slam-dunk when it came to this year’s inductions and it managed to get it perfectly right. In one fell swoop, it inducted two players who were no-brainers, one who should have already been in, a coach who revolutionized the game and a woman player, the right woman player.
It certainly doesn’t make for easy column writing, since it’s difficult to rant and rave and rail against a group when you wholeheartedly agree with the choices. It’s difficult to argue there are five more deserving members of the Hockey Hall of Fame than the ones who were elected to receive the honor today. Yes, you could argue there are others who deserve to be elected. But not ahead of those who were bestowed with the honor as the Class of 2013.
Scott Niedermayer, who has won everything short of the Three-Legged Race at the Podunk Fall Fair, was an easy choice. As was Chris Chelios, perhaps the greatest American defenseman to ever play the game and second in NHL tenure only to Gordie Howe. Brendan Shanahan, who was inexplicably left out of the Hall in his first year of eligibility last year, was not denied this time around.
No women had been elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame since 2010, when the Hall and its selection committee finally gave in to public pressure and did the right thing by inducting Cammi Granato and Angela James. Given the smaller pool of players, it’s certainly not necessary for the Hall to induct a women’s player every year, but every other year would probably be a good place to start. The important thing is they voted to induct the right woman in Geraldine Heaney, arguably the most dominant and best all-round defender ever to play the women’s game.
Not only was Heaney a pioneer she was, at the height of her game, one of the top players in the world. If you have any doubts, take a look at this clip from the inaugural Women’s World Championship in 1990.
Speaking of responding to pressure, it’s probably no coincidence that the Hall of Fame selection committee voted to induct Fred Shero almost 23 years after his death amid calls for his selection and criticism for passing him over for the honor. This one, well it’s probably a little more debatable than the others.
On the one hand, Shero was the coach and the brains behind the Broad Street Bullies, who won two Stanley Cups and became the first team in NHL history to use fighting and intimidation as a tactic. Until that time, enforcers were not a huge part of the NHL landscape and fighting was pretty much relegated to settling on-ice scores between players. Stars fought almost as much as plugs and there was a certain purity to it. But Shero introduced it as a means of helping his team win games. So someone who had a huge part in the evolution of fighting to where it is today might not be someone we should be celebrating with induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
But on the other hand, to focus solely on Shero’s brutal approach to the game would ignore that the man was a genius coach. He was the first to employ an assistant coach, the first to realize the merit in off-ice conditioning and the first to take the best of the Soviet system of play and developing players and apply it to North Americans. And he did have a ton of success, winning two Stanley Cups and bringing his teams to the final on two other occasions. He was also the first winner of the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year.
To celebrate the achievements of Shero by enshrining him in the Hall and not Pat Burns might seem unfair, but remember that Shero has been gone for more than two decades now. The Hall can induct two people in the builders’ category in any given year, provided there are no nominees in the referee/linesmen category, so it would have been wonderful to see both Shero and Burns entering the Hall of Fame on the same day. But the selection committee didn’t see it that way and that’s where there’s something wrong.
If the Hall of Fame selection committee does not see Burns as a worthy member of the Hall of Fame, it should most certainly not vote to induct him. To do that, even as a gesture to someone who has passed, would not be right. But if it indeed does feel that way, there should be transparency into the nomination and voting process. But there is not. A person’s legacy is left up to a group of 18 men who answer and are accountable to no one. They do not discuss their votes or why they chose not to elect any candidate.
So we’ll never know why Burns is not in the Hockey Hall of Fame. And we’ll never know why he’s in once the selection committee sees fit to induct him, which will happen someday. But today is a day to celebrate what the Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee did right.
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. To read more from Ken and THN's other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Ken on Twitter at @THNKenCampbell.